School board asks for more input for Rawlings, Metcalfe calendar 

Board Member Tina Certain said the superintendent needs to build a positive relationship with the whole board, and follow board mandates.
Board Member Tina Certain at a Feb. 6 meeting.
Photo by Glory Reitz

The School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) gave mixed feedback on a second version of a proposed year-round calendar for Metcalfe and Rawlings Elementary Schools at a board workshop on Wednesday. 

The calendar was created after the Florida Department of Education selected Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) as one of three Florida school districts for a year-round school pilot program. Metcalfe and Rawlings were the two schools ACPS sent to the state in its application. 

The two elementary schools, within a mile and a half of each other on the east side of Gainesville, will follow an 11-month calendar for the next four years. The calendar will maintain the same 180 days of instruction, but will begin its school year in July with shorter, intercessory breaks throughout the year. 

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At its April 2 meeting, the school board was set to vote on a calendar for the schools, to take effect this July. The board voted to table the calendar, as members were uncomfortable with shortened weeks at the beginning of the school year and a lack of input from parents. 

The new calendar eliminates some planned Fridays off during the early weeks of school, making a couple of three-day weeks with holidays back into four-day weeks. This change causes a slight shift in interim reports and end-of-quarter dates. It also moves the last day for students to May 20 instead of May 23. 

Board members agreed that they like the revised version better, but several still want to see more community feedback and publicity. 

Jacquatte Rolle, chief of teaching and learning, said after the board’s request for more parent input at the April 2 meeting, the district sent out a survey. So far, it has received 69 responses. 

Of those responses, 60% said they think year-round school will have positive effect on their child’s academic achievement, and 68 of the 69 said their student would continue to attend either Metcalfe or Rawlings after the switch to year-round. 

Seventy-two percent said their students do not currently attend an afterschool program. 

In a second survey, sent out on Tuesday, 14 out of 26 respondents said they will not need childcare on teacher-student days off on Fridays in August. 

To help parents who would need childcare during intercessory breaks, Rolle said the district is working to offer camps during those breaks. She said the district is also collaborating with the Boys and Girls Club for a possible grant that would make those camps free for all Metcalfe and Rawlings students. 

Board Member Sarah Rockwell said though she likes the new calendar better, she wanted parents to be able to review both versions. She also said she thinks the district needs to do a better job communicating to the community what year-round school means, as she has heard some feedback from people who think it will burn teachers out. 

Alachua County Education Association president Carmen Ward said though the 11-month calendar contains the same number of instructional days as a 10-month calendar, it is still a hardship for the teachers. She said some teachers are also parents, who must find childcare while they are working outside a 10-month school year. 

Ward said the union discussed the topic in bargaining on Monday, and the district proposed a $0 bonus for union members working at year-round schools. Ward said the district’s proposed solution was that employees could choose to work elsewhere. 

Donald Devito, Rawlings music director, said he has been tracking how many teachers leave the school. He said he counted about 16 in the 2022-23 school year, but after the arrival of Stella Arduser as the new principal, that number was down to four this year. 

Devito said the way the district has handled the decision feels indifferent and will cause teachers to leave. He said many already have summer plans and will not be available for the early start this year, leaving classrooms with substitutes for the start of school. 

Devito said the district needs to do more to help the family liaisons and ensure that students start the school year with experienced teachers in each classroom. He also said the district needs to do a better job of communicating with teachers at the schools, or it will continue to lose them. 

As teachers have the option of other schools, families who cannot work with a year-round elementary school schedule can also apply for a zoning exemption to attend a different school. Board Member Tina Certain said that option is not enough. 

Certain noted that students with zoning exemptions are not provided transportation, which could be a barrier to some parents. She said the district needs to get more community input, from parents of current and potential Metcalfe and Rawlings students, to make sure they still have options. 

“We’ve… really eliminated the choice of those families, reduced the choice that they have,” Certain said. “And that doesn’t sit well with me. I think we’re making a radical shift in how we educate students in that community, and provided less opportunities for them, and they may not have the means and resources to fulfill the obligations of having a zoning exemption to go to a different school.” 

Board Chair Diyonne McGraw said Director of Transportation Dontarrius Rowls is very open to working with those families to help them get the transportation they need if they apply for a zoning exemption. 

Board Member Kay Abbitt agreed with Certain that zoning exemptions could cause a problem, pointing to the small response to the surveys. She said those who do not respond to surveys are likely the same families who are most vulnerable and will not file for exemptions, either. 

Abbitt said exemptions could prove to be a barrier, and parents may choose to pull their children out of school entirely if they cannot figure out how to get them into a different school. 

Superintendent Shane Andrew said the district can “tweak” what is needed to make zoning exemptions more accessible, such as making them available as paper forms in the schools instead of requiring online work or trips downtown. 

Rolle said the district will host two parent informational meetings, one at each school, both scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Thursday. Surveys will be distributed there, and staff has also been handing out flyers with QR codes at parent pickup. 

Abbitt encouraged staff to take the year-round pilot program to be innovative and forward-thinking with the improvement of the schools. 

“You can’t make huge jumps in growth over a year, but you should see growth,” Abbitt said. “And if that growth is not being seen, then there needs to be something radically different done.” 

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