Hopewell City Public Schools is going year-round.

The city School Board on Thursday approved a recommendation from the school system’s administration to move to a year-round calendar in the 2020-21 school year, a proposal school officials hope will improve subpar student achievement. 

“We wholeheartedly believe without a shadow of a doubt that this is best for all Hopewell students and will improve student outcomes,” Superintendent Melody Hackney said. “We will not let this fail.”

The appointed board voted 4-1 in favor of the move. Wesley Joyner was the lone board member in opposition.

“None of these projected outcomes are guarantees,” he said.

The board received a standing ovation from meeting attendees immediately after the vote.

In switching to a year-round school calendar, Hopewell becomes the first district in Virginia to have every school open all year. Several individual schools in the Richmond region currently go all year.

Bellwood Elementary School in Chesterfield County operates year-round, as does Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts in Richmond, the state’s first charter elementary school, and CodeRVA, a regional magnet school in Richmond where Hopewell sends two students.

The new Hopewell calendar has nine straight weeks of instruction followed by either three weeks of vacation, two weeks of intersession — community projects, camps and field trips, among other things — or a combination of the two.

Students will get six weeks off in the summer. They still will have 180 days of school like they do now, just spread out over the course of the full year. 

“With every child on the same schedule, it creates great opportunities,” said Hopewell High School Principal Stephanie Poe.

During public comment, two people spoke in opposition to the idea — both cited the cost — while two others spoke in favor of the proposal. A grant from the Virginia Department of Education has been covering the planning costs. Hopewell also will depend on the state for money to operate on the year-round schedule.

School officials said going year-round will help improve student achievement. Hopewell currently lags state averages in math, reading, writing, science and social studies. 

“Most of our kids need more and they need different,” Hackney said before the vote.

The district’s 91 percent on-time graduation rate is also narrowly below the state’s 92 percent average. Four of the district’s five main schools (it also has a preschool center and an alternative education program) meet the state’s full accreditation standards.

Academic and state researchers have found that year-round schools help black and low-income students most. Statewide, two in five public school students live in poverty. In Hopewell, it’s more than half. Three in five students in the city are black, according to state data.

Three in four teachers said the proposed changes would improve student achievement, according to a district survey.

“The balanced calendar will give opportunities for more deeper learning,” board member Shirl Jefferson said.

The district is still set to open the day after Labor Day — Sept. 3 — next school year, consistent with what it has done in the past.

Districts across the region are opening Sept. 3 despite having newfound flexibility that allows them to open before the September holiday.

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