Julie Pecorella said a 'balanced schedule' would greatly reduce
the amount of student proficiency lost during a traditional
three-month summer vacation, provide extra instructional days to
prepare for the state's annual assessment tests and offer an
opportunity for periodic remedial classes or enrichment
separate matter before a workshop meeting on May 5, the school
board also authorized superintendent Bruce Harter to proceed
with establishment of an in-district 'alternative education'
program for seriously disruptive middle- and high school
youngsters. They are now sent to outside programs run
cooperatively by districts in New Castle County or receive
instruction at their homes.
Converting to year-around schooling, which is considered by many
as being more in keeping with present-day lifestyles, is a
relatively small but rapidly growing national trend. Seaford
Central Elementary in Sussex County is the only public school in
Delaware now offering such a program, for which it has a waiting
list of applicants. A plan to adopt a year-around calendar for
Highlands Elementary in the Red Clay district in September,
2003, has been shelved pending installation of air-conditioning
in the west Wilmington school. A spokesman for the Delaware
Department of Education said it is not aware of any other
pending plans but thinks there are some in the embryonic stage.
said interest in having such an arrangement at the school in
Claymont dates back to formation of a teacher-parent committee
in December, 1999. The idea was "put on hold during the change
in leadership at district level." Harter, who was hired to be
district superintendent during a scandal-ridden upheaval,
authorized Maple Lane to resume preliminary planning during the
present academic year and it was decided at a mid-April meeting
to seek board approval to proceed toward implementation.
in what appeared to be a consensus of board members after her
presentation. Vice president Nancy Doorey, for one, said she was
pleased about the school's having taken the initiative. "You are
willing to look at something very different [to] bring down that
summer-off bloc," she said.
endorsed the idea, saying it was reflective of "a very
enthusiastic school community."
“We are very supportive of school
districts looking at options that will better serve students,
including year-around schooling,” state Secretary of Education
Valerie Woodruff told Delaforum.
mid-year vacation time from about 12 weeks to six -- from
mid-June through July -- would significantly reduce, if not
eliminate, the "summer learning loss," Pecorella said. She said
in-school testing found that the portion of first-graders
performing at grade level dropped from 74% in the spring of 2002
to 62% in autumn and second-graders went from 93% to 80%. Maple
Lane has students in kindergarten through third grade.
principal said Maple Lane has received generally favorable
response from both teachers and parents. "There were not as many
parents at the [April] meeting as I would have liked, [but]
there have been very few negative comments," she said, adding
that 94% of the teachers "agreed they want to try it." Included
among approving staff, she said, were specialist teachers shared
with other schools whose work schedules would have to differ at
various times during the year.
greatest concerns expressed in a survey of parents last autumn
was difficulty in making child-care arrangements and coping with
different schedules by families with children at various grade
levels. Boys & Girls Club and Balanced Family, outside providers
in the vicinity of the school, and Maple Lane's own service so
far have agreed to accommodate to the arrangement and there are
indications that Claymont Intermediate and Talley Middle
Schools, to which Maple Lane is a 'feeder' school, are
interested in developing similar schedules, the board was told.
Minta Gibbon, a parent with children
at Maple Lane and Claymont, told the board that such
difficulties are more than offset by advantages. Primary among
them are enthusiasm youngsters have for the enrichment portion
of their schedule "which can only carry over the the regular
year" and relieving some of the pressure they are under in
connection with state testing. Besides, she added, "it lets us
take vacation when not everybody else is doing it."
Maple Lane would provide only
year-around schooling. Families presumably would be able to opt
out of the program through the state's public school choice
procedure. The timetable accepted by the school board calls for
presentation of a detailed proposal by November. Board action
then would be well within the window for filing a choice
application for the 2004-05 school year.
Pecorella explained that the version
of year-around schooling her committee is pursuing provides the
same amount of regular instructional time spread through the
year. There would be about 10 additional instructional days
before state testing. The six weeks lopped off of summer
vacation would be added to the Christmas-New Year's and spring
breaks and inserted elsewhere into the calendar. All present
holidays would be retained.
Maple Lane has not yet produced an
actual proposed calendar.
Coming in three-week increments, the
breaks would provide a week off for everyone and two weeks of
make-up work or enrichment programs, at which attendance would
be optional and which would could be attended on a full- or
Second-grade teacher Kathleen McGorreston said those 'intersessions'
would be similar to the changes-of-pace which universities offer
between semesters and make room for "those wonderful things
teachers used to teach but [that] we don't have time for now."
Students falling behind would not have to endure an entire
academic year, she added. "We try but we are not able to help
them much during the regular session because we have to keep
going. This way you stop periodically and give them a chance to
said explatory visits to Seaford Elementary and an inner-city
school in Allentown, Pa., which has a similar program,
discovered that children at the elementary-school level have
come to refer to those parts of the calendar as 'fun school'. A
conceptual curriculum she used in her presentation included
topics ranging from 'math magic' and Native American culture to
crafts and roller skating.
scores improved in Allentown and a significant by-product of the
program there was a noticeable reduction in the number of
disciplinary incidents, she said.
'alternative school' program presented by administrator Judith
Curtis is in keeping with the portion of the district's
long-range strategic plan, which calls for it to provide such
schooling rather than seeking it elsewhere. The board authorized
her and Harter to proceed with development of a program, which
the superintendent said could be implemented at the start of the
2003-04 academic year in September or soon thereafter.
said one approach being considered is to seek an outside
contractor to administer and staff the program. Doorey said and
others on the board agreed, however, that Brandywine teachers
who might be interested in being involved shousld be given that
opportunity, either as individuals or a group.
and Mount Pleasant High School have been identified as possible
venues for such classes. They would be located, however, in a
separate section of the building and use such common facilities
as the gymnasium when other students are not doing so. Another
possible to isolate the program, Curtis said, would be to have
the 'alternative' school day begin in mid-afternoon after the
conventional school day ends.
member Mark Huxsoll objected to placing the program in either of
those buildings. "Some people might view it as a negative. Those
schools have worked very hard and well [to improve reputations]
and you could hurt those efforts," he said.
a student who has been a major problem in a regular school
setting [back] in a regular school setting is only going to
continue the problem," said board member Thomas Lapinski,
formerly the principal at Mount Pleasant. All of the youngsters
in the program would have been in disciplinary trouble up to the
point of their being considered, which in it, for possible
said the two schools were identified as having available
space and, while it would be possible to use an outside location
-- particularly if it is decided to employ and outside
contractor -- that would present major logistical problems.
Moreover, the program is expected to involve only 25 to 50
students at any given time and that would make for a very high
agreed that "the perception is going to be negative until [the
program] has proven itself." To help offset that, she added, it
will not be called an 'alternative' school or anything else that
is descriptive of its actual function. "Red Clay [school
district] calls theirs a 'community school'," she said.
Brandywine district formerly operated an 'alternative' program
in the Claymont Community Center building, which used to house a
Questioned about the curriculum to be provided in the program,
Harter sought to dispel any notion that it would be academically
elitist. "We are going to have a very modest program. The
question is only whether [the arrangement] will be better than
what we have now," he said.