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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

A longer school year? Some parents aren't interested

Jason Kamras became superintendent of Richmond (Virginia) schools in 2018.

Richmond Superintendent Jason Kamras wanted to lengthen the school year to give students more time to catch up, reports AP's Bianca Vazquez Toness. "Richmond school board members said it would be too expensive and disruptive." Teachers and parents, especially affluent parents, were opposed.

Twenty miles away, the much smaller Hopewell district made the shift, she writes. However, "Hopewell has struggled to enroll students to attend optional extra school days — especially those who need help the most."

"Nationwide, a small number of districts have extended the academic year or changed to year-round school to address concerns about pandemic setbacks," she writes. "The state of Washington is urging schools there to consider doing the same."

Some districts expanded summer school programs -- and found it difficult to get students to show up.

. . . Several years before the COVID-19 pandemic, Hopewell had begun studying year-round school as a way to boost lackluster performance in the 4,000-student district, where 91% of students are economically disadvantaged and 60% are Black.
. . . The need for intervention became acute after kids spent 16 months outside of school buildings. Test scores show Hopewell students lost the equivalent of more than two years of learning in math, one of the worst outcomes among thousands of school districts in a recent study.

Hopewell launched the new calendar in summer of 2021. Students get four weeks of summer vacation and three two-week "intersessions" during the year. Students can take the time off or opt for enrichment or catch-up classes. Only 20 percent to 25 percent of students took at least one intersession class. The superintendent is considering making attendance mandatory for students who are farthest behind.

"Richmond’s average student lost the equivalent of nearly two years in math learning," writes Vazquez Toness. The school board agreed to add learning days for the 2022-23 school year in spring of 2021, but changed its mind by fall.

“Family time is sacred,” said board member Kenya Gibson, who represents an affluent part of the city and was supported by the teachers' union.

Most teachers, but few lower-income parents and students responded to an online survey, which showed support for the status quo.

“Parents who had resources were complaining that it would mess up their annual vacations,” said Taikein Cooper, executive director of Virginia Excels. “But a lot of students who really need year-round school don’t take an annual vacation.”

Vazquez Toness talked to Latino parents who wanted more school days.

“It’s good to have vacation, but it’s too long,” Leticia Mazariegos said in Spanish. Her 9-year-old son speaks English very timidly, and she said more school would help his confidence.
. . . Veronica Lucas would like more time in school for her son Jonathan. Richmond schools have trained teachers in phonics to improve reading instruction, but he still needs more help. “I can’t afford to hire him a tutor,” Lucas said.

Kamras has proposed a pilot for next year: five schools would add 20 required days to the school calendar.

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