2018-02-07 / Front Page

Officials consider year-round school at Bellwood

If approved, pilot program would start in 2018-19
By Jim McConnell

The county school system is considering the adoption of a year-round calendar at Bellwood Elementary as a pilot program for the 2018-19 school year.

John Gordon, chief of schools for Chesterfield County Public Schools, briefed the School Board on the proposal during its work session Monday afternoon.

Superintendent James Lane said his staff plans to present it for the board’s approval next month.

“I think we’re onto something here,” said Dianne Smith, a retired principal who represents the Clover Hill District on the School Board.

As Gordon noted, staff began studying a year-round school model because of concerns about summer learning loss – particularly for economically disadvantaged students – and a lack of access to healthy meals for those same children when schools are closed.

Students would still attend school for a minimum of 180 days per year, but instead of having a long summer break, they would go to school for nine weeks at a time and have the next three weeks off.

Under the proposed calendar, Bellwood’s 2018-19 school year would begin July 23 and the first quarter would end Sept. 21.

Based on academic performance, as many as 150 students would be offered opportunities for additional instruction during each three-week “intersession.”

The school system considered implementing the pilot program at Bellwood and Falling Creek elementary schools and Falling Creek Middle – all of which have at least 70 percent of their students on free or reduced-price lunch – but the principals at the latter two schools asked to wait until 2019-20 so they would have time to build staff and community consensus.

According to Superintendent James Lane, 100 percent of the teachers surveyed at Bellwood supported the adoption of a year-round calendar.

Surveys also were sent home with each of the school’s 557 students. Of the 416 parent responses, 369 (or 88 percent) approved the proposed change. Only 44 said they’d request a waiver to send their child elsewhere if Bellwood became a year-round school.

The pilot program is expected to cost about $123,000 for the first year, Lane said, but all but $30,000 of that will be covered by a federal grant Bellwood received last year.

“Money won’t be a barrier for at least the first two years,” he added.

Javaid Siddiqi, Midlothian’s representative on the School Board, noted it’s important that school officials approach the change “with eyes open” about the potential cost of converting additional schools to a year-round schedule.

“This is a culture change,” he said. “If this is successful, why would we want to limit it to three schools?” 

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