Summer’s end is a beginning

Published 6:00 pm Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sumner starts school Monday, kicking off its 45/15 schedule

Jillian Wigham, a fourth-grader at Sumner Elementary, gets settled in her classroom Thursday during the Sumner Neighborhood Festival. Wigham, along with other students, were preparing to start alternative schedule Monday. - Eric Johnson/

Parents and children filled the halls of Sumner Elementary School Thursday, a little earlier than usual.

Sumner staff and students are breaking away from the usual too, starting school Monday, after more than a year’s worth of research and planning to switch Sumner to an alternative school calendar.

“(My kids) are ready to go back,” said Troy Lodahl at Sumner’s Neighborhood Festival Thursday.

Six-year-old Victor Salinas has his photo taken Thursday by Jenny Dukart of Lifetouch Photography at Sumner Elementary. - Eric Johnson/

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Sumner’s new schedule, called the 45/15 calendar, means Sumner would start school earlier than other district schools and end at the same time as everyone else.

A 45/15 schedule means students would attend school for 45 school days, or about nine weeks, and then go on break for about 15 school days, or about three weeks.

Sumner staff started looking at an alternative schedule as a way to improve Adequate Yearly Progress scores on state comprehensive testing. According to research, the shorter breaks help with student retention and show significant support for English Language Learning and special education students.

After researching schools across the state and nation, including Longfellow Elementary in Rochester, district officials announced in November they were going to pursue the schedule change.

In Rochester, Longfellow Choice Elementary School has operated on a 45-15 schedule since 1995. School is in session there for nine weeks at a time, followed by a three-week vacation, during which intercession, or remedial classes, are held. Summer vacation is about six weeks at Longfellow, according to Principal Les Ernster.

“We did a lot of research for two years,” Ernster said last November on Longfellow’s decision to operate on a continuous calendar. “We had parent meetings, we told them what we were thinking, we told them what the advantages and what the possible disadvantages were.”

In many ways, Longfellow mirrors Sumner. Longfellow’s free and reduced lunch population was at 67 percent last year, something Ernster said has remained steady for years. Sumner had about 70 percent of its students on free and reduced lunches in 2010, according to Principal Sheila Berger.

Longfellow also has a diverse student population, with about 55 percent of the students coming from backgrounds of color. Students of color made up half of Sumner’s student population last year. Both schools have roughly the same student population, with Longfellow at about 300 students and Sumner at more than 360 students enrolled this year.

Three public meetings were held in January, in part to educate the community on the benefits of an alternative schedule and in part to satisfy a state mandate where districts must hold at least three public meetings before making a proposal to start school before Labor Day.

Board members voted in February to begin the 45/15 schedule this fall.

Yet parents had several concerns which Sumner has tried to address, mainly how families would manage the schedules of several siblings in different schools. As a result, Woodson Kindergarten Center staff volunteered to switch up to four classes of students who would attend Sumner in first-grade. In addition, Sumner officials are trying to find funding for extracurricular activities during the intercessions, or three-week breaks.

Teachers are excited for the intercession as it provides an early opportunity to help struggling students, instead of waiting for summer remedial courses to get students caught up.

“It’s going to be great with my students,” said Jenna Manggaard, special education teacher. “They really benefit from having the shorter breaks.”

Parents, teachers and volunteers agree the shift looks to be a good thing.

“The community is getting together again,” said Jose Rivera, interpreter at Sumner’s Neighborhood Festival.

Time will tell if the alternative calendar boosts student scores and increases academic achievement across the board, something studies and Ernster both claim could happen. Yet one thing’s for certain: Students are already back in school.

“The kids are very excited,” said Ardie Pepper, special education paraprofessional.