"A good way to introduce an extended school program is to begin with the word voluntary."
"Secondary schools have a lot in common with graveyards," James Bradford, superintendent of schools in Buena Vista, Virginia, likes to say. "It's hard to change or move a graveyard. And it's hard to change a secondary school, too."
But 20 years ago, the Buena Vista superintendent and school board began changing their secondary school calendar and they are still proud of the results. Starting from the premise that they wanted to achieve standards of educational excellence laid out in newly adopted "Virginia Standards of Educational Quality," the district implemented an extended school year of 218 days (180 of them mandatory for all students) divided into four quarters.
The regular school year is divided into three sixty-day quarters and a fourth quarter is offered, on a voluntary basis for both students and teachers, during the summer. The summer quarter provides enrichment, acceleration, and promotion. It is tuition-free and includes regular bus transportation.
"A good way to introduce an extended school program is to begin with the word voluntary," says Bradford. "Your plan may be in trouble if you announce the program as mandatory. If you mandate the year-round schooling without prior planning and justification, your parents, teachers and students are going to rise up in arms."
Bradford reports that Buena Vista approached school improvement from the point of view of "what would be best for the children in an industrial community with a student population that profiles the bell curve in ability. The aspirations of the people included economic development and maintenance of a viable city that would have no future if it were not for the maintenance and the recruitment of new business and industry."
When Buena Vista educators looked into what they needed to change, Bradford stresses, "The administration and teachers felt that the traditional semester system was outdated and did not meet the educational needs of the city's high school students."
The long effort to change the high school and involve the community in the process appears to have paid off. According to a ten-year follow-up study:
All in all, these are impressive results for a program that students take for granted. When the chairman of the Commission visited Buena Vista, one chemistry student told him that he could not understand why so many visitors and television crews visited the school. Until the commission chairman told him, the student did not seem to know that the four-quarter, voluntary, extended program at Buena Vista was almost unique in the state of Virginia. Sometimes the simplest ideas are the most powerful.
For additional information:
James C. Bradford Jr.
Buena Vista City Public Schools
Buena Vista, Virginia 24416