JACKSON — The Mississippi Senate Education Committee took notes from the Corinth School District last week on the advantages of a year-round calendar.
Superintendent Lee Childress gave a talk on the district’s experience and fielded questions from the committee.
Members made it clear that they are not advocating such a change for Mississippi schools.
“This meeting is not about mandating year-round schools from the Legislature,” said Committee Chairman Dennis DeBar Jr. “We’re here to learn about the pros and cons of the program.”
About 10 percent of U.S. public schools are on a year-round calendar, or a “modified calendar” as the Corinth district prefers to call it to curtail negative perceptions among students.
“Some arguments for this are to address the summer academic slide,” said Stephen Pruitt, president of the Southern Regional Education Board. “We do see where students aren’t quite as on-point as they where when they left school in the spring.”
Some other points in its favor, he said, are the use of school buildings throughout the year, more options for family vacations, and short breaks that allow opportunities for student enrichment and remediation.
On the other hand, Pruitt said research on the academic benefits of the model is “pretty thin.”
“There’s still not conclusive evidence to say this is the way to go,” he said. “In fact, what the research does argue for is that it can’t be the only thing. Changing to year-round schooling is not going to be the single thing that actually changes achievement for everybody.”
Pruitt said the calendar can be an ingredient to success “in the context of a bigger picture.”
He said there is some evidence that low-achieving students had some improvement when the calendar is “combined with substantial amounts of wrap-around services in intersessions.”
Childress said the Corinth district’s goal with the calendar “dealt specifically with focusing on student achievement and growth and ultimately preparing our children for college and career readiness but, at the same time, with a focus on equity.” It was part of a range of initiatives the district pursued through the flexibility allowed by the District of Innovation designation with the aim of moving children to a higher degree of learning.
The district is in its fifth year of the modified calendar, which sees remediation for students who may be falling behind provided during the intersession breaks.
“It’s far better to start that remediation during this three-week period in October than letting them continue to go through school and fall further and further behind,” said Childress. “So it’s much more effective, in my opinion, than looking at doing this during the summer. At the same time, you don’t want this remediation to be viewed as punitive, and that’s how, in many cases, summer school or extended year is viewed as by students and parents.”
The coupling of remediation with enrichment activities is designed to help change that. While focusing on reading, math and writing, the sessions also offer art, music and physical education activities.
“We want it to be an experience that children will enjoy,” said Childress.
Some students and teachers simply enjoy the opportunity for an extended break in the midst of the school year.
“It sometimes allows them to come back after that three-week period with more enthusiasm, ready to go,” he said.
The district has seen about a quarter of the student population – around 600 to 650 with the most coming from pre-K through sixth grade – participating in the intersession activities. It is staffed by district teachers and assistants who receive extra compensation for the program along with some retired teachers.
The superintendent believes the majority of students and parents now embrace the modified calendar.
“If we tried to go back to the traditional calendar, we would probably have a community that would fight us,” said Childress.
He said people like the additional weeks during the school year that are now available as vacation time apart from the summer break.
One of the concerns about year-round scheduling is potential disruption of extracurricular activities, but Childress said it has not been a problem for the Corinth district.