Thursday, March 23, 2006

Year-Round School Systems Are On The Decline Nationwide

This graph clearly shows the decline over the last five years in the number of school districts in the U.S. utilizing a year-round calendar. (Click here or on the graph for a fuller version) This data was obtained from the National Association of Year-Round Educators. NAYRE statistics also show that in North Carolina the number of year-round schools declined 30% - from 129 to 89 - over the same time period.

I explained in an earlier post why this decline has been occurring. 1) The cost turns out to be exorbitant 2) Staffing problems are a “nightmare” 3) No educational advantages have been proven, and 4) Community and family fibers are shredded.

Why is it that Wake County School Board members and Wake County Commissioners believe that they will be able to overcome the issues that have caused other systems across the country to abandon year-round schools?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

CONSIDER THIS! (Deadline is April 7)

I am currently a member of this council. Please consider applying – we need you!!!

The Superintendent's Parent Advisory Council is now accepting applications!  Deadline is April 7, 2006!
Are you a parent in the Wake County Public School System and want to have a direct line to the superintendent?  Well - the Superintendent's Parent Advisory Council is your opportunity to do just that!  SPAC is an advisory council that provides input, ideas and concerns to the Superintendent on issues and challenges facing the school system.  We meet six times throughout the year for a minimum of 3 hours each meeting.  The conversation is lively, the perspectives diverse and the recommendations taken seriously.  We are looking for 10 (ten) new enthusiastic and caring parents who are willing to commit the time and energy to be an effective advocate not only for their child, but for all the children of Wake County.  Most of the terms are 3 years, but there are also 2 year and 1 year terms available.
If you are interested in serving on the SPAC council, please request an application from Virginia Parker at  Complete the application in its entirety and return to the address indicated by April 7, 2006.  If you should have any additional questions, regarding SPAC, please feel free to contact the SPAC coordinator, Virginia Parker at or 846-1928.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Questionable Survey Results

I’m sure most of you saw the results of the Bond Issue Survey commissioned by the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce. I’d like to share a few comments about it.

First of all, I do not see this poll as an endorsement of total year-round conversion. With 43% of participants saying that the Wake County Public school system has “gotten off onto the wrong track”, this poll is pointing out, once again, that citizens simply do not trust the school system to spend their money wisely.

This poll was conducted over the phone to some 600-plus individuals. I think it is important to note that, according to the numbers shown, 63% indicated that they had heard very little, if any, information about the bond issue. 53% said they had heard or read some, very little, or nothing at all about the idea of year-round schools. Obvious lack of knowledge of the subject matter certainly played a part in how these survey questions were answered.

The wording of certain questions was definitely leading. For example, when year-round schools were mentioned, it was pointed out that they would “conserve classroom space” and cause “less demand for more buildings”. Such words as “mandatory” or “forced to attend” were never uttered, of course, and negative aspects of year-round conversion were never mentioned.

Even responses to the question concerning participation in elections (43% indicated they vote in ALL elections) were suspect to me.

Please, please do not get discouraged, and do not stop speaking out! Action steps to come soon!!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

A Letter to Wake County Commissioners

The following is a copy of an email that I sent to the Wake County Board of Commissioners. I also "copied" to the head of Raleigh's Chamber of Commerce. Even if you have written in the past, please continue to let our leaders know that you will never give up fighting against a massive conversion to mandatory year-round schools.

I want to begin by thanking you, on behalf of my family, for your dedication to the well-being of Wake County. Your job has got to be tough, and we appreciate your never-ending commitment of time and energy. Please know that you are not taken for granted!

I apologize in advance for the length of this email, but the topic I am addressing is massive. To adequately cover the “whole picture” would take volumes, but I promise to keep this as brief as I possibly can.

I would like to specifically address the issue of over-crowding in our schools. First of all, it is important to note that I have been involved with discussions on this subject for years, often as a liaison with Wake Education Partnership. I am no stranger to our School Board members, and have had several opportunities to share important studies and other findings with them. I am very much aware of the situation in which we find ourselves, and stay well-informed on all aspects of the issue. I am also on the Superintendent’s Parent Advisory Council with Bill McNeal and have participated in many discussions with him about student growth.

I do not claim to have the magic solution for housing students now or in the future. I have shared ideas and hope to continue to work with our education leaders as they explore options. I was recently heartened to learn that leasing of existing facilities and other creative suggestions are now being seriously considered – and are being implemented in some cases.

The one option that is being billed as a certainty is, of course, the mandating of year-round schools. This option is especially enticing because it offers the “quick fix” that we need. It also appears to be the only choice on the horizon. The problem is – if put into practice, its potential (and probable) repercussions will more than likely tear our community apart. I beg your patience as I explain.

First of all, I am not speaking out against voluntary year-round schools. Replace the word “voluntary” with “mandatory” however, and a new dimension is added – a frightening dimension in my opinion. I base the factual part of my argument on the tons and tons of school calendar research I have had cause to explore (in depth) over the past two years. The amount of information on this subject is mind-boggling – much too extensive to share in one email.

Suffice it to say that history speaks for itself – the “track record” for systems who have tried massive mandating of year-round schools is dismal at best. Study after study, account after account, reveal four main themes:

  1. The cost turns out to be exorbitant

  2. Staffing problems are a “nightmare”

  3. No educational advantages have been proven

  4. Community and family fibers are shredded

To fully present existing details on each of these themes would take days, but I have tried to highlight a few key findings.

1) Cost - I’m sure you have already been advised as to the added costs associated with mandatory year-round schools. While it initially saves on construction expenses, when new schools inevitably have to be built, the cost will be much greater. Studies such as the one done by the Comptroller of the state of Texas show, for example, that air conditioning during hot summer months will cause utility bills to soar. Personnel expenses will increase dramatically, as will costs related to transportation and maintenance. Also, I have been told that during “track-out” time, Wake County funds remediation programs for low-achieving students. This is certainly an admirable practice, but will it be able to continue when the number of participants increases? If so, at what added cost? Even the School Board members have not been able to provide an answer.

2) Staffing problems - I hope you have already seen the report that Toni Patterson (of Central Office) submitted to the Wake County School Board in the late summer [if not, see here (Adobe Reader required to read this link)]. The title was, “Key Human Resources Year Round School Conversion Issues”, and it detailed major conversion hurdles in categories such as “Budget Issues” and “Recruitment and Employment”. In systems that have tried forcing a year-round calendar, employee burnout has been a major drawback. Since we are currently buried in a crisis situation when it comes to teacher retention and recruitment, I find it hard to believe that we would intentionally dig ourselves into a deeper hole. I taught here in Wake County for 14 years, and still stay in touch with teachers from across the system. The words I’m hearing (which aren’t likely to be openly shared with administrators) reflect a similar sentiment. One veteran teacher of 30 years wrote, “It might just be the year that I retire if year-round becomes mandatory”. And this from a school social worker, “I’d probably leave, losing my 10 years vested in the retirement system and all. Another teacher (younger) pointed out to me that many young teachers still low on the salary scale have to work a summer job to make up for the low pay…with year-round they can’t do this because the time is so broken up….she will have to leave the system as well.” I’m wondering how Wake County plans to deal with the inevitable flight of teachers.

3) No educational advantages - Even Wake County’s administration acknowledges the fact that academic advantage cannot be used as a promotional tool for year-round calendars. Information abounds on the issue. In a 2000 Education Brief, entitled, “Year-Round Schools and Achievement in NC”, our own NC Department of Public Instruction came to the following conclusion after conducting an in depth study on the subject. I quote, “The results reported here do not imply any clear advantage or disadvantage to year-round education with respect to student achievement in reading or math.” Since I promised to condense this letter as much as possible, I’ll leave you with just that quote. If you want more research results, I’ll be glad to point the way to others.

4) Community and family - As for the fourth theme, which addresses family and community repercussions – well, I could fill up an entire book on this topic! Besides the obvious, such as loss of family cohesiveness, a decline in parental involvement/support, and the demise of community, other issues need to be given careful consideration. Lower income families (have their opinions even been sought??) know that childcare is typically more expensive in short spurts as opposed to one long break. Scholarships to summer camps, art and music programs, etc. offer opportunities that some of these children would otherwise never experience. Perhaps most importantly – many of these families depend heavily on income that their older students bring home from summer jobs – income that buys food, clothing, and other necessities of life. Also, has Wake County considered the legal quagmire which will develop as parents are forced to try and change court-ordered custody dates? Then there’s an intangible aspect that is especially disturbing, and difficult for some to understand. Most parents possess an intrinsic knowledge about what their particular child needs in order to grow into the type of individual they hope for. Should any school board have the right to force a change in a lifestyle that is vital for some families? For hundreds and hundreds of parents, a traditional school calendar is not just a preference – it is a necessity.

As I close, I want to thank you for seriously considering the points I have mentioned. I would never send an email this long if I didn’t think the information was vital for you to know. Believe it or not, I have only hit the highlights here, but hopefully it will spur a hunger for, and show the need for, a closer look before we “leap”. I have no doubt that we share a common goal to keep Wake County the ideal place to raise a family. I firmly believe that such a goal is attainable through compromise and the implementation of creative options, and by assuring parents that their “say so” in how to best raise their own child(ren) will be respected and protected. I have promised myself never to be part of the “I told you so” crowd. Please help me keep that promise!

Respectfully Yours,

Louise Lee