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Calendar Stirs Debate

Parents draw battle lines over modified school calendar.

During last Saturday's School Board public hearing on the superintendent's proposed budget, the expansion of the modified school calendar (MSC) to Mt. Vernon Elementary School divided parents.

The experimental program adjusting the school year was initiated in 2004 at Samuel W. Tucker Elementary School. Now in its second year, the cost for continuing that structure at Tucker is projected to be $413,597. To institute it at Mt. Vernon Elementary School, a total of $396,877 is requested in Perry's budget.

As explained in Superintendent Rebecca Perry's budget, under the modified school calendar, "The 183 days of instruction ... are reorganized into four eleven-week blocks. The first nine weeks are devoted to traditional academics. The remaining two weeks are intersession periods during which a variety of enrichment programs and remedial services are offered to students." The latter sessions are not required of all students.

THE PRIMARY OBJECTION expressed by those opposing its expansion to Mt. Vernon is that "as compared to a traditional calendar, we have grave doubts that the stated objectives of a MSC are achievable." They also emphasized to the Board, "MSC will put our children out of sync with their community and with the nation" and "it creates difficulties for families with children in more than one school."

Those in favor of expanding the modified school calendar to Mt. Vernon Elementary School emphasized, "The bottom line is we want our children to reach their highest potential and we believe year-round learning makes sense for our particular school. MSC offers something for every child in the school."

According to Perry, prior to the Feb. 5 public hearing, "This proposal [to expand the program to Mt.Vernon] gained 75 percent support from the community [that was impacted] which was what was needed for it to be included in the budget proposal."

Ballots were sent to all parents with children in Mt. Vernon Elementary School asking them to vote on instituting the modified school calendar at that school. There was an 85 percent return of those ballots with 75 percent in favor, according to Perry.

She maintained in her budget presentation, "The initial implementation at Tucker Elementary has been extremely successful." However, those opposing the expansion proposal have requested the School Board "develop a task force to fully study the MSC issue."

They also suggested, "This study should result in a public report that includes a review of the MSC program at Tucker, a review of the ACPS's plans for expanding the program to other schools, an analysis of the research on MSC, a cost/benefit analysis of the program, and the conclusions and recommendations of the School Board."

Those requests were made in a four-and-one-half page letter to the board signed by 78 concerned parents. A counter letter supporting the proposal was also sent to the board with 55 signers.

THE MSC PROCESS began three years ago with Perry explaining the concept to school principals. "I asked them to study the idea and if they were interested to put together a proposal. Both Tucker and Mt. Vernon principals did come forward with proposals," Perry said.

"However, I thought they needed more work and didn't accept them the first year. Then last year Tucker's was accepted and implemented. This year Mt.Vernon came back with another proposal. I felt it did meet the criteria and included it in the budget proposal, after receiving the 75 percent support from the parents," she said.

"There was a disagreement between those supporting the MSC and those against it at last Saturday's public hearing. But, the board just listened to both sides. They will discuss it further at our budget work session on Feb. 10," Perry said.

That session is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at George Washington Middle School, 1005 Mount Vernon Ave. "Although it is open to the public, it is not a public hearing. People may attend but they are not permitted to speak," Perry said.

If the modified school calendar for Mt. Vernon Elementary School is included in the 2005-2006 budget, that will ultimately be determined by the board, according to Perry. After the board agrees on the budget it becomes their document and goes to City Council for approval.

"Since council can not make line item changes, if the MSC is included in the board's budget it will go into effect," Perry said. That School Board budget is scheduled to go to City Council on Feb. 18.