Hopewell Public Schools Blazing a Trail for At-Risk Children

by James C. Sherlock

In 2015, over 2 million U.S. students attended school on year-round schedules every year in around 3,000 schools in 46 states. Half of those were in California, four-fifths in Western states.

Hopewell school district joined them on Monday in the first district-wide implementation of a year-round public school schedule in Virginia.

Hopewell has two goals:

  1. avoid the traditional summer learning losses that plague many at-risk school children;
  2. provide a broader range of educational opportunities to increase the motivation of teachers and students

The Hopewell City public school district has a total student population lower than either one of a couple of Fairfax County secondary schools, so it is small enough to manage this change if leaders, teachers and parents support it.

They have that support so far.  The Governor and First Lady attended a ceremony celebrating the initiative. and good for them.

Hopewell schools and all Virginians need this to work.

The need for structural change. The district is poor — free and reduced price meal eligibility 99% — and majority Black (62% last year). It has lost 15% of its white students in the past three years.

The tax base is weak. It contributes only 25% of the per pupil expenditures of the district, compared to a state average of 51%.

Hopewell schools had double the state rate of of out-of-field teachers last year. Reported chronic absenteeism was 17%, led by white student chronic absenteeism of 19%.

Reading and writing SOLs across all grades yielded pass rates double digits below state averages. Math pass rate was six points below.

Nothing the schools had tried had made a positive difference.

Richmond Public Schools will be watching. Hopewell school kids had far better SOL scores than kids in the City of Richmond Public Schools (RPS), but so did every other school district in Virginia. RPS has announced its intentions to consider a year-round schedule next year.

I suspect the final vote will be influenced significantly by the Hopewell experience.

Results elsewhere. From a report of the results of year-round classes elsewhere in America:

“At-risk students tend to do better in year-round setups. Studies have found that disadvantaged students lose about 27 percent more of their learning gains in the summer months than their peers. By being in school the same number of days, but with shorter breaks, these students can keep their minds on a learning track that may not otherwise be fostered at home in the off-months.”

“What does seem clear… is that at-risk students do fare better without a long summer break, and the year-round schedule does not harm other students.”

Bottom line. 

Hopewell, with its huge majority of at-risk students, seems to be a promising place to make the switch. Initial reports of teacher and student reactions were favorable.

Yesterday was the first day of school.

We all extend to Hopewell our best wishes for success.

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9 responses to “Hopewell Public Schools Blazing a Trail for At-Risk Children”

  1. WayneS Avatar

    Virginia Beach experimented with year-round school in some school districts during the early to mid 1970s. Since I was in elementary school at the time I do not know the details of why they stopped the experiment.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      They did indeed, but as you state, only in a few schools. Year round is touted as a way to break the cycle of teaching and learning failures of and by at-risk kids. I hope this makes strides in that direction.

      1. WayneS Avatar

        I think it has promise. A friend I had at the time who went to one of the year-round schools did not like it very much, but I think his parents did.

        Scheduling year-round school it is not very hard at all. It boils down to adjusting the number and length of the “breaks” between grading periods. Summer break is shortened considerably, an Autumn break is added and Winter and Spring breaks are each lengthened a bit.

        I think my friend had a break of between two and three weeks between each nine-week grading period.

        EDIT: I just checked Hopewell’s schedule, and they did not set it up quite so equally. Thanksgiving Break and Spring Break are each very short, with longer Winter and Summer breaks.

    2. Brian Leeper Avatar
      Brian Leeper

      They probably had a lot of non-airconditioned schools. I know that Prince William County schools had non-airconditioned schools as late as 1991.

      1. WayneS Avatar

        Yes they did. I attended one air-conditioned school during my eleven years in the Virginia Beach City public school system. It was a “Junior High School”, for the 8th and 9th grades.

  2. Steve Gillispie Avatar
    Steve Gillispie

    Well done. Would not have known this.

  3. tmtfairfax Avatar

    As I recall, Fairfax County Public Schools did this for a number of years until the Great Recession caused financial cutbacks. Since FPCS had to change the admission rules for TJHSST, it apparently didn’t work. But I bet the people in charge got a promotion.

  4. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    Year round schooling is one thing. Maximizing the use of daily instructional hours is far more important. I tracked it one year at Briar Woods. I was shocked how many hours of the school year were simply wasted on things not related to learning. Hours that added up to days.

  5. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    It has been a long time since the children needed to spend the summer months in the fields on the family farm, the origin of our standard schedule. And it was despicable that we let the vacation industry fight to maintain this approach (Labor Day law). This new schedule is long overdue. Another location that toyed with this was the small city of Buena Vista, but not sure how that turned out.

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