By 2:35 Monday afternoon, a line of cars stretched for half a mile along Center Church Road to the front door of Tramway Elementary School, where students had just finished their first day of the new school year.
Pat Lynch was waiting in line to pick up her daughters, fourth grade twins Parker and Avery. She said that while the girls probably would've liked a few more weeks of summer — Tramway gives five weeks off instead of the traditional 11 but makes up for it with vacations after every nine-week quarter — she prefers the year-round calendar, which she said works better with her job as a nurse.
Shelley Kelly, CEO of local marketing firm Mottis and mother of a fifth-grader, Olivia, at the school, was also waiting in line Monday and said she also appreciated the shorter yet more frequent breaks.
"I love the schedule because I own a business and work full time," Kelly said, adding that for her daughter, one-and-a-half months of summer vacation is just right. "She stays ready and active, and she was ready to come back. ... I think every kid should have the option for year-round."
Lee County's only year-round school, Tramway is a public school open to all K-5 students in the county — if they can get in off the waiting lists. Its popularity, and its students' comparatively high academic achievements, sparked discussion late last year about moving all public elementary and middle schools to a year-round calendar. The district's calendar committee unanimously approved the switch, but that announcement was met with swift and vocal opposition from many Lee County residents.
After much back-and-forth — and a public hearing in January that drew hundreds of spectators and dozens of speakers advocating for either side — the school board decided to stick with the status quo for at least this coming school year. But Dr. Lynn Smith, chairman of the Lee County Board of Education, said the idea is far from defeated.
"I think the feeling of the board is that we would like to have more year-round alternatives available," Smith said. "Now, just what that's going to be, what that's going to look like, we don't know at this point."
Smith went on to say that another change the school board will consider in the near future — a school choice program, also known as magnet schools — might be used to implement a year-round calendar in the one or two schools that would serve as pilot sites if the program is approved. Previously, local educators and school board members have told The Herald that the shorter and more frequent breaks offered in a year-round setting are better for students' learning and retention, parents' schedules, and employees' job satisfaction.
Also in line after school Monday was Noah Johnson, a former Tramway student who came with his grandparents to pick up his brother Evan, a fifth-grader at the school. Noah said he loved his time at Tramway because the teachers were great, although the rising ninth-grader joked that his ideal school schedule would consist of the traditional 11-week summer vacation as well as all the two- and three-week breaks in a year-round calendar.
Kirby Johnson, grandfather to Noah and Evan, said he thought the school gave the boys a quality education. He also attributed it to the staff — and especially the level of communication and respect between teachers and students.
"If you like a teacher, you're going to pay more attention," Johnson said.
Lynch, too, said good teachers are what led to her daughters and an older son getting a good education at Tramway, which typically boasts the district's best test scores at the elementary level.
"Great," she said of the school. "Love it. The whole staff is professional, but there's also a family atmosphere."