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Try year-round classes, says Blatz

— If local schools are going to meet the statewide goal of having 100 percent of students graduate from high school by 2025, Ernie Blatz thinks they need to change the way they do business.

The North Wasco County School District 21 board member suggested there are two things that the district could do to raise graduation rates: scrap long summer vacations and “blur the lines” between grades.

During the May 14 school board meeting he presented a “balanced calendar” approach.

“The first four to six weeks in the fall, most teachers spend reviewing what students forgot over the summer,” he said. “This is the same 180 days but split over the whole year.”

The plan he presented showed a more year-round schedule, with a 30-day summer break, a 15 day fall break, a three day Thanksgiving break, a 15 day winter break and a 15 day spring break.

Blatz said the schedule could combat the “summer slide” and had other benefits like allowing families more flexibility on what season to schedule a vacation.

In 2008, the National Center for Education Statistics found that about 14 percent of schools in the U.S. were on some type of year-round system. Research on the subject is mixed — some studies have shown positive effects while others have concluded there is no difference in achievement.

Blatz also addressed the topic of how students are divided into classes.

“If most students learn at different speeds, why do we put them in grades according to age?” he asked.

He said the district needs to “blur the line” more when it comes to grade levels. For example, instead of teaching students math based on their age, an elementary school could have five math levels that each student worked through at their own pace. If a student finished all of the elementary math levels, they could be taught middle school math.

Blatz said letting students progress at their own pace will help keep students from dropping out from boredom. He said if high school students can easily take college classes, educators can provide incentive by saying “you can get a welding certificate but you need to take this math class.”

“We have to think outside the box … we want to keep them around, keep them interested and keep them challenged,” he said.

The Dalles Wahtonka High School principal Nick Nelson said the high school has been working hard this year to expand college credit opportunities.

He has worked out a deal with Columbia Gorge Community College to halve the cost for the Expanded Options program if 10 percent of juniors and seniors participate.

The college has also begun a program in which local students who graduate with a 3.5 GPA or higher get free tuition for two years.

A Google grant is helping the high school expand its Advanced Placement program, and TDW teachers are getting certified to teach dual-credit classes.

“A lot of great things are happening for our kids,” Nelson said.

At the same meeting, the school board unanimously adopted the 2013-2014 school calendar proposed by administrators, which runs Sept. 4 through June 11 with a two-week winter break and week-long spring break.

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