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Sterling Heights, Warren

April 18, 2013

WCS board approves year-round calendar

New concept granted at three elementary schools

By Maria Allard
C & G Staff Writer

WARREN— Against the wishes of many parents in the audience, the Warren Consolidated Schools Board of Education voted 7-0 April 17 to implement the year-round school concept at three district elementary schools.

The year-round calendar will be executed for the 2013-2014 school year at Holden, Fillmore and Siersma elementary schools, a decision that upset many parents.

Year-round, also known as a balanced calendar, includes the same number of school days as traditional schools, but are organized differently. Year-round schools are based on the 12-month calendar rather than the traditional 9-month calendar from September to June. Summer vacation, for instance, is six weeks long in the year-round setting as opposed to 12 weeks in a traditional calendar. Year-round classes begin in August rather than September.

Several year-round proponents said the program better prepares children for a globally competitive world. It increases retention rates and leads to more effective learning because students are engaged in their education all year long. Breaking up summer vacation days, supporters say, allows students to continue learning.

Through the District Strategic Plan, WCS explored and researched year-round schools for the past 18 months. Fillmore and Holden are located in Sterling Heights, and Siersma is located in Warren.

During the meeting, WCS Chief Academic Officer Brian Walmsley gave a presentation about year-round schools, which he said offers improved student achievement; reduced time spent reviewing previous years curriculum each fall; expanded enrichment and intervention opportunities for students; and expanded educational choice options for parent.

Other presentations and meetings about year-round schools were held prior to the April 17 meeting. WCS officials also needed to apply to the State for a waiver from the requirement to start school after Labor Day.

According to Walmsley’s presentation, students under the year-round system next year will attend school from Aug. 5 through Oct. 25; Nov. 11 through Feb. 14; March 3 through June 18 with six weeks off during the summer of 2014. According to the district's website, the three year-round schools will have the same Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday breaks as the rest of the district's traditional schools. During the breaks, “Intersessions” will be offered as enrichment and remediation options for students, which many parents said they could not afford.

Walmsley’s presentation included input from several Warren Con parents and teachers, as well as educators from a pair of area schools that have already adopted the year-round model: Carpenter of Lake Orion Community Schools and Turrill of Lapeer Community Schools.

The Carpenter educators, including Principal Kerri Anderson, spoke highly of the said year-round concept and said it reduces loss of learning, increases student and staff attendance, and improves the attitudes of students and staff. They also said it offers vacation options during non-peak times. Carpenter has existed in this fashion for 17 years. Representing Turrill was its Principal Kenneth Janczark.

Fillmore teacher Michelle Reposki said year-round will offer students “more intervention” and “students will be more attentive.”

Parent and 1995 Sterling Heights High School graduate Corine Vaisanen pointed out the world is changing and it’s “not the world in which we grew up.” If year-round would make the students more successful, “Why wouldn’t we do it?”

Parents who don’t want their children in a year-round school can switch schools and vice versa. Under the implementation timeline, families at year-round schools have until May 3 to “opt-out.” Families at schools not chosen to become year-round have until May 10 to “opt-in.”

Residents who decide not to send their child to a year-round building will be transported by bus to another school selected by the district. If parents choose to send their child to a different school, then transportation would be the responsibility of the parent. Special education students will receive the same services as those on a traditional calendar, according to school officials.

As the presentation continued, at least 16 parents held up signs that read “Keep Fillmore a Traditional School” and “Parents against all-year schools.”

Parent reaction

During the audience participation portion of the meeting — held prior to the board’s vote — many parents expressed their concerns about moving from traditional to year-round. Some cited their children were already thriving in the traditional setting and felt a change would disrupt that. How quickly district officials moved forward on the matter bothered others.

“It was sprung on people. It was sprung on the teachers,” said parent Suzanne Hickman, who added she is “not for or against year-round schooling.” She said she was against the fact information was not presented in a more timely fashion.

“I am against year-round schools. I feel this is being forced on us,” said parent Kelly Loring, who has three children — one at Fillmore, one at Carleton Middle School and one at Cousino High School. “I think there are a lot of questions we need to answer. Can we wait and discuss it more?”

Fillmore parent Kevin Sweet said while Walmsley’s presentation “made a lot of good points,” he would liked to have heard the negatives of going year-round.

“I’m sure there have been (other year-round schools) and it hasn’t worked,” he said. “All I can say is make the right decision.”

Julie Lupo, who has two children at Fillmore, said year-round will affect “a lot of families.” Lupo owns a business and saves up her vacation for the summer so she can spend time with her children.

“I’m afraid it’s going to break up our community,” she said. “I don’t want to pull my kids out but I have to.”

A number of parents became emotional at the podium. Some vowed with a balanced calendar they would “pull” their children out of Warren Con and enroll them in other districts; some mentioned Utica Community Schools as one option. UCS has schools in Sterling Heights as well.

Other parents felt that kids need to be kids with a real summer vacation. Parents with children in middle school or high school would now have children in school at different times.

Fillmore parent Denise Fischer said she thought the evening’s presentation was “bias toward year-round schools.” She also felt taking away from the traditional school setting leaves “less family time.”

“Family life is just as important as my children’s education,” she said. “I feel there is nothing to be gained and much to be lost.”

Sara LaPrise was one of the last parents who addressed the board and was in favor of year-round schools.

“I’m very happy with the board’s decision,” LaPrise, who attended the meeting with husband Brandon LaPrise, said after the vote. The couple’s two sons attend Susick Elementary School: one in kindergarten and one in preschool.

“I think it’s an atmosphere my children will thrive in,” LaPrise said. “With shorter school breaks, they obviously retain more. My older son he needs the constant…he likes school, he loves it.”

Holden parent Tina Kada also showed support for the year-round concept.

“It’s a good idea to shorten the summer and give students a flow of instruction,” she said. “It is worth it for our children’s advantage.”

Board Vice President Elaine Martin said she struggled with her decision, but in the end “I want to give (students) every opportunity,” she said.

 “I do feel the district provided us with enough time,” Board Trustee Sue Trombley said, adding nobody wants to disrupt anyone’s schedules nor does anyone want to “hurt your children.”

“This is never an easy decision when we make changes for your kids,” Board Secretary Susan Jozwik said. “I think this is a great opportunity for kids to learn.”

 WCS posted information about year-round schools on its website. For more information, visit www.wcskids.net.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Maria Allard at allard@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1045.