MILWAUKEE -- All Milwaukee Public Schools student could be starting the 2017-18 school year several weeks early. That’s if the district gets approval to shift the school year from September-June to August-May.
At a news conference Friday morning, November 18th, MPS Superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver outlined her early start proposal. She says classes would start the second week of August and would end the last week of May, with an optional four-week “J-Term” in June.
“What it will provide for our students, is the opportunity for credit recovery, for service learning internships, the idea that you can take enrichment classes and acceleration,” Driver said.
Currently, Driver says the graduation rate for MPS students is 58 percent for four years, and 74 percent for six years. She says the “J-Term” would help failing students catch up with their peers: “We want to close that gap from what is getting done in six years, to making it happen in four years.”
Driver says the “J-Term” would cost $3 million upfront, but would save the district millions long-term. She indicated the district is spending about $10 million annually on repeaters of all grades.
In order to implement the proposal by the goal date of August 2017, MPS must first submit a request for a waiver from the Department of Public Instruction to be able to start early. State law prohibits public school from beginning the school year before September 1.
“The next piece of this is obviously going to our board for approval,” Driver said. “But it’s also bringing our community with us. This isn’t something we are just doing and saying, ‘OK, we hope everybody can deal with it.’”
Parents are split on the proposed change.
"MPS schools aren't really that great right now. So anything that could help the students in the long-run, would be great to do," said Steven Staton, MPS parent.
"I wouldn't want to change up the schedule," said Tina Barber, MPS parent. "It's too hot in August. Generally people do outings in August."
Milwaukee School Board President Mark Sain said the public's feedback on the issue will play a big role in his decision.
"The main thing that we want is for the community to hear it, and let us know what their thoughts are on the change," Sain said.
So far, Driver says the main concerns she’s heard from teachers focuses on the weather in August.
“Are we going to have air conditioning, are we going to have fans? What about our medically fragile students? And so those are some of the things our facilities team, our operations team, they’re working through now,” Driver said. “Obviously we can’t provide central air for 150 schools overnight by any means. But for those classrooms for the students who are medically fragile, what are some of the things that we need to be considering.”
Several schools in the district are on this schedule already. But Reagan High School is the only one that has done the “J-Term” in the past. Other schools are planning to pilot the “J-Term” in June 2017.