Two schools in the Aldine Independent School District near Houston, Texas, went from lower performing school status to high performing ranking in reading and math achievement in 2021-22. Their school year spanned nearly a full year, at 210 school days.
Superintendent LaTonya Goffney credits that longer school year for such strong and rapid academic improvements. The schools' switch from a traditional 180-day school year to one that starts in July and ends in June began amid the pandemic for the 2021-22 school year.
It hasn't just been the academics that have improved, Goffney said, but family engagement and whole-child supports have also increased at those campuses.
Knowing that a school year calendar switch would be a big change, the district made the program optional for both teachers and students. And yet no teacher or student opted out of the program, Goffney said.
The positive outcomes seen in just one year have led the district to extend the longer school year to two more campuses for the 2022-23 school year.
In fact, when the new school year opened at the four campuses on July 18, there were families enrolled at traditional calendar schools eager to learn about the longer school year campuses, Goffney said.
"Parents expect us to give our very best every day so that their children can have access to choices and opportunities when they graduate from high school," she said "We really want to deliver on giving students what they deserve."
The district enrolls about 63,300 students, according to the school system's website. Goffney said 73% of the students are Hispanic and 23% are Black. Nine out of 10 students qualify for free and reduced-priced school meals, she said.
Aldine's Additional Days School Year program at three elementary schools with grades 1-5 and one primary school for pre-K students grew from a 2019 state law that provides optional grants for planning and implementing longer school years. The legislation offered several options, including voluntary summer learning, an intersessional calendar and a full-year redesign, which is the one Aldine chose.
Before implementing the program, the district conducted a full year of research and planning, including getting feedback from parents and teachers on programming design.
Then, as the district was gearing up the first year of additional days, the pandemic hit — delaying but not stopping the work. Even as the pandemic and hurricanes put stress on district operations, school leaders stayed committed to the plan because it aligned with strategic goals like providing high-quality instructional materials, focusing on literacy and providing leadership development, Goffney said.
At the additional days campuses, the school days are the same length as at the district's other campuses, but students get expanded programming, more recess time and added "brain breaks." On Wednesdays, for example, students attend a variety of arts, STEM, music and social-emotional learning programs. Teachers have dedicated planning and professional development time on Wednesdays, Goffney said.
The state grant for Aldine's extended-year program covers half the cost of the program. and the other half comes from the district's federal Title I grant and district general budget, Goffney said.
Her advice to other districts considering adding additional school days? Put effort and resources into the planning stage. She said the state grant for the district's planning year was instrumental in the first year's success, including the opportunity to get student, parent, staff and community input into the program's design.
She added that measuring the impact of the school calendar change is imperative, as it informs decisions for planning about the next school year.
"What I love about it is the fact that this actual program, again, with the support from the state, it was designed by the community and for the community," Goffney said.