Parents, teachers like school district plan for bonus week|[12/21/07]

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 21, 2007

The Vicksburg Warren School District’s decision to move to a “bonus week” calendar next year is getting a positive reception from teachers and parents.

Three times during the school year and at the end of the 2008-09 session, there will be a week of remediation for students who have fallen behind. Other students will have the week off.

The schedule, adopted without comment by trustees last week, shows classes starting Aug. 4 with traditional breaks retained and summer break shortened by about a week.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

The idea of providing a breather appeals to Sally Dare, whose grandson Chandler attends Bowmar Elementary.

“I think relaxation for children is important,” she said as Chandler played on the swings in front of the school. Dare said she can sense that the fourth-grader is sometimes stressed out as each nine-weeks period ends and another begins. She said the breaks would allow students to return to the next nine weeks refreshed and ready to learn again. “I am definitely for it,” she said.

Teachers would have the option to earn extra compensation by working during the bonus weeks. They would also have the option of taking the time off as well.

After school starts in August, the first bonus week would come in October, followed by a three-day break for Thanksgiving instead of the full week on this year’s calendar. Students would have two weeks off over Christmas and New Years. They would return in January and attend school until another bonus week in March. Spring break for all is scheduled for April, then students would return and attend school through the end of May or through the first week of June for those who need a final week of remedial work. If the plan is successful, “there will be very few people that have to go to the last one,” of the remedial sessions said Superintendent James Price.

Price said the move should eliminate the excuses and problems associated with attending summer school — mostly finances and transportation — and summer school will not be offered, at least for grades 7-11.

The move to a bonus week was considered for about four years. Price said the new schedule is distinct from what’s known as a year-around schedule, which would have nine weeks on and two weeks off throughout the year.

The director of Vicksburg’s area YMCAs, Herb Wilkinson, said the school changes will result in changes to Y schedules.

“We’ve not yet formulated our plans and what our programs might be,” he said. Currently, the YMCA offers Prime Time, an after-school program that runs until 6 p.m. on regular school days. That program costs about $35 per week.

Wilkinson said one option for the bonus weeks would be to run two programs simultaneously — a day camp for students who are out of school and after school programs for those who are. He said the scope of the programs would depend on community interest. “We’ll do the best we can to accommodate the need that parents and families have for after school child care. Any time there’s change, you have to study it and try to respond the best way you can,” he said.

For those who don’t need extra help, Price said voluntary enrichment programs and field trips would be scheduled for the students not attending the bonus weeks. And, said Price, “We’re also working with faith-based agencies and other groups,” too. “I don’t anticipate it being a stagnant time.”

Often parents don’t have the $125 tuition or transportation to the school during the summer. During bonus weeks, buses will roll and attending school will be free.

Currently, the remedial days will be half days in order to eliminate having to staff the cafeterias, but Price said lunch service may be added as needed if a class or school decides to hold an all day session.

Price has backed the idea, presenting it in meetings to teachers and principals who have uniformly endorsed it.

“I was kind of skeptical at first,” said Dana Road kindergarten teacher Uretka Callon “but not anymore.” She said she changed her mind when she found out the schools and individual teachers would have the flexibility to customize the remedial week schedules as needed. Fellow Dana Road second grade teacher Stephanie Wilson agreed. “I think it’ll cut down on retention rates,” Wilson said. She said smaller classes will ensure that students master sections of the curriculum before new material is introduced.

“I’ve had a couple parents — they’re ready to get their children enrolled,” said Dana Road Principal Ethel Lassiter. “They’ve already asked me, ‘What do I sign?'” Lassiter said that’s a good sign, because parental support will be important in making the bonus weeks a success. She estimated that about 112 students at the school would be eligible to participate in bonus weeks. That’s about 18 percent of the school’s 680 students.

District wide, Price estimated only 10 percent of the district’s 9,000 plus students that need remediation actually get it under the current system. He hopes the bonus week will change that. “I’m absolutely sure that it’s going to work,” he said. “The question is will we get everybody in that needs it?”