2018 | Schools

Montgomery County Will Seek Extended School Years at Two Elementary Schools

School board gave unanimous approval to apply for waiver from state

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The Montgomery County Board of Education discusses an extended school year program for Arcola and Roscoe R. Nix elementary schools on Monday, July 30.

The Montgomery County Board of Education voted unanimously to seek state approval for a longer school year at two county schools.

The school system will seek a waiver from the state for a proposed “innovative school year calendar” at two Title I schools, Arcola and Roscoe R. Nix elementary schools. Title 1 schools are those with high numbers of children from low-income families.

The school system has been researching the issue for nearly a year and said studies have shown that extended summer breaks lead to learning loss during the summer, often referred to as the “summer slide.”

While some wealthier students may have summers full of enrichment, students with fewer resources and opportunities are more likely to fall behind, school officials said.

At their Monday meeting, board members unanimously supported the idea of an extended school year, though many finer points still need to be addressed.

The proposed “innovative” calendar extends the school year by 30 days, with a proposed first day of school on July 8, 2019, and a last day of school no later than June 15, 2020, with the last day of school possibly as early as June 9.

School board member Patricia O’Neill said the proposed changes were exciting, but the “devil’s in the details.”

Deann Collins, the director of the Division of Title I and Early Childhood Programs and Services, said the school system has been working with parent groups and the teachers unions to address concerns about scheduling and employee contracts.

Collins said the administration is working to pair the regular 180-day and the expanded 210-day calendars as much as possible to be “least impactful” to families.

Between Sept. 3, 2019, and June 15, 2020, the innovative school year calendar would follow the same structure as the traditional school year calendar set by the board, including all state-mandated closures and local holidays, officials said.

However, the innovative calendar may differ in the placement of early release days, parent conferences, and other features. Some of the details that still need to be considered include busing schedules, breaks for school employees and effects on extracurricular and teacher training programs, among other issues.

Other high-level details about the innovative calendar were presented to the board this week: the schools would have quarters approximately 52 days in length, and, following instruction in July and early August, the innovative calendar would include an extended break within the last two weeks of August.

Administration officials hope for approval from the Maryland State Board of Education by September, which would allow the county board to keep the calendar-setting process for both the 180-day and 210-day schedules on the same timeline for public hearings and approval.

Superintendent Jack Smith applauded administration officials for tackling an innovative change to the school calendar, and said school officials have to push back on the idea that a September-to-June 180-day schedule, originally set to meet agrarian needs, is best.

“We set a school calendar right now that is completely irrelevant to 95 percent of the people in this country,” Smith said. “…Fewer than about 5 percent of people are involved in agriculture. In 1900, 95 percent of the people were involved in agriculture. And yet we’re completely stuck in that pattern. And so you have, for many, many students, the summer learning loss.”

While students from some families have very enriching summers, lengthening the school year could provide one method for addressing opportunity gaps across Montgomery County Public Schools, Smith said.

To secure a state waiver, the school system will have to provide “compelling justification” to the State Board of Education.

Arcola and Nix were chosen for the pilot because they’re both Title I schools and because of principal tenure, levels of participation in existing summer programs and community engagement. The schools also have lower performance levels than the district average in literacy and mathematics according to the school system’s Evidence of Learning Framework and just more than 50 percent of students perform at high levels on state standardized testing in literacy and mathematics.

Maria Navarro, MCPS chief academic officer, said the state board has approved waivers for extended calendars in other counties in the past.

The extended school year in Montgomery County is estimated to cost just over $1 million at each school, Navarro said.

If an initial waiver is successful, the school system aims to implement the extended calendar on a larger scale in the future.

“Not every school in Montgomery County needs an extended-year program, but a lot of them do,” Smith said.