Meadowbrook Elementary is the only year-round school west of Asheville — a distinction it’s had for 19 years since first taking up the mantel of a year-round school calendar.
But the year-round schedule is out of sync with state testing schedules and curriculum benchmarks, and that’s become increasingly problematic, said Meadowbrook Principal Stephanie Mancini.
“Lately, we have received critical curriculum information from the state after the first quarter is already over,” Mancini said. “This leads to pacing guides being revised after we have already started our school year, teachers playing catch-up with curriculum and confusion for students and parents.”
While teachers at Meadowbrook are 100 percent in favor of switching to a traditional calendar, only half of Meadowbrook’s parents support the change, according to surveys. The school sent home two surveys, and the results were about 50-50 each time.
Most preferring a year-round schedule liked being able to take family vacations at off times of year, or felt child care was easier without a long summer to contend with.
Summer slide myth?
Students on a year-round schedule don’t actually go to school any more than their August-to-June peers at other schools. They still clock in at 180 days like everyone else, but the year is divvied up differently.
Summer break is only four or five weeks — compared to 10 — with a two-week mini-break after each quarter.
Mancini said the benefits once touted by year-round school advocates — primarily preventing the so-called “summer slide” when students take an extended break from the books — haven’t been borne out.
National studies examining the pros and cons of year-round school have shown any break longer than three weeks still results in backsliding. That means Meadowbrook’s five-week summer break is still too long to prevent the dreaded summer slide. Meanwhile, the mini-breaks during the year pose setbacks of their own.
Meadowbrook students were out of school for a month this winter, when a three-week Christmas break was followed by another week of lost school due to snow. Making matters worse, students were hit with standardized mid-year assessments on the heels of the four-week hiatus, Mancini said.
Meadowbrook went year-round in 1997. It was an early pioneer of year-round school, which was being heralded at the time as the newest trend in education, with proponents predicting a gradual national movement toward year-round school as the new normal.
But the concept hasn’t gained traction to the extent predicted 20 years ago. Only 4 percent of public schools nationwide follow a year-round schedule.
Year-round school is also heralded as a way to prevent teacher burnout, by giving them periodic breaks during the year. But Mancini has found the opposite to be true. She has trouble getting teachers to actually take a break during the intermittent two-week vacations every nine weeks. By the time they wrap up grading and other loose ends when one quarter is over, they shift right into planning for the next nine-week session.
“They are always there,” Mancini said.
The shorter summer break likewise doesn’t allow enough transition time for teachers. As soon as they wrap up one school year, they are already trying to prep their classes for the start of the new year in mid-July.
“Teachers are pretty fanatical of course about how their classrooms look and they want them to be just amazing,” Mancini said. “Turning around a school building is a lot of work. In order to get the building ready for teachers, custodians would come in to work at 2 a.m.”
Teachers at Meadowbrook also miss out on summer workshops because school is back in session.
This summer, two teachers plan to attend the International Literacy Association conference with Mancini in Boston, which they couldn’t have done before.
They also miss countywide back-to-school workshops that the rest of the county’s teachers partake in.
“It is also really important to collaborate with teachers from other schools in the county,” Mancini said.
Meadowbrook’s year-round schedule poses a logistical challenge for parents with an older child in middle or high school in the county with a traditional calendar. Many of those who are against a change weren’t in that boat yet, Mancini said.
“Several parents hadn’t considered that. One mom said ‘If I had one going to Canton Middle and one here, I would vote differently,’” Mancini recounted.
Meadowbrook has 300 students. Because of its unique status — being the only year-round school in Haywood County — families can opt to attend Meadowbrook from anywhere in the county, even if they don’t live in Meadowbrook’s district.
Around 50 students currently fall in that category. Mancini said the number of students seeking waivers to attend Meadowbrook from other districts due to its year-round schedule seems to be less than it once was.
Without the draw of a year-round calendar, some families may switch schools, reverting to the school in their assigned district once Meadowbrook is no longer year-round.
However, some families who live in Meadowbrook’s district but don’t like the year-round schedule opt-out and attend another school elsewhere in the county. Mancini predicts any loss in students who leave once Meadowbrook is no longer year-round will be offset by those coming back to Meadowbrook once it’s on a traditional schedule.
Meadowbrook held two parent meetings this year to discuss the possibility of switching to a traditional school calendar. Neither was heavily attended.
One of the meetings in early January drew only 22 parents, some of whom strongly supported sticking with the year-round calendar.
But Mancini said after explaining the rationale behind the change, most understood.
“We explained that we aren’t here for us. We are here for these children, and we want to do what is best for them,” Mancini said. “We love these kids. I go home and worry about these kids. You wouldn’t be in this job if you didn’t want the best for children.”