Students at three schools in Oklahoma City finally got out of school this week, though their summers will be shorter than most. They attend year-round schools, a model that one principal says has significant advantages. "We have less reteaching time,” Sequoyah Elementary Principal Montie Koehn said of how a shorter, eight-week summer means students return more ready to learn. "It cuts down on chaos,” Koehn said. "If you walk into our school on the first day of school, by 8:45 in the morning, sometimes sooner, the hallways are quiet, the students are in their classrooms and they're learning.” Despite the label "year-round,” students attend the same number of days of school as those on traditional calendars. The proper name is continuous learning, because the schedule scatters breaks more evenly throughout the year. The schools offer free, optional classes during the breaks, which usually last two weeks.
What are the benefits?Proponents of year-round schools nationwide say students benefit academically from staying in school more consistently. And academic ratings of most Oklahoma City and Tulsa schools on the extended calendar outpace the averages for their respective districts. The only year-round school in the two districts with a lower-than-average Academic Performance Index, a measure that complies with No Child Left Behind requirements, is Eugene Field in Tulsa. But Eugene Field also is the most recent school to shift to the extended schedule. It began in 2004-05, whereas the other Tulsa schools made the shift in 1998 and 2000.
What about downsides?Union Public Schools in Tulsa was the first in the state to broach year-round schools, beginning in 1994, but ended the model in 2005. The programs were phased out as a result of budget woes and difficulty getting students to show up for school in July, Assistant Superintendent Kirt Hartzler said.
How popular are programs?There are now 13 year-round schools in Oklahoma, according to the State Department of Education. There are eight in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa public school districts, three juvenile corrections centers, one private school and one branch of a U.S. Department of Labor educational program. In a testament to the model's advantages, Koehn said about a third of her school's students are transfers, and other schools in Sequoyah's feeder pattern are interested in the model. Elsewhere, Union schools have held onto the idea behind year-round schools by adding summer programs in academics and extracurricular activities, Hartzler said. "The more schools can do in the summer time to provide engaging opportunities for kids, I think the better off we'll all be,” he said.
Drug testing grants givenTwo Oklahoma school districts received portions of $5.8 million given nationwide for school-based student drug testing programs. Harrah received $78,330 and Tahlequah received $150,000 from the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools at the U.S. Department of Education. More than 4,000 schools nationwide have student drug testing programs, according to the department.
Leaders recognizedThe Oklahoma Higher Education Heritage Society recently named 10 people to be inducted into the Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame. Also, the Oklahoma Association of School Administrators has named 20 superintendents as 2008 District Administrators of the Year. Visit NewsOK.com for both lists of educators and additional education briefs. Staff Writer Wendy K. Kleinman