Neither the Charlottesville nor Albemarle County school division is planning to extend the school year or move up the first day of school.
Instead, the divisions are planning to expand summer school offerings. More details about those plans will be presented to the respective school boards in the coming months.
Earlier this month, Gov. Ralph Northam strongly encouraged school systems to provide additional learning opportunities over the summer.
“This could include extensive summer classes, remediation, additional instructional time, or even year-round schooling,” he wrote in a letter to superintendents and school board members across the state.
The Albemarle County School Board approved the 2021-22 calendar at its Thursday meeting. The calendar was jointly developed by a committee of parents, teachers and officials from Charlottesville and Albemarle — a longstanding practice for the divisions. The proposed calendar starts the school year Aug. 25 and ends it June 10, and is largely similar to previous years.
Charlottesville schools Superintendent Rosa Atkins said earlier this month that if Northam recommends that schools extend the year, he also would need to define exactly what that means and provide funding.
“Absent of the governor providing that clarity and the funding, our intent is to run a summer school program,” Atkins said, adding that the division is planning to extend the length of that program.
Atkins said at the city School Board’s Feb. 22 meeting that the division has several partners in the community that they are working with regarding summer school plans.
“Hopefully in March, we’ll be able to bring some of those plans before the board to talk about what we’re doing moving forward into summer school, but we are actively working on this,” she said.
The Charlottesville School Board reviewed the draft calendar Feb. 4. Division officials said most of the public feedback it received on the proposal was positive.
But board members wondered about adjusting the calendar to respond to the disruptions of the last year.
“I think we need to be a lot more creative,” board member Jennifer McKeever said at the meeting. “... I feel we got to really think outside the box and stop talking about the calendar for next year until we have answers to the questions about what we are going to do.”
Either board can always make changes to this year’s calendar or the following one.
In Albemarle, the focus of the summer programming would be to meet students’ physical and social emotional needs, so they would be ready to tackle the academic work when the school year begins, schools Superintendent Matt Haas said last week during a media briefing. Similar programming is a possibility for the following summer depending on how this year goes.
The additional summer programs would be paid for using federal stimulus funds.
Haas also has told board members that he’s looking to expand the division’s after-school program to include more students for the coming year. The division also will offer academic programs at the schools over the summer, as it has in previous years.
“One of the things I’m very concerned about, and I hear it from school administrators and also from some of our educators, is that with this year being so exhausting, thinking about extending a school year or starting next year early, I think it would be really a big ask,” he said. “Also, without significant increases in compensation to go with it, I don’t really know if that’s a good plan.”
So, the division is considering issuing a request for proposals for community organizations to provide summer programs. These would be in addition to regular summer school taught by teachers in the division.
The county School Board reviewed the draft calendar at its Feb. 11 meeting. During that presentation, board member Kate Acuff asked about plans to modify the calendar.
“Both the governor and we as a school division have talked about what kinds of strategies we might need to address the learning loss here, and most of the research that I have seen has suggested that that won’t even be possible without more time in the seat, whether it’s longer days or longer school year or some sort of enrichment,” she said. “This calendar looks pretty much like the last several calendars I have seen.”
Currently, a steering committee is working on plans for learning recovery and could recommend altering the calendar, officials have said.
During his budget presentation last week, Haas discussed plans to help students make up for any learning lost during the last year. Specific learning recovery plans are still in the works, and the board will have a work session later devoted to the topic.
So far, the learning recovery steering committee has planned a three-part process: relief, recovery and rebuild.
“The first step is geared toward relief,” Haas said. “This is where we are right now, and it involves ensuring that schools have the urgent resources they need to provide effective virtual and hybrid instruction.”
The recovery step will kick in over the summer.
It “... involves investing strategically in students and schools and, I hope, our community partners, in order to begin to make up lost ground, especially in the area of physical and mental well-being,” Haas said.
The recovery phase will lead into next school year and the rebuilding step, Haas said.
“Rebuilding involves redesigning education to focus on three things: nurturing the whole child; balancing cognitive development with social-emotional development; and ensuring that every child has access to the conditions and resources needed to enhance their learning and development,” he said.