Shorter summer aims to close achivement gap
Eight weeks after the 2022-23 school year ended, the 2023-24 school year has begun.
Students are back in their classrooms today, about two weeks earlier than normal due to the district’s new modified year-round calendar.
“Our teachers are excited to be back and we’re going to continue moving forward with some of the initiatives we put in place last year and continue to grow our students and our school,” Travis Klatka, principal at Waccamaw Intermediate School, said.
“We are so ready to welcome our students,” Ginny Haynes, principal at Waccamaw Middle School said. “We are so ready and so excited.”
Learning loss while schools are closed is sometimes called the “summer slide.”
But Superintendent Keith Price said that’s not accurate because every student has a different learning experience during the summer.
“There are many students that continue to learn and grow when they’re not in school, versus those that don’t. That’s where you see [the] academic achievement gap widen. It’s not necessarily that students are losing knowledge from the end of school to the start of school, the other students are gaining knowledge,” Price said.
Students grow at a similar rate during the school year.
“Then when summer hits, there’s more growth and then there’s no growth,” Price said. “You see what happens with that achievement gap over time. It gets wider and wider. One would think, if you have less time out of school from day 180 to day one, there’d be less of a chance for that.”
Waccamaw Elementary School principal Ashley Cameron is interested to see how the returning students do on the first set of assessment tests, which take place within the first 45 days of school.
As part of the new calendar, schools will be closed for one week in October and one week in February.
The district plans to offer remedial classes during vacation weeks for students who are behind in their work or struggling. The district can’t mandate that students attend, only invite them to attend.
“Part of our hope is that we will target a couple of days during these weeks off around the end of each quarter to work with students who are struggling academically to help them catch up and keep up, rather than waiting until the end of the year and trying to do it all in summer school,” Price said.
Klatka believes the additional weeks will be good for students and staff.
“It’s going to be good for [students] who are struggling or maybe we need to support a little bit more,” he said. “There’s going to be some days built in where we can have them come in and work in small groups and work with those teachers to kind of get them caught up or get them what they need to be successful.”
Cameron and Haynes said the new schedule has been an adjustment.
“We can’t say to ourselves, ‘oh it’s just July.’ We’re not used to that,” Cameron said. “I think that now we’re kind of in the groove, it’s a lot better and more comfortable and seems like any other beginning of the school year.”
“Technically, when you look at it, it really is only a week-a-half-difference in terms of coming back early,” Haynes said. “But now is around the time when people are just ready to get back into a schedule. They’re ready to get back into a routine. It’s too hot outside to be outside all day long so I think people are just ready.”
She also believes that the new schedule will help close acheivement gaps.
“I think it will help with scheduling and expectations and getting back into a groove sooner. I don’t think we’re going to remember that it was a short summer when we have that week off in October,” Haynes said.
The middle school has seven new staff members. Haynes said she lost some veteran teachers to retirement after the state updated its science and social studies standards.
“There’s a lot of changes that are happening at the state level,” she said. “If you’ve already put 28 years in or 26 years in, instead of learning an entirely new set of standards, some of them are just retiring.”
The elementary school has five new teachers and four new teaching assistants, which is an unusually high number of new faces, Cameron said.
“We’re getting to know some new young people and introducing them to our older staff,” she said. “Everybody’s helping each other out, of course. That’s another new, exciting part this year that we haven’t seen a lot in past summers.”
Two Waccamaw Neck schools started the school year with new leaders: principal David Hammel at the high school and director Chris Bergeron at Coastal Montessori Charter School.
Hammel is the interim principal this year while the district searches for a permanent replacement. He said last month that one of his goals is to give the students the “best year they can have.”
After he was hired in May, Bergeron said the shortened summer would be an adjustment period for everyone.
“I think we need to make the start of the school year exciting for everyone,” he added.
Correction: This article was corrected from the print version to reflect the second week-long break is in February, not March.