Modesto schools falling in step

Because of tricky vacation scheduling, frustrated teachers and student memory loss over long summer breaks, the Modesto City Schools Board of Education voted unanimously Monday night to put more than 3,000 elementary school students on an identical year-round schedule for 2008-09.

Students at Bret Harte, Burbank, Franklin and Marshall this year go to school on one of two schedules, or tracks, to help ease crowding.

Declining enrollment means those students now can go to school on the same year-round schedule. Instead of having a long summer break, there will be three one-month vacations between sessions.

The change will include Robertson Road Elementary, which already is on a single-track schedule.

Franklin Principal Jamal Fields said the schedule will eliminate the problem of parents having children with different vacation days because they are on different tracks.

"It's a more sane schedule for parents," he said. "I see only upsides to it."

Vice Principal Laura Lembo said having a single track will put teachers on campus at the same time and give staff a better opportunity to collaborate.

"The job is challenging to do it all alone; it takes us putting our heads together," she said.

In 2004, 11 elementary schools in west and south Modesto were on multiple-track schedules.

The switch to multiple tracks began in 1989, when large numbers of students, especially Southeast Asian refugees, moved to Modesto's west side.

For 2008-09, there will be four elementary schools with multiple tracks: Fairview, Kirschen, Martone and Tuolumne.

Fairview is the district's largest elementary school, with 950 students this year. The student populations of the four elementary schools switching to single-track schedules next year range from 642 at Burbank to 853 at Bret Harte.

Bret Harte kindergarten teacher Susan Heringer said the schedule change will be a boon to students and parents but won't solve crowding.

"It's going to be less stress on families and teachers, but I don't think it's going to be the salvation of these kids," Heringer said. "Schools have gotten too big. If we had 500 kids or less, I think our kids would be more successful."

The district's elementary schools could have all kindergarteners through sixth-graders on a single schedule. But that would require major boundary changes and busing children from their neighborhood schools, said Pat Portwood, director of educational services for kindergarten through sixth grade.

School board members wanted to keep the year-round schedule rather than the traditional one to avoid the long summer breaks and the academic catch-up required at the start of school.

A task force will meet in January to hash out the schedule for 2008-09, Portwood said.

In February, the Sylvan Union School District moved from multiple-track schedules and switched five of its elementary schools to a single-track, year-round format.

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at mbalassone@modbee.com or 578-2337.