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Tulsa Schools Seeing Success With Year Round Calendar

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Students Mark Twain Elementary in Tulsa take part in an exercise Tuesday. Students Mark Twain Elementary in Tulsa take part in an exercise Tuesday.
Emily Dentel teaches her class of second grade students Tuesday. Emily Dentel teaches her class of second grade students Tuesday.
Dr. Diane Hensely, Principal at Mark Twain Elementary. Dr. Diane Hensely, Principal at Mark Twain Elementary.

Ashli Sims, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- Students at Oklahoma City Public Schools will have a shorter summer this year.

The school board voted to put the entire district on a continuous learning calendar.  That means students will have several breaks throughout the year instead of a long summer.

Could Tulsa Public Schools follow Oklahoma City's lead?

The district's superintendent says it's a plan he's considering.  Dr. Keith Ballard says he's not planning on shelving summer any time soon. But the success of five year round schools at TPS makes a calendar change worth a second look.

Mark Twain teacher Emily Dentel says her second graders are ready to learn. And school leaders say they stay ready, because they don't stay out of school for very long.

"What's the most successful for children? Being out of school and idle for three months, just doesn't work," said Dr. Diane Hensley, Principal at Mark Twain Elementary School.

Mark Twain is one of five year-round schools in Tulsa Public Schools. Students don't literally go to school all year. They have a shorter summer and three-week breaks in spring and winter.

"When they come back they haven't lost their complete minds and they're ready to plug back in and jump back in," Dentel said.

A key factor in year-round school is intercession: students have the option of going to school during their fall and spring breaks.

"Four more weeks in the classroom working on their reading, working on their writing, eating breakfast and lunch every day, spending time with their friends, but learning and growing while they're here," Dentel said.

School leaders say its working. Six years ago, Mark Twain was a perennial name on the federal needs improvement list. This year, the school got a national award for closing the achievement gap.

Four out of Tulsa's five year round schools outscored the state average on exams in 2009. But three of them also go above and beyond by providing health and social services, as community schools.

"It's not just one thing. Although in my opinion, having a continuous calendar helps our students tremendously," Dentel said.

The year-round program does cost more, because teachers have to teach more. But Mark Twain's principal says that extra money comes out of the federal portion of the funding pie.

"We've looked at the financial many times," Dr. Hensley said. "It's not costing the district anything. It's costing our Title I budget, which is a reform budget."

Dr. Ballard says he plans to keep an eye on Oklahoma City Public Schools year round program. But for now, he says TPS has its handsfull with its consolidation plan, Project Schoolhouse.

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