published Monday, April 25th, 2011

Hardy to drop year-round class schedule

Hamilton County’s venture into year-round schools will end this year after a nearly seven-year experiment that neither teachers nor parents fully embraced, school officials say.

Hardy Elementary School will start the 2011-12 school year with a traditional August-to-May class schedule.

Hardy adopted year-round school in the 2004-05 school year. Officials hoped the six-weeks-on, three-weeks-off pattern that ran year-round would beef up instruction for students who sometimes lost ground during summer break.

But in the years since, school officials say, leadership and teachers left the school as parents lost interest in the year-round approach. Last year the school failed to reach federal benchmarks for academic achievement, known as Adequate Yearly Progress.

Most parents and some teachers never truly embraced the program, said Ray Swoffard, deputy superintendent of elementary school operations.

“We knew we had problems in 2005 and 2006, and we had meetings with parents about changing the schedule then,” Swoffard said.

In the 2005-06 year, 12 teachers asked to be transferred out of Hardy.

Surveyed this year, half the school’s 39 teachers said they didn’t want to keep going year round.

“For the concept to really be successful, we feel like at least 90 percent of the teachers need to be committed to the program,” Swoffard said.

Classes at Hardy started about three weeks earlier than in the rest of the system, but nearly a quarter of parents didn’t start their children until the schools’ official opening date. That essentially “robbed” Hardy children of three weeks of schooling, Swoffard said.

Continued teacher transfers and the loss of longtime principal Natalie Elder in January 2009 took their toll, too.

In January, a group of teachers wrote a letter to the central office asking to abandon the year-round approach.

District 4 school board member George Ricks, who represents the community around Hardy, said he’s heard few complaints from parents.

“I think there was just a demographic change there,” Ricks said. “Some people wanted to keep the schedule, others didn’t, but I think what’s best for Hardy is for it to operate the traditional way.”

Two messages left for Hardy Principal Anetta Ferguson seeking comment were not returned.

Parent Kearia Strong has a daughter attending Hardy and three other children who attend other schools. She said the schedules didn’t match up.

“It was confusing,” Strong said. “My one child would go to Head Start but my daughter wouldn’t. It was hard to keep up with.”

School leaders pushed for Hardy’s unique schedule based on the theory that poorer, inner-city kids don’t get as many learning opportunities as middle-class children. About 95 percent of Hardy’s pupils are classified as economically disadvantaged.

“Some kids go to summer camp or get tutoring, but many children in the inner city lose ground over the three months school is out,” Swoffard said.

Hardy did not make AYP in 2010, the first time the school failed to meet its academic goals, according to school system records. Only 20 percent of students demonstrated mastery of reading and only 24 percent showed mastery of math, records show.

Hardy will continue classwork through this summer when it will serve as a districtwide summer school location, Swoffard said. When students return in the fall, they will start a normal school calendar.

Swoffard said he hasn’t given up on the idea of year-round school. But to be successful, he said, the program would need to span an entire area of the county and include multiple schools and grade levels.

“I think we’re always looking for new techniques,” Swoffard said.

Jacquise Bradford owns a day care center near the school. Despite the negatives, she said, year-round instruction showed results.

“The teachers were helping pull up the students and making up for what the parents might not be doing,” Bradford said. “Now I hope they don’t start falling behind.”

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