Kids in Flint are heading back to school Wednesday, as the district transitions to a year-round calendar.
It’s an increasingly popular model with a mixed track record, but school leaders in Flint say they’ve had some success with the “balanced calendar” already in one of the district’s elementary schools. And it’s worth trying, says Flint Community Schools Superintendent Derrick Lopez, if it can reduce summer brain drain and help instructors reach struggling students sooner.
“It gets us a chance to remediate kids before they get too far behind,” Lopez says in an interview with Stateside’s Cynthia Canty. While students still attend school 180 days each year, they’ll have shorter, more frequent breaks of 4-10 days between each learning unit, and one 6-week break starting in June.
“So with the six weeks, or the 30-35 days we actually have of school, then kids who’ve missed a unit of information, can actually be remediated in the intercession, which are the weeks in between,” Lopez says. “Instead of waiting for the semester break where they’ve failed or missed a concept, a teacher or tutor can remediate what they’ve lost in that shorter period of time.”
Struggling students will be able to attend half-day classes during those short breaks, while “enrichment programs” will be available for kids whose parents need childcare. While the district only has funding for about 15% of students to take advantage of those programs, Lopez says he’s confident they’ll find a way to accommodate any working parent who needs a place to send their kids during the day.
“So we do have a limit in terms of the funding that’s there, but if there are two additional kids that we need to bring into the program, we’re going to make sure they can come,” he says.
What Lopez is most concerned about is the uncertainty this year brings. And not just from the new calendar – but from the kindergartners showing up for their first day of school this week.
"We actually have the first set of kiddos that are coming to us at kindergarten this year, who were actually at the epicenter of the water crisis,” he says. “So we don't know what is going to present itself with respect to special needs within the community of Flint right now.
“And that is a huge challenge. We are already at about 24-percent special ed, special needs. Which is double the average for the state of Michigan. And we are looking to probably increase that number […] because of the challenges the kids have faced with the water crisis," Lopez said. "And so I think that, coupled with the financial stress of that, is really the biggest challenge we’re facing here in Flint right now.”
Hear the full Stateside conversation with Lopez, including how they’ll measure if new year-round calendar is a success, in the audio above.