Due to a $200,000 grant from the Texas Education Agency that San Marcos CISD was selected to receive in mid-2020, a team is moving full speed ahead with plans to shift two elementary schools within the district to a year-round learning model.
SMCISD’s Travis and Mendez elementary schools are the two campuses in consideration for the shift to year-round status, which, if approved, would go into effect in August.
The SMCISD board of trustees voted Dec. 14 to approve a year-round designation, but that did not commit the district to any further action at this time, according to Nicole Dray, executive director of innovative and special programs for SMCISD.
However, Dray said board approval to apply for designation with the TEA was necessary to move forward with the planning process.
“Formal calendar changes for Travis Elementary and Mendez Elementary will be presented to the board of trustees as an action item for approval at the January [board] meeting,” she said.
During the Dec. 14 meeting, Dray told officials the district is on track to have its final strategic plan on the schedule year shift to the TEA by April 1.
The planning process
The TEA has selected SMCISD and several other districts throughout the state to be part of the 2020-21 Additional Days School Year Planning and Execution Program.
That means the district received an initial planning grant of $200,000 earlier this year, and pending TEA and SMCISD board approval, it could receive another $200,000 in continuation grant funds that would support program implementation for the 2021-22 school year, Dray said.
Information from the TEA states that selected districts have a year to plan for the extended calendar, after which they will undergo a three-year execution phase.
“The purpose of the Execution Phase is to provide continuous support to districts so they can effectively monitor program performance, improve programs based on learnings, and ultimately improve outcomes for participating students,” per a TEA document.
SMCISD’s plan includes more outreach and engagement to students, parents, campus staff and community partners, Dray said. In January, she added, her team will release Part 1 of the strategic plan for year-round designation with feedback from the TEA.
District documents state a school must operate during a portion of, at minimum, 11 to 12 months in order to operate with year-round system designation.
Justifying a year-round campus
Data insights presented by Blaine Carpenter, coordinator of the school redesign, state that there are several benefits of a year-round designation, including more time for unstructured play, more exposure to career paths and an allowance for physical education every day.
Among the most prevalent concerns from those surveyed so far during the outreach process are teacher and student burnout, dwindling student attendance and inadequate teacher compensation.
Regarding what an extended calendar year might look like for SMCISD, parents and teachers have responded in initial surveys that it would likely begin in early August and end in late June, with a break in July of at least a month.
Respondents also largely said they wanted holidays and other time off at Travis and Mendez to be consistent throughout the district, Carpenter said.
Implementation of the year-round schedule means the district would need to be cognizant of certain statewide functions—most notably, implementation of STAAR testing, Dray said.
“It’s definitely been a concern of the grant participants, but TEA is listening,” she said.
Not yet a shift toward more year-round campuses
For the time being, Dray said with regard to year-round learning, her team is not thinking beyond the Travis and Mendez campuses.
The district is interested in instructional model redesign, which includes added time to allow for more enrichment programs focused on art, STEM and social-emotional learning, she said, and another benefit would be more teacher collaboration and planning time.
“Pending the success of the program, it is possible that the extended calendar may be adopted by other campuses within the district for future years,” Dray said. “However, there are currently no formal plans to do so, and any plans to expand to other campuses would follow stakeholder-driven redesign planning processes.”
Two San Marcos CISD schools move further toward possible year-round schedules
The TEA has selected SMCISD and several other districts throughout the state to be part of the 2020-21 Additional Days School Year Planning and Execution Program. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)