With Metro set to begin school Wednesday Aug. 1 — the earliest it ever has — the district has upended years of traditional mid-August and September starts, raising a fundamental issue that will be answered Wednesday:
Will the kids show up?
“The big question is, how many kids get on the bus or walk to school tomorrow,” MNPS spokeswoman Meredith Libbey told The City Paper.
Habits are hard to break. And word isn’t always easily spread, especially in a district that has a sizeable percentage of students who come from non-English speaking backgrounds.
Months ago, Metro school officials launched a campaign to promote awareness of Metro’s early start, which is the key element of its newly adopted balanced calendar.
“That has been a charge that I’ve had since last March,” Libbey said, adding that the district has partnered with various community organizations to communicate the message. “We think the word is out there.”
Until the mid-1970s, Metro started school after Labor Day. The district then shifted to a mid-August start, which it used for more than three decades.
The latest move comes following a narrow 5-4 vote last August in which the school board defeated Director of Schools Jesse Register’s recommendation  to begin school on July 25. The proposal would have required $20 million in additional funding.
Register had proposed it as his first choice, and the Aug. 1 as a fallback balanced calendar if dollars weren’t available. Leading up to the vote, Register repeatedly made the case that MNPS is lagging behind others in terms of classroom time.
In the end, the majority of school board members agreed with that premise — but not enough to approve what some called an “unfunded mandate.” After it failed, the board unanimously signed off on the less audacious Aug. 1 start.
With this year’s balanced calendar, longer fall and spring breaks are built in to accommodate the shortened summer recess. So-called “intersession periods” are in the fall and spring, allowing students to receive enrichment opportunities if they choose. The alternative July start carved out a longer fall intersession.
The new calendar increases students’ school days from 173 to 176. The failed July 25 option — pushed by education, parent and Hispanic advocacy groups to combat lost learning over the summer — would have brought the total days to 180 and set aside 10 additional days for the professional development of teachers.