School calendar will remain as is, for now

Jan. 08, 2013 @ 09:44 PM

Lee County parents of elementary and middle school children have at least a year of respite from the uncertainty of changing calendars and, potentially, schools.

On Tuesday, the Lee County Board of Education had planned to vote on whether to change all such schools to the year-round calendar now in use at Tramway Elementary School, but after both board members and dozens of speakers from the general public questioned both the thoroughness of the research behind the change and the quick turnaround that was being suggested, the board changed the motion to one that suggested each school's calendar remain as is.

That vote passed unanimously, but it doesn't mean the school board is unanimously opposed to year-round schools. A majority of board members spoke in favor of the switch either at the meeting or in previous interviews with The Herald, and several suggested at the meeting that the calendar committee continue its research with the goal of making the switch not this July, but next July, at the start of the 2014-15 school year.

“I think it's something that we should look into in the future... but I do have some concerns about this recommendation [to switch to a year-round schedule for elementary and middle schools] that we have been given this evening," said board member Tamara Brogan, who has four children in local public schools. "Probably the biggest concern I have is how quickly this is coming about. … I think I would be much more in support of a change like this if we had more time to adjust."

About 200 people attended the meeting, with about 40 speaking, including several current students and current and former teachers, who offered split opinions.

Kathy McNeill, who said she has been teaching at West Lee Middle School since 1984, gave the same position that Brogan and fellow board members Linda Smith, John Bonardi, Wendy Carlyle and Mark Akinosho later echoed.

"I have no problem with a year-round school, but I do have a problem with it starting this summer," she said. "... Would it not be wise to spend this year working out all the problems instead of jumping into it?”

Proponents of the change have cited academic benefits in the form of improved retention and the ability of teachers to help students with remedial work and tutoring twice as quickly — after the first nine weeks instead of after the first semester — because the calendar provides three-week breaks after each nine-week session. They also point to parents and teachers who have praised the calendar for giving more frequent vacations instead of one long summer vacation.

Opponents, however, say they value that long summer break, believe the district is moving too fast, are concerned for teachers who work summer jobs to supplement their school salaries or that they simply don't want such a major change to be forced upon them after a single meeting.

Calendar committee spokesman and Broadway Elementary School Principal George Raley said he and many other educators support year-round schools for the academic benefits.

"As a teacher, I have first-hand experience of how much our students lose over the summer," Deep River Elementary School teacher Linda McLeod said.

Some educators, though, disagree.

Tina Harrington, who said she taught at Deep River for nine years, pointed to the traditional lack of support from county parents to expand year-round offerings, saying parents simply don't want it.

"The point has been made that this plan is not about the parents, but about the children," she said. "…There is no one better equipped than the parents of the children”