North Kansas City district finds support as two schools switch to year-round schedule

01/16/2014 2:14 PM

01/16/2014 2:14 PM

Summer break just got shorter for students at two North Kansas City School District elementary schools.

North Kansas City board members voted Tuesday to approve a modified calendar that adds an additional 31 days to the school year for Winnwood and Crestview elementary schools.

Under the new calendar, students at those elementary schools will follow the same school calendar as the rest of the district for the traditional school year. But while other students are still on summer break, Winnwood and Crestview students will return to the classroom on June 10. Classes will continue through the summer — with the exception of a small break around Independence Day — until July 29. The year-round students will then get another break before resuming classes with the rest of the district in mid-August.

The district made the calendar change in an effort to reduce the academic regression that can occur during a long summer break.

“This is a great moment,” board member Terry Stone said after the vote.

No parents spoke at the meeting on Tuesday, but board members aren’t the only ones who see an advantage to the new modified calendar.

Jeralyn Berdahl, a parent at Crestview Elementary, said she’s seen first-hand the positive impact more instructional time can have for students.

One of her children used to be on an individualized education program to help him get the additional assistance to keep up with his peers. But after two years of receiving summer school instruction from programs in the area, he is no longer on an individualized education program.

“He is right where he needs to be,” she said.

Although her son received additional instruction through different summer programs, Berdahl believes the additional school days at a year-round school will benefit all students.

“When I found out they were going to do a modified calendar, I pushed for it,” she said.

Winnwood principal Leah Martisko said one of the advantages to the modified calendar is that unlike traditional summer school or remedial programming the students at Crestview and Winnwood elementary schools will just continue on with regular educational instruction.

They will move up grade levels in June instead of waiting until August like other district students.

“They will definitely be allowed more time to ensure mastery with the concepts that we are teaching. So right now when you have only 174 days to teach the kid everything that they need to know in third grade, that limits how deep you can go with their understanding and ensuring their mastery of the concepts we’re teaching,” she said.

The new calendar will also be particularly beneficial for her school, she said, because staff there sees a high level of “summer slide” or regression after summer vacation.

“Children go backward,” she said. “They could leave us on grade level at the end of second grade and come into third grade when we assess them and be two months or three months behind where they need to be at the start of third grade because they haven’t had that rigorous instruction over the summer months.”

Martisko believes the additional days of instruction will help give her students a competitive edge and also let teachers and students go deeper into subject areas.

“The teachers and I view it as being given the gift of time because we are being given more time for our children to be engaged in very high quality learning and instruction,” she said.

The district knows the modified calendar may not be ideal for everyone. Families and teachers at Winnwood and Crestview can transfer to other district schools with traditional schedules.

Assistant superintendent Dan Clemens said that nearly 60 percent of the teachers at the two schools plan to stay and work the year-round schedule. The district also has from teachers at other schools who want to move to a year-round school, he said.

Denice Ash, the North Kansas City National Education Association president, said overall the extended calendar has been well-received among teachers.

“Teachers have been supportive and positive,” she said. “They are looking forward to being part of this new opportunity for students and interested to see what effects it will have on student achievement.”

She said the district has supported teachers who don’t want to switch to the new calendar. The North Kansas City National Education Association helped facilitate their conversations with the district and is also working with teachers who want to stay at the schools to make sure working conditions and staff development needs are met.

“We have opened up those lines of communication. We are encouraging communication just to ensure this is a positive experience for all involved,” she said.

Parents have until Feb. 3 to decide whether to request a transfer. Martisko said so far fewer than 10 families have decided to leave Winnwood.

“It’s been very positively received,” she said.

The district has said it may consider a modified calendar for other schools in the district as well after evaluating how it works at Crestview and Winnwood.

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