Virginia’s education secretary says data from implementation of balanced calendar will help others make decisions

As Hopewell delves into its preparation to introduce year-round schools beginning in 2020, Virginia’s secretary of education says he, like others, will be watching the city to see if it could offer a blueprint for other public-school systems across the state to consider.

“We’re studying those models to see how they work well,” Atif Qarni said Thursday following an event at Petersburg High School. “The ultimate goal is to see if it has a positive impact on children.”

Last month, the Hopewell School Board voted to adopt a resolution for a balanced school calendar beginning with the 2020-21 school year, becoming the first public-school system in Virginia to go all-in on year-round education. The plan is to have students attend classes for nine weeks, followed by a two- or three-week break that could either be a total vacation time, an “intersession” time for extracurricular classroom activities for students, or a combination of both.

Qarni said he expects the Hopewell preparation and first-year data will be compiled by the state Department of Education and disseminated to educators across Virginia “to allow the school divisions to see if they want to go that route.”

Balanced calendars have been used in piece-meal fashion at some school divisions across the state, primarily at the elementary-school level. Hopewell schools officials said they used Bellwood Elementary School in Chesterfield, which currently is on a year-round plan, as a benchmark for its switch to the new school calendar.

Supporters of year-round education point to its benefits, especially in areas such as Hopewell with significant numbers of low-income and minority students, where research has shown improvements in academic performance due to continuous learning. Opponents claim it is still too new a concept with no guarantees of success, especially because all the data is focused on elementary levels instead of middle- and high-school students.

“It’s really tough to project what the data will say [from Hopewell],” Qarni said. “It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.”

Gov. Ralph S. Northam, also in attendance at the Petersburg High School event, called himself “open-minded” about the year-round approach.

“I don’t think everyone agrees that year-round schools are the way to go,” Northam said, “but certainly for some areas and some localities, if that’s what they want to do in that area, I’m certainly supportive of that.”


By Bill Atkinson 
Assistant Editor
The Progress-Index

Bill Atkinson may be reached at 804-722-5167 or batkinson@progress-index.com. On Twitter: @BAtkinsonpi