Even when Tracy Taylors two children dont receive assignments over the summer, she still likes to keep them busy with reading and math work at home.
After her childrens summer breaks from Skyview Elementary and Rutland Middle schools, she has noticed they tend to forget a lot of what they learned the previous year and have to spend extra time reviewing in class.
Taylor said shes not necessarily opposed to a proposal for Bibb County schools to move to a calendar that distributes school days more evenly throughout the year -- with a shorter summer break -- as soon as this fall. The school board has not yet voted on the proposal from Superintendent Romain Dallemands administration.
I think it will take a large learning curve to get used to it, she said, but I think the community needs to get behind the idea.
But parents of children in the Bibb system arent all in lockstep with the idea.
Jennifer Wilson, whose three children attend Skyview, said she doesnt think year-round school is a good idea, pointing to school systems in Florida, such as Duval County schools in Jacksonville and Orange County schools in Orlando, that tried it and moved back to a traditional calendar.
Wilson is concerned about the potentially higher costs of running schools in the summer months and keeping schools open during scheduled breaks for students who need remediation. She worries those added costs will be passed on to taxpayers.
I dont think the benefits outweigh the costs by any means, Wilson said.
Across Georgia, at least some schools in seven districts are on a year-round calendar.
In the midstate, Dooly County school officials and parents say the change to a year-round calendar in 2001 has proven successful, increasing standardized test scores. But in Muscogee County in west Georgia, education officials have reversed course and are returning two year-round schools to a traditional calendar in the next school year. Officials there said they have not seen much academic improvement between year-round students and those on a traditional school calendar.
In Bibb County, Bloomfield Middle School Principal Shannon Norfleet, one of two administrators who discussed year-round school with board members at a Jan. 17 meeting, said he anticipates the idea could cost the system more money. However, he said school officials need to start making plans for year-round school, since it was included in the Macon Miracle strategic plan.
We need to begin the discussions, because the district plan calls for a change in (the) calendar that was passed by the board, Norfleet said.
Year-round schools in Bibb on the table
A proposed calendar presented to Bibb school board members last month uses a 45-15 model, with students in class for 45 days and on vacation 15 days. The calendar also incorporates time for holidays such as Thanksgiving and a shorter, five-week summer break.
If a proposed 2013-2014 calendar that was presented to school board members in January is adopted, students would return to class July 25. The last day of school for students would be June 18, 2014.
The school year is broken up into four quarters that are between 44 and 46 days each -- a total of 180 days.
Under the plan presented to the board, a two-and-a-half-week break would be scheduled in late September and early October. Students also would be out of school the week of Thanksgiving, followed by a winter break from Dec. 20 until they return to class Jan. 13, 2014. Spring break would run from March 20 through April 14, 2014.
A traditional school calendar with a long summer break no longer meets the needs of Bibb County students who are trying to compete in the 21st century work force, Jane Drennan, Bibbs deputy superintendent for teaching and learning, told board members last month.
In the 1800s, long summer breaks first were incorporated into the school year when most students had to help families on their farms, Drennan said.
That is no longer beneficial to students, communities or the current economy, Drennan said. The agrarian calendar began in the 19th century, and frankly, no longer makes sense in the 21st century.
Drennan cited studies that show the distribution of vacation days in the year-round calendar combats summer learning loss -- a regression of skills learned over the school year after a long break. Proponents of the year-round calendar say an abbreviated summer break cuts down on review time when students return to class.
Opponents, however, say the year-round calendar cuts down on students opportunities to take on summer jobs or enroll in camps and makes it difficult for families to schedule vacations. They also argue that, according to the data, year-round schools dont conclusively show any academic improvement.
Before the Bibb school board makes a decision about a year-round calendar, administrators need to consider teacher input, potential costs and the impact on summer activities such as the Governors Honors Program, board member Lester Miller said. I am of the opinion that these things need to be done, but I think youre starting on it way too late to get it done for 2013 and 2014, Miller said.
Other board members such as Lynn Farmer and Sue Sipe raised concerns that parents have already made 2013 summer plans, and day care centers might have issues finding workers to accommodate students during breaks through the year.
On the other hand, board member Tom Hudson said Bibb Countys poor academic performance and lackluster graduation rates show that big changes need to be made in the district.
State figures show that during the 2010-2011 school year, Georgias graduation rate was 67 percent -- among the lowest in the country. The graduation rate in Bibb County that year was just 51 percent.
Our children cant wait another year, he said. Were already at the bottom.
If the Bibb County school district moves to a year-round calendar, local child care providers such as Macons Joshua House Early Care and Learning Center will need to consider how the change would impact working parents in terms of costs and how the centers will hire staff, said Patricia Walker, executive director for the nonprofit Out and Up Inc., which oversees Joshua House.
Walker said she hasnt been part of any conversations about a switch to year-round schools, but its an issue that should be considered from all sides.
It does bear careful thought, and (any decisions) have to go in conjunction with those who have to take care of those children, she said.
Amy Kinn, the mother of a first-grader at Porter Elementary School, worries about parents finding adequate and affordable child care for students during extended breaks.
She supports programs for those who may need an academic boost, but she doesnt support mandatory classes in the summer, especially if they cut into summer enrichment opportunities.
Theres a lot of issues there, and I dont think thats something we need to jump into, she said.
Success in Dooly County
In Dooly County, schools Superintendent Grady Miles was working at the local high school when the school board approved year-round schools more than a decade ago.
Miles agrees that a year-round calendar cuts down on summer learning loss, because students are out of school for shorter periods of time. If students are struggling, teachers can work with them during breaks throughout the year.
We dont have to wait until the summer to have summer school, he said.
The calendar also gives teachers the chance to receive training during the year and helps teachers and students feel more focused when they are in class, he said.
It gives positive time to be refreshed, Miles said. (There has been) some improvement in test scores as well.
In the decade since the year-round calendar has been in place, test scores in some subjects have improved greatly.
For example, during the 2001-2002 school year, 66 percent of the districts sixth-graders passed state reading tests. A decade later, that rate increased by 24 percentage points to 90 percent.
There are similar increases elsewhere in the system. Just 51 percent of Dooly Countys eighth-graders passed the states English language arts test 10 years ago, while 91 percent of them passed it during the 2011-2012 school year.
The year-round calendar took Felitas Bryants oldest children, now 19 and 24, some getting used to. However, they eventually began to take a liking to the routine.
Her youngest child, now a sixth-grader, has never attended school on a traditional calendar and likes Doolys schedule.
Three months off (in the summer), for me, is too much time away from academic instruction for my children, Bryant said. It really made them lazy, less productive.
The year-round calendar benefits students in a rural county like Dooly, where the students may not have many recreational options during a long summer break, said Angelia Hosley, whose daughter is a 10th-grader there.
Thats the best move Dooly County made -- going year round, Hosley said. I like it for my child.
Muscogee County moves back to traditional calendar
Meanwhile, the larger districts in Georgia using year-round calendars only have them in place at a few schools. They are not districtwide.
On Jan. 22, the Muscogee County school board voted unanimously to return two elementary schools, Georgetown and Rigdon Road, to the traditional calendar in the 2013-2014 school year. Once that happens, there will be no Muscogee schools on the year-round calendar.
At its peak about six to eight years ago, there were seven schools in Muscogee County on a year-round calendar, said Valerie Fuller, the districts communications director. One elementary school principal requested the switch to the year-round calendar, and others followed suit, though the calendar was never adopted districtwide.
Part of the drive to return to a traditional calendar comes from the districts findings that students in year-round schools there didnt show academic improvement over those attending the other schools.
The year-round schools dont do any better or worse than those in the traditional-calendar schools, Fuller said.
From 2010 to 2012, the percentage of elementary-age students at Muscogees year-round schools passing state tests tended to fall somewhere in the middle of those at all the districts elementary schools, according to state data.
Sometimes the pass rate at the two schools was near the top or bottom tiers at other schools, but they werent consistently on either extreme, the data showed.
For example, in 2011, 70 percent of fourth-graders at Georgetown Elementary passed the math Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, and 68 percent of the fourth-graders at Rigdon Road Elementary did.
That same year, the math pass rates at other, non-year-round schools ranged from 39 percent to 100 percent. Of Muscogees 34 elementary schools, 18 performed worse than the students at Georgetown and Rigdon Road, while 14 schools performed better.
Other factors contributed to Muscogee Countys return to the traditional calendar, including complaints from parents with children at schools with two different calendars, making summer vacation plans difficult, Fuller said. A recent survey of parents with children at Muscogees two year-round schools showed that most either preferred returning to a traditional calendar or at least were open to the option.
Other districts considering a switch, however, may not have the same results as Muscogee, and any calendar changes depend on a districts individual needs and goals, Fuller said.
I think its going to be unique to the makeup of the school district and the outcomes they would desire for their students, she said.
Next steps for Bibb County
The debate about year-round schools in Bibb County is scheduled to gear up at the end of this month.
At its Feb. 28 meeting, the school board is expected to be presented with proposed calendars for the 2013-14 and the 2014-15 school years, according to an e-mail from schools spokesman Donald Porter.
Porter said the board is expected to vote on calendars covering the next two school years that night.
Before that meeting, teachers and staff will get to choose between two calendar options for the two years, and the option with the most votes will be presented to the school board for a vote.
Last month, the school board received a proposed time line of preparations needed before a new calendar can be put in place.
That time line included focus workshops with the presidents of Bibbs parent teacher organizations.
It also called for forums among middle and high school students and community members.
But Lisa DeWees, president of Howard High Schools Parent Teacher Student Organization, said she had not yet heard of any planned parent meetings.
She thinks its important that school officials let everybody who has a dog in this fight (have) their voice be heard.
Getting feedback, DeWees said, goes a long way to allow parents and teachers to voice their concerns.
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.