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Superintendent: Year-round school would benefit Hopewell students

HOPEWELL, VA. — The Hopewell City Public School system is considering switching all of its schools to what is known as a balanced or year-round calendar.

The change, if approved by the school board, would go into effect for the 2020-2021 school year.

Currently, a traditional school calendar in Virginia consists of a minimum of 180 teaching days (or 990 teaching hours) between the months of September and June with a summer break in between.

HCPS Superintendent Dr. Melody D. Hackney said that since fall 2017, her school system has been studying the possibility of moving to a version of the balanced calendar known as the 45/15 model.

“Which is basically the nine-week grading period, marking period of instruction,” said Hackney. “But, after each nine-week marking period, students and staff would have a three-week break.”

Hackney added that the summer break would be about five weeks, as schools would be closed for a week before and after the summer break in the 45/15 model.

Hackney said that the breaks would either be treated as vacations or something called intersessions. The latter will be spread out over seven weeks during the break periods and will be an opportunity for additional learning sessions for either enrichment or remediation. Hackney said the sessions would be optional.

“What we are working really hard to do is to make those experiences during those intersession periods so meaningful and relevant, fun, non-traditional opportunities that our biggest problem is that we have too many kids wanting to come,” said Hackney.

Hackney said the intersession classes would differ in format from a standard one.

“The way we’re going to design the instructions is unique,” said Hackney. “We’re going to provide for morning instruction that is basically foundational academics, not necessarily delivered traditionally, but your traditional academic content areas. The afternoons and then potentially evenings and then, possibly, overnights and weekends…will be the applications, the real world connections, then enrichment opportunities to apply that learning from the academic content.”

Hackney said that could include things like internships, field trips, camping trips, or community projects.

Hackney said among the benefits she believes come from a balanced calendar is that it counters the “summer slide,” when students forget what they learnt over the extended summer holiday. She added that her research showed that the calendar would be a benefit to Hopewell students.

“For children of color and children of poverty, the greatest gains and achievements occur. The majority of our students in Hopewell are children of color and many of whom live in poverty,” added Hackney. “We’re not programming specifically to our segment of the student population, because we believe that this type of programming will benefit every child.”

As for how to fund the change, Hackney said that initial plan is to apply for a grant that would provide $300,000 a year for three years. She said five of HCPS’ seven schools are eligible. If approved, she added they will spread the $1.5 million among the seven schools, which the grant allows. She added that they do not expect to need $300,000 per school to implement the change.

She said that they would be able to apply for the same grant after the first three years, but they are also looking at other funding methods, including other grants, that would not require local taxes being raised to pay for the program.

“There are other streams of revenue that we are confident we can access to maintain the program, honestly, without necessarily having to go to our city council,” said Hackney.

The school system is holding a final town hall for community engagement on the proposed change on May 9, 2019 at 6:30 p.m. at Carter G. Woodson Middle School.

The school board is expected to vote on the proposed change in either its May or June meeting.

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