WARREN/STERLING HEIGHTS — Under a blue sky and warm sun, students who attend Fillmore, Holden and Siersma elementary schools gathered outside their classrooms the morning of Aug. 4.
At 8:42 a.m., the school bell chimed to signal the start of the 2014-15 school year for each of the three Warren Consolidated Schools, which for the second year will offer school in the year-round setting.
Year-round, also known as a balanced calendar, includes the same number of school days as traditional schools, but the days are organized differently. Year-round schools are based on the 12th-month calendar, rather than the traditional nine-month calendar from September to June.
The school board voted 7-0 at the April 17, 2013, school board meeting to implement year-round at the three elementary schools last year. In year-round, the summer breaks are shorter, but teachers and students get more breaks during the school year.
The year-round students and teachers will get a two-week break in the fall; the same Christmas/holiday break as the traditional schools in December; another two-week break in February; and a two-week break in the spring. During the breaks, intersessions are offered as enrichment options for students. Parents pay a small tuition for the intersessions.
The year-round format has received positive feedback from parents, students and staff.
“The teachers found they could go right into new curriculum and spend less time having to review from the previous year,” WCS Chief Academic Officer Joe Konal said. “They felt the students were eager and excited to be at school despite having the short (summer) break. Administrators pointed out teachers seemed to be refreshed as they went through the school year.”
Year-round proponents say the format increases retention rates for pupils and leads to more effective learning because students are engaged in their education all year. Konal said that the WCS year-round teachers reported that attendance was higher. And while the year-round did not result in adding staff, there was some rearranging of positions.
“The staff members were committed to being there and were enthused to be there,” Konal said. “We were impressed at the eagerness of the staff. It was great to see their enthusiasm.”
New this year was the inception of one sixth-grade class at each of the three elementary schools. The program includes a small-school setting, single-teacher concept, integration of subject area content, flexible bell schedule and extended day for Middle School Mathematics Science Technology Center students.
Siersma fifth-grader Zoe Pierowich couldn’t wait for school to begin last week.
“I’m in love with school,” she said. “I love to learn. I love reading, math, social studies and science.” Because of the longer school breaks, Peirowich felt she could “relax more” during the school year.
The eager student and her family moved to the district just as year-round was implemented. Her mom, Elizabeth Krantz, is very pleased with the balanced calendar, which further attracted them to WCS.
“They don’t have to spend so much time doing catch-up learning what they did last year. It’s still fresh in their mind,” Krantz said. “Her stepfather went to this school. We always heard great things about the school district.”
First-grader Maria Sohana also was ready for the new year.
“She’s crazy about this school,” her mother, Shaila Parvin, said.
Jason Rengert quickly became a supporter of year-round. The Siersma parent has a friend with children who attend a year-round school in Oakland County. They are very happy with their program and encouraged Rengert to just “do it.”
“I thought it was a great idea,” said Rengert, who already sees the impact on his daughters Ryann Rengert, a second-grader; and Jaydin Rengert, who just started fourth-grade. “Just talking with their teachers they retained so much information.”
The Rengert sisters reflected on year-round while waiting for the school bell.
“I liked it,” Ryann said.
“I liked how the breaks seemed like they were longer,” Jaydin said. During that time off, the family enjoyed vacations, and Jaydin also did a lot of reading.
The board’s decision last year to enter into year-round was met with opposition from parents. Some felt their children were already thriving in the traditional format and felt a change might disrupt that. Other parents felt students need a real summer vacation. Another concern was for parents with children in middle school and high school, who would have children in school at different times.
Parents had the option to opt out of the program and enroll their children to a “sister” school in the district. Fillmore and Willow Woods were sister schools, as were Holden and Susick, and Siersma and Pearl Lean. Parents whose children were not in a year-round school could meanwhile opt in to the program.
Attempts to find out how many families opted in or out of year-round school was not available from district officials at press time. Data about how year-round impacted the Michigan Educational Assessment Program scores was premature as students took the test in October of 2013, just two months after year-round began.
To implement the balanced calendar, WCS officials needed to apply to the state for a waiver from the requirement to start school after Labor Day.
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