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To counter learning loss because of pandemic, Guilford schools superintendent looks to extend next academic year
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To counter learning loss because of pandemic, Guilford schools superintendent looks to extend next academic year

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GREENSBORO — Guilford County Schools students may see more days or longer days next school year to help make up for learning loss during the pandemic.

“I intend to extend the school year,” Superintendent Sharon Contreras told the Guilford County Board of Education at its meeting on Tuesday.

What that might look like, however, remains to be seen.

“We’ve reconvened the COVID task force,” she said. “They are working on recommendations for extended school year, extended days, for some year-round schools, for many initiatives to address the learning loss.”

The district switched to remote learning last school year after the first cases of COVID-19 emerged in North Carolina in March 2020. Some younger students and some special needs students returned in the fall, but middle and high school students only started coming back within the last few weeks. The last group, eighth and 11th graders, returned last week.

Even those middle school and high school students who are back in-person two days a week still have three days a week of remote learning. And some other students have opted to continue with remote learning only.

During a meeting in January, school staff shared some grim news about academic performance amid the pandemic, including results from state end of course tests taken by some high school students at the end of the first semester.

Proficiency rates on those tests were down by several points in English; math and science rates plummeted.

Even before the pandemic, most students taking the math I test at the end of fall semester did not score proficient on the exam. This school year, the proficiency rates fell nearly 19 percentage points, leaving only about 7% of students who took the test after fall semester scoring proficient.

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“This will have lifelong impact on these young people,” Contreras said.

Contreras said she expects to bring calendar recommendations that include extended learning to the board for a vote later this year.

In the meantime, because the state requires school districts to adopt a calendar by April 1, Contreras has recommended “placeholder” calendars.

None of the placeholder options shared Tuesday with the board reflected extending the school year. In fact, they had two or three fewer student days than this school year’s calendar.

PreK-12 and child care workers began receiving vaccinations in Guilford County on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Video courtesy of Guilford County Schools.

Contreras said she is telling parents and schools not to plan anything based on the options being discussed or whichever option gets adopted at the next board meeting, because it is likely to change.

She said other school districts are also adopting placeholder calendars while working on their plans.

What the district does could also depend on whether it gets waivers from some current state requirements and whether state legislators or the state Board of Education make new rules.

“Late last spring, for example, the state required all school districts to add five instructional days and to start school a week earlier than originally planned,” district staff noted in Tuesday’s meeting information about the calendar discussion. “Given the impact of the pandemic on academic learning and ongoing deliberations in Raleigh, it is possible that another shift could be forthcoming.”

The board voted 7-2 Tuesday to seek public comment on the four “placeholder” calendar recommendations. The options will come back to the board at its March 25 work session, a week before a calendar must be adopted.

“It’s not a great situation, but it is where we are,” said board attorney Jill Wilson.

Contact Jessie Pounds at 336-373-7002 and follow @JessiePounds on Twitter.

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