Three Kanawha County school principals who serve as leaders of the state’s only year-round schools say they support Gov. Joe Manchin’s call to the Legislature to investigate whether more schools would benefit from the concept.

“I am a very big supporter of year-round schooling,” said Glenwood Principal Johnny Ferrara. “It is the most efficient use of time of instruction. I think that every school in the United States should go to year-round.”

In Kanawha County, there was a flurry of activity when the three schools all went year-round about the same time. But more than a decade has passed since then with no other schools following suit.

Glenwood and Chandler began year-round schooling in 1997, one year after Piedmont implemented the concept in 1996.

Piedmont Principal Steve Knighton said year-round schooling was just one of many concepts he felt would improve academic achievement.

“It’s a strategy that we thought would help our achievement,” he said. “The teachers were having to spend two, three, four weeks reteaching the same material that was quote, unquote mastered the previous year. Now most of our kids within one week have all that stuff recalled.”

It was not easy to get started.

There were about 400 students at the school when year-round schooling began.

“I could convince the families of 200 kids that this was a good thing to do,” Knighton said.

The other half wanted nothing to do with the new schedule.

So, for the school’s first year, he split the student body and teachers in half. The first group, about 200 students, attended year-round schooling. The rest went to school on a traditional schedule. Students were allowed to choose which they wanted.

The following year, 85 percent decided to attend year-round schooling.

Then, in 1998, Kanawha County School’s Superintendent Jorea Marple announced that the entire Piedmont student body would attend year-round schooling.

Since the modified schedule began 12 years ago, Knighton said he has noticed an improvement in student behavior and a decrease in employee and student absences.

Most kids become anxious after long stretches in school, Knighton said.

“Stress enters into the equation, and that becomes a flashpoint for behavior,” he said. “On a modified calendar, you can go to school for nine weeks, then you have three weeks to regroup and calm down and focus. Attendance goes up among staff and students because of reduced stress.”

When employees need to make doctor’s appointments during a regular school year, they normally must take a day off. But on the modified schedule, appointments can be made during the school’s three-week breaks, Knighton said.

Piedmont consistently ranks among the top in the county when it comes to the amount of money it saves in substitute teacher costs, Knighton said.

And snow days can easily be made up during the students’ March spring break, he added.

On a regular school schedule, it is difficult for teachers and children to get back into the swing of things.

But that is not true of year-round schools, Knighton said.

“Typically there is a summer learning loss,” he said. “You stop and think about your own job as an adult. If you didn’t do anything to reinforce those skills in your time off, you would temporarily lose them.”

At Chandler, math and reading test scores have improved by 40 points in the past four or five years. Principal Mellow Lee attributes part of that to the school’s year-round schedule.

Student achievement is not measured only in test scores, Ferrara said.

Student achievement is not measured only in test scores, Ferrara said.

“As we look at data, it’s always going to be the use of instructional time,” he said. “They’re getting more intensive instruction. Our attendance rate is stable. Our participation in activities has increased. We have hit the ground running.”

Some parents worry about a loss of vacation time or about sports practices, Knighton said.

But year-round students get four three-week breaks, the same amount of time off as their peers in traditional schooling. The added bonus is that their parents can take advantage of reduced vacation rates.

As for sports practices, most don’t start until 5 or 6 p.m., after coaches get off work. By that time, students would be out of school and could still attend summer practices.

And, in Alabama, four of the top 10 football teams are on a modified calendar, Knighton said.

“Everything has changed except the public education calendar,” Knighton said. “We still cling to that outdated calendar.”

The original school calendar was invented when students needed summers off to help their parents perform farm chores. Most, however, are no longer needed at home.

Still other students and teachers worry they won’t be able to find a summer job.

Knighton said he normally responds to that concern by asking, “Do you think that people don’t need you to work during Christmastime?”

“If those teachers need to augment their salary, heck, they could substitute.”

Lee was at first leery about Chandler’s schedule when she began working there three years ago. But she has since grown to love it.

“Since I’ve been on this schedule, I don’t know I would want to be on regular schedule,” she said. “Three weeks is the perfect amount of time. It’s long enough to get rested.”

In fact most students have trouble figuring out what to do in the eleven weeks they are out of school, the principals say.

“You talk to any child and after three weeks, they’re bored,” Knighton said. “For crying out loud, they sit in front of their TVs and run to the mall.”

Ferrara echoed Knighton’s thoughts.

“There’s not a lot to do in a three-month period unless you’re shuffling kids from here to here to here,” he said.

Now that the schedule is in full swing at Piedmont, most parents seem to like it. In fact, in a survey sent out to Piedmont parents, a whopping 93 percent said they liked the year-round schooling.

Teachers have even transferred to Piedmont because of the schedule, Knighton said.

Ferrara thinks the schedule is great.

“It’s what’s right for kids,” he said. “It’s making kids successful.”

Lee thinks if more people were willing to try it, they would realize how convenient the scheduling can be.

“It’s hard to get people to go outside of comfort zone,” she said. “I think if people would, they would really enjoy it.”

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