Hopewell City Public Schools has cleared its final hurdle to go year-round.
The state on Monday announced that Hopewell would receive a $1.5 million grant the system needed to move all five city schools to a year-round schedule. The School Board approved the plan earlier this year.
Hopewell schools chief Melody Hackney said Monday that she was grateful for the state funding.
“After two years of research and collaboration, we are convinced the balanced calendar will have a positive impact on our students, our teachers and our community,” she said. “We are extremely excited about the learning opportunities and experiences this grant will afford Hopewell’s children, and look forward to positive outcomes in student achievement and engagement as a result of this transition.”
The new calendar is set to take effect next year. In switching to a year-round school calendar, Hopewell will be the first school system in Virginia to have every school open all year. Several individual schools in the Richmond region currently go all year.
Bellwood Elementary and Falling Creek Elementary in Chesterfield County, for example, both operate year-round already. The county school system received $473,600 to continue that calendar, part of roughly $8 million in grants the administration of Gov. Ralph Northam announced Monday.
“Extended school year programs offer more engagement, more quality instruction and more opportunities to succeed for students who require additional or individualized attention to meet the commonwealth’s expectations for student performance,” Northam said in a statement.
Petersburg received $2.03 million for existing extended-year programs, which are after school, on Saturdays and during the summer, at all six of its schools.
The new Hopewell calendar has nine straight weeks of instruction followed by either three weeks of vacation, two weeks of intersession — community projects, camps and field trips, among other things — or a combination of the two.
“We are truly looking forward to expanding learning way past the traditional classroom walls,” Hackney said, adding that various businesses and community organizations have committed to hosting students during the intersessions.
Students will get six weeks off in the summer. They still will have 180 days of school like they do now, just spread out over the course of the full year.
The city school system currently under-performs the state averages in all five state testing areas (reading, writing, math, science and history). Four of the city’s five schools meet the state’s full accreditation standards, but achievement gaps persist.
In reading, for example, 61% of black students and 62% of economically disadvantaged students pass state tests. That’s below the district-wide average where 2 in 3 students pass reading tests.
Students are considered to be economically disadvantaged if they qualify for free or reduced-price meals, receive benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or are eligible for Medicaid.
Academic and state researchers have found that year-round schools help students of color and low-income students most. The city school system has a larger percentage of both populations than the state average, according to data from the Virginia Department of Education.
“Equity means providing the supports and services students need to be successful when they need them,” Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said in a statement. “This can include providing the additional instructional time and support services that are possible with an extended-year or year-round schedule.”
Hopewell leaders first started investigating going year-round in the fall of 2017 with the exploration also coming from a state grant.
Four school systems in Virginia — Charlottesville, Grayson County, Salem and Waynesboro — received planning grants this year.