"It's great. I am able to spend more time one-on-one with my children."
Most school districts consider year-round schedules for financial reasons -- rapid enrollment growth requires that something be done to accommodate rising numbers of students and year-round programs can increase school building usage by as much as 25 percent.
Socorro Independent School District in El Paso considered year-round education to see if the economics worked for it, but it selected year-round programming because the educational features worked for students. The district serves the students who live in the eastern part of El Paso, along with the communities of Socorro and Horizon City. To the south, the district borders Mexico. With an enrollment of more than 18,000 in 1994 (up from about 6,000 in just 10 years), the district expects more than 25,000 students by 1998 -- and the traditional schedule can accommodate only 18,300.
Socorro, a property-poor district, is, like everyone else, strapped for cash. A $50 million bond election in 1988 ended in a deadlock (876 votes in favor, 876 opposed). Although the measure passed three months later with a 57 percent majority, district officials worried that another bond issue would be difficult and, besides, they were already bumping up against a state ceiling on indebtedness.
The district considered its alternatives. It could schedule split sessions, theoretically doubling building capacity; it could install (more) portable classrooms; it could require higher student-teacher ratios; or it could move to year-round education.
A task force made up of students, parents, teachers, administrators, and community leaders studied the options, listened to the public in formal hearings, and after a great deal of soul searching and six months of work recommended year-round education as Socorro's best solution. As important as the financial considerations were, the educational implications were equally significant. Socorro leaders believe that year-round education is an effective restructuring strategy to reach excellence in education. They point to better academic opportunities for students and improved professionalism of teaching, including substantial increases in teacher salaries.
In its 1991 report to the board of education, the task force argued that "all students stand to benefit from year-round education." Even if no time is added to the tradition of attending school for 180 days, the task force pointed out, the shorter, more frequent vacations, characteristic of year-round programs, reduce the amount of learning loss typical for students on a three-month summer vacation. "Although traditionally school ends in June, learning should not."
Moreover, the task force anticipated particular benefits for students able to take advantage of educational programs during the intersession periods. Underachieving students, the disadvantaged, and students experiencing difficulty with English all stood to gain -- and so too did students who wanted to take advantage of recreational programs, science and arts activities, volunteer opportunities, and other enrichment efforts.
While the jury is still out on the educational effectiveness of year-round education, Socorro seems to be experiencing a wide range of benefits. According to Sue Shook, the district's assistant superintendent for strategic planning, academic performance as measured by the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills test, has improved significantly. In fact, the district exceeds the state average in most test subjects. Attendance for both students and faculty has improved, and parents seem to have adjusted to the new calendar well. One would expect Mario Aguilar to support the year-round effort -- he was president of the Socorro school board that approved it. But he also supports it for two intensely personal reasons. First, his colleagues in the business world like the idea that school facilities are being used more efficiently. Second, he has four children in the Socorro schools - - each on a different school calendar. Far from finding this difficult, Aguilar reports that "It's great. I am able to spend more time one-on-one with my children. When Bianca, my eighth-grader, was off-track, she went to work in my store and earned some money -- and I got to spend all day with her."
For additional information:
R. Jerry Barber
Socorro Independent School District
12300 Eastlake Drive
El Paso, TX 79927