Brownie Newman weighs in on year round school calendar ahead of Oct. 16 meeting

Here’s the message from Brownie Newman, via his campaign’s email newsletter. Newman is a Democrat running for the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners in District 1.

Should Asheville Adopt a Balanced School Calendar?

Could moving to a “Balanced School Calendar” enable more children in Asheville succeed in school and reduce the drop-out rate? Over the past month, the Asheville School Board has held a series of public input sessions on the concept of moving to a Balanced School Calendar, or what is often referred to as a Year Round School Calendar. The school board will hold another public forum on this issueTuesday, Oct. 16 from 5:30 – 7 PM in the main auditorium at Asheville High School. I encourage anyone interested in education and public schools to participate.

I attended one of the previous community forums held at Asheville Middle School. Here are a few of the things I learned. First, moving to a Balanced School Calendar would not increase the total number of days each year that students attend school. A Balanced School Calendar would still have a Summer vacation break but the length of the Summer break would be reduced. In the place of the traditional “long” Summer break, there would be a somewhat shorter summer break plus additional shorter breaks added in the Fall and Spring, along with the traditional breaks at Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays.

I learned that the primary reason the School Board is considering a move to the Balanced School Calendar is that a high percentage of students have a significant loss in reading and math skills over the long summer break. The loss of math and reading skills is especially pervasive among students from lower income families who tend to not benefit from the types of enrichment activities that kids from more affluent families commonly enjoy. The research shows that each fall, teachers must dedicate many weeks or even months of classroom time simply to get the students back to the same reading and math levels they had been at the previous spring school session before the long summer break. During the school year itself, the academic achievement gap between students from lower income families and more affluent families tends to shrink so that by the end of the school year in the spring, the gap is smaller. However, with each passing summer and the loss of academic skills that occurs over this long break, many kids from lower income families (as well as many kids from middle class families) fall further behind their peers.

The numbers move around, but about one in four to one in five young people in Asheville end up dropping out of school. This high drop-out rate takes a devastating toll on individuals as well as the community as a whole. Once a young person drops out of school, their prospects for getting a job that pays a living wage are slim. Their odds of spending time in jail go way up. And it’s the kids who academically struggle and fall behind that drop out of school. This is not a new problem. High dropout rates have been a problem for a long time. The idea behind the Balanced School Calendar is that shorter breaks spread throughout the year and reducing the length of the traditional summer break will help reduce the summer learning loss problem associated with the traditional long summer break.

For the forum on Tuesday, the school board has invited educators from Southeast Raleigh High School and Hendersonville Elementary School to come and lead a panel discussion about their experiences with the balanced calendar model. The forum will explore both the pros and cons of these schools first hand experiences, with lots of time scheduled for questions from the public. For myself, I need more information about the issue before I may have a definite opinion about whether going to a Balanced School District is the best option for Asheville’s schools. Any major change like this would no doubt involve hardships and difficulties. At the same time, I think we owe it to our kids to use whichever approach results in the best educational outcomes for the most children and students. I commend the City School Board being willing to ask the hard questions and consider new approaches to tackling these important, tough issues.

This decision will be made by the Asheville City School Board, not the Buncombe County Commissioners. If I am elected to the County Commission, we will not have any direct decision making authority over this issue. I plan on sending out additional information about this topic in the future and let folks know how they can make their voice heard on this issues as the City School Board gets closer to making a decision.

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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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