- The Washington Times - Friday, November 17, 2000

With state deadlines to improve scores hanging over their heads, more Fairfax County, Va., schools are considering a year-round schedule.
Faculties at some schools already have voted on whether they would like to go on modified schedules, while parents have been asked to vote by the December winter break on whether they want the change.
Sixty percent of both the faculty and parents will have to agree to a modified schedule before the process moves any further, said county spokesman Paul Regnier.
He said students who do not need remedial classes, or who do not opt for extra classes during intersessions, would continue the 180-day school session as in all other county schools, albeit on a separate schedule.
Two schools in Fairfax Dogwood and Timber Lane currently are on a year-round schedule: Timber Lane went on the modified schedule in the 1998 academic year; Dogwood, in Reston, began the new schedule at the beginning of this academic year.
Elementary schools now "seriously considering" the modified calendar include Franconia, Glen Forest, Graham Road, Oak View, Parklawn and Shrevewood.
Secondary schools that have proposed a modified calendar include Stuart, Glasgow, Mount Vernon and Falls Church.
Of these, only Oak View received full accreditation this year. All others, except Graham Road Elementary and Falls Church High, received the second-highest ranking provisional accreditation with warning while meeting performance standards set by the state's Department of Education earlier this year.
Both Graham Road and Falls Church received provisional accreditation with a need for improvement.
Some parents are opposed to the movement toward year-round schedules and have been holding community meetings over the past few weeks to discuss the issue.
However, others say year-round schedules are a way for schools to meet state-set deadlines for SOL scores that ultimately will determine how many schools continue to be accredited after a state-set 2007 deadline.
"Time is a factor and the year-round calendar provides an option for time," said Jane Strauss, school board member from the Dranesville district. The School Board is expected to take up the matter by January.
Elementary schools that opt for the new schedule will follow calendars similar to those in use at Timber Lane and Dogwood. For example, Dogwood gives students two weeks off in October, three weeks off in December and January, and three more in March and April.
During each three-week break, students at Dogwood have the option to attend 10-day intersessions, during which they can work on the school newspaper, become a make-believe city designer, or attend a stock-market class. Parents pay a $25 registration fee.
For secondary schools that are considering the new schedule, the modified calendar will incorporate a summer trimester. The fall semester would start in mid-August, the winter/spring semester would end the first week in June, and the third semester would begin in June and continue until August.
One of the chief deciding factors on whether the schools adopt a modified calendar could be next year's budget, Mr. Regnier said. It could cost as much as $150,000 for a single school to adopt a modified calendar, he said.
Some county parents say their children will not gain in any way from the year-round schedule. They cite studies that show students make no significant gains from such schedules.
"We are talking about depending on those two-week intersessions to make academic change," said Marie Withrow, a parent at Shrevewood Elementary. She added that in a recent vote taken by the school's PTA, "a majority of parents voted against" going on a modified schedule.
She added that the "staff wants this to happen. They believe there will be better student achievement and less burnout."
The school, she said, had given parents very little time to make the decision.
"We were told this September that we had a year to decide, and then, suddenly, they said we needed to decide much sooner," she said.
Mrs. Withrow has two children one in Shrevewood Elementary School and another in Marshall High School.
She said different schedules would disrupt their plans to do things together as a family.
Students who don't want to go on a year-round schedule usually are given a chance to move to another school, but Mrs. Withrow said the opt-out school for Shrevewood had less accreditation.
Calls to the school's principal, Shirley McCoy, were not returned.
Advocates of year-round schools point to very tangible benefits. Donna Lewis was principal of Timber Lane Elementary School and saw it through two years on the year-round schedule.
"The improvement in student learning was almost immediate," she said. Students' reading skills improved, as did the oral fluency of English as a second language students.
Mychele Brickner, a School Board member at-large, said while year-round schools could help students who are struggling academically "to get up to speed," the 60 percent "yes" vote was too small for a decision, especially considering that only a few people may ultimately vote.
"It should be a much bigger percentage. This is an important decision," she said.

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