Divided School Board Votes To End Year-Round School Calendars

Teachers, faculty and parents will have to make adjustments to their schedules after the Johnston County School Board voted last week to end the year-round school enhancement calendars at two Smithfield schools.

The 6-to-1 decision will impact South Smithfield Elementary School and West Smithfield Elementary.

About 10 years ago, the school board looked at alternative methods to improve student achievement at the two campuses.  In recent years, officials said there was growing concern the advantages of a year-round calendar was not having a great enough impact on student achievement to justify the additional spending, Dr. Eddie Price, Chief Academic Officer, told the school board on March 7th.

The two schools were compared to achievement levels at Wilson’s Mills and Selma Elementary Schools over the last 3 school years and to schools across the district.

“In some areas, the enhancement schools may score slightly higher than the comparison schools,” Dr. Price said. “In other areas, the outcome is the opposite. Although the student achievement data is very inconclusive the adult perception data is not.”

“The adult stakeholders who participated in the last two surveys on the enhancement calendars were overwhelmingly in favor of the calendar. Parents and teachers indicated that the calendar is a positive aspect of the schools,” Price stated.

The surveys indicated the year-round calendar was supported for three main reasons: learning retention, increased student achievement due to intercessions, and a personal appreciation of the breaks.

Johnston County Schools spends between $180,000 to $200,000 each year to support the year-round calendar at the two schools versus a traditional 9-month calendar.

“So the question for all of us is, are we getting a return on investment?. It is the data-supported opinion of the Curriculum and Instruction Department that we are not,” Price said. “It is my recommendation that we discontinue the enhancement calendar and transition back to a traditional calendar. However, I also recommend that we earmark the funding that has been given to the enhancement calendar to West Smithfield and South Smithfield for a research-based program or approach that they deem appropriate for their school culture and climate.”

“As the Smithfield Feeder Pattern, better known as Smithfield Strong, is attempting to streamline their approach to education while leverage components that they feel important, the importance of the bilingual student has become a topic of conversation. We have seen the brain-based research with dual language immersion and the results of other schools in our district using this approach,” Price said. “If the two enhancement calendar schools research immersion and feel this to be an appropriate fit for their schools, I also recommend that we utilize the spending from the calendar transportation and personnel to incur the costs associated with the dual language program… I feel that the program should be chosen by each of these schools – must be their decision – and not that of outside stakeholders.”

School Board Member Ronald Johnson said he had personally spoken to about 20 teachers at the schools and said the year-round calendar was working. Based on the survey where parents wanted the calendar to continue and by teachers who said the current calendar was working, Johnson voted against the proposal.

In a 6-to-1 vote with Johnson casting the only dissenting vote, the board agreed to end the year-round calendar at the two schools after the completion of the 2017-18 year.