- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 24, 2001

Three more elementary schools in Fairfax County are slated to begin classes next week, establishing the county as a regional trendsetter in year-round schooling.
Franconia Elementary in Alexandria, Graham Road Elementary in Falls Church and Glen Forest Elementary joined Timber Lane Elementary in Falls Church and Dogwood Elementary in Reston in adopting the modified schedule, which begins July 30.
No other school districts in the region offer year-round schooling.
"The most important thing for us here at Graham Road is that we believe this modified calendar will give our students more opportunity for continuous learning," said Principal Cora Harper.
The calendar redistributes the required 180 school days, making room for an optional 30 additional school days during three two-week "intersessions" in January, April and October. Rather than a three-month summer holiday, students have a one-week Christmas and spring break and take off the month of July.
Prince George's County Superintendent Iris T. Metts told The Washington Times two weeks ago that she was considering instituting a year-round schooling calendar similar to that used in the Fairfax County schools to raise student achievement.
In the District, students are strongly encouraged to attend a variety of summer school programs, but there has been no attempt to alter the school calendar.
"It's a national issue, so the D.C. public schools are looking at it," said spokeswoman Denise Tann. She said budget and staffing issues would have to be examined to determine the feasibility.
Montgomery County currently has no schools on the year-round schedule. Kate Harrison, a spokeswoman for the school system, said the board dismissed the issue four or five years ago.
"At this point, I don't think it's on their agenda," she said.
Last year there were more than 20 schools with modified calendars operating in Virginia, up from a dozen the year before. That led some to speculate the increase was due to the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests. Virginia students must take the tests in third, fifth and eighth grades and through high school.
"I don't think the Standards of Learning tests are driving modified calendars," Ms. Harper said. But she added that the SOL test has made it "easier for people to become accepting of this kind of model."
At Timber Lane Elementary this year, Principal Anita Blain said all of the school's fifth-graders passed the SOLs with a 70 percent score or better. She pointed out that the school switched to the modified calendar in 1998, the same year the state began to administer the SOL. She said that in the three years they have been on the modified calendar intersession, enrollment has increased from 80 percent to 92 percent.
Timber Lane charges $25 per session, and students can take up to two classes. As is the case in summer school, there will be reduced fees for needy families, and remedial courses will be offered for free.
Mrs. Blain said about 30 percent of the courses offered during the intersessions are remediation courses, and the remaining are enrichment courses that can be time-sensitive, depending on current events or weaknesses teachers have observed in students' understanding of the curriculum.
Fairfax County schools spokesman Paul Regnier said the cost of adopting the year-round schedule is about $250,000 per school, per year. Because of the costs, beginning next year only schools in the county's Project Excel program, identified as the 20 poorest-performing elementary schools, will be allowed to consider adopting the calendar.
Parents and school staff vote on the calendar, with a 60 percent majority required in the parental vote. About 75 percent of parents and 80 percent of faculty in each of the three schools supported the plan.
Susan Fitz, principal at Glen Forest Elementary, said some faculty members objected because they have children in schools on the current calendar. She said parents cited the lack of family time in the summer but were given an option to enroll their children in a nearby traditional-calendar school.

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