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Albuquerque Moves To Put District on Year-Round Schedule

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The Albuquerque, N.M., school board took a major step last week toward placing the entire 87,000-student district on a year-round calendar in three years.

Acting shortly after a group of parents filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the district's current experiment with a voluntary year-round schedule, the board voted to appoint a committee to put together a plan that would implement the practice districtwide by the 1994-95 school year.

In the district's first two years of experimentation with the practice, six elementary schools have adopted the modified school calendar. The district has approved 12 more schools to operate year-round beginning this fall--a move that the lawsuit is seeking to block.

The longer calendar was initially proposed as a cost-saving measure for the district, which cannot afford new construction to match its enrollment growth of more than 1,000 students a year.

Despite the filing of the lawsuit last week, Albuquerque school officials said they were encouraged by a recent poll that found that the year-round concept won approval from about half of all parents and 65 percent of all city residents.

Some parents, however, are not pleased with the move toward a districtwide calendar that could do away with long summer vacations and instead break the school year into three 12-week blocks of classes separated by three-week breaks.

The suit filed in state district court argues that next year's pilot year-round schedules should be blocked because the program has not won state approval--which district officials say is not necessary--and because the district did not allow opponents to distribute materials at schools.

William A. L'Esperance, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the group is most concerned with the procedure for expanding the pilot projects. He said the loosely knit group, known as Parents for Quality Education, will seek an injunction at a hearing scheduled for June 26, and will seek a temporary restraining order on May 31.

Instructional Benefits

Parents who oppose the new calendar will have a voice on the board's implementation committee, according to Marijo Rymer, the district's director of community relations.

Ms. Rymer added that school officials expect support to grow as the public becomes more aware of the learning benefits of the change.

"We may have oversold the space issue," she said. "It isn't the whole reason. We're also doing this because we feel it is good for kids."

In fact, of the six schools on the year-round schedule, only three are saving space by employing a "multi-track" schedule whereby one-fifth of the students are on break at any given time.

The other schools have adopted the schedule for "strictly instructional" reasons, said Gary R. Atwood, principal at Mary Ann Binford Elementary School, which uses the multi-track schedule.

In his two years under the plan, Mr. Atwood said the program has won general support despite its hardships for some parents.

"We feel like we're able to get more teaching done," he said, describing improvements in teacher morale, student attendance, and discipline. "All of the things we thought the year-round schedule would do for us have pretty much been accomplished."

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