LAURINBURG — The Scotland County Board of Education is asking for public input on a dramatic change to the schools’ calendar — the implementation of year-round schooling.
“As a board we all talked and decided that we’d put it in the hands of the public, see what the public thought, and bring it back while the school system does some research into the pros and cons,” said board member Darrel Gibson.
The school system has opened an online survey to determine the level of public support on the matter of year-round scheduling. The survey is anonymous, but those completing it are asked to identify themselves as parents, school staff members, or other.
Responders are asked to answer “yes,” “no,” or “don’t know” to 14 questions concerning perceived benefits of year-round scheduling, such as academic achievement and decrease in summer learning loss, as well as negative aspects including possible teacher burnout and disruption to high school athletic schedules.
The question of year-round scheduling first arose at the school board’s annual retreat in March in response to the school system’s new 166-day calendar, which entailed an addition of 20 minutes to the school day at all grade levels.
“Internationally, they have longer school days than we do, but they go year-round as well, and we don’t — there’s nobody brave enough, except in pockets, to allow that to happen,” Superintendent Rick Stout said at the retreat. “When you talk about year-round, you still have a month off in the summertime, which is ideal, and the international community has embraced that and shown its success.”
Stout recommended a polling of “all stakeholders in the community” before pursuing a year-round school schedule.
During the retreat, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Pamela Baldwin said that year-round instruction is most effective at the elementary school level and for students at each end of the achievement spectrum.
“The lower-end students are able to not have lag and gaps in learning, and the higher-end students are able to grow in a way that they are not able to traditionally,” said Baldwin.
However, board members Jamie Sutherland, Pat Gates, Jeff Byrd, and Paul Rush supported the idea of switching all of the system’s schools to year-round.
As of yet, the school board has taken no action regarding a change of schedule, and will involve the community further before doing so, according to chairman Charles Brown. He said the school system once operated on a year-round schedule, but did not recall when that schedule was in place.
“It is not a front-burner issue,” Brown said. “We will consider what the comments are because we know that Scotland County has a history of having year-round before.”
A year-round schedule would involve multiple short breaks of about three weeks interspersed throughout the school year rather than one three-month summer vacation. Officials say the change may facilitate learning retention and improve test scores by placing short breaks after tests rather than before them.
“Kids are out for Christmas and then when they come back for testing they’ve forgotten a lot of the material,” Gibson said.
Providing breaks during the school year may also provide opportunities to provide focused, remedial instruction for students falling behind in class.
“When we have some students who may be struggling, during the break you could take a week and do some tutoring to get kids back on grade level,” said Superintendent Rick Stout.
A change to year-round scheduling would affect all schools in the Scotland County system. According to Stout, that would enable the change to be made with a minimal increase in expense.
Gibson said that the board will only base further inquiry and research on a positive public response.
“There’s no guarantee that we’re going to do it,” he said. “We’re just doing a feasibility study right now from a community standpoint as well as an academic standpoint.”
After the survey’s close, Stout and other school officials will hold a series of public town hall meetings to disseminate information and further gauge public opinion.
“We’ll be researching other systems and bringing that information back to the board to see if it really does make a difference in achievement and what are some of the disadvantages of having this year-round system K-12,” said Stout.
The “Year Round School Staff, Parent/Guardian, Community Survey” is available online at scotlandcs.schoolfusion.us, and will be open through Oct. 8.