Source: Sherman Publications

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So long, summer?
Lake Orion to explore going to school year-round

by Don Rush

May 18, 2011

It's no secret that funding for Michigan's public schools is in a place nobody likes. Districts across the state are slashing their budgets by millions of dollars and, at the same time, laying off staff, eliminating positions and even crossing their fingers and hoping for a miracle to come down the pike.

It's true here in Lake Orion, too. Facing nearly $7 million in budget reductions for the 2011-2012 year, school board meetings in recent month have been packed with school staff, parents and even students — pleading for their programs.

In the midst of this turmoil, however, Lake Orion Community School District Superintendent, Marion Ginopolis, is thinking to the future and thinking about putting Lake Orion on the map of Michigan education.

This week she seeks to form a committee with the charge of deciding whether or not Lake Orion will become the first district in the state, and one of only a handful in the nation, that sends its kids to school year-round.

Stating the old school calendar, based on Michigan's agricultural heritage — where students were needed at home during the summer to work their family farms is, in a word, outdated.

"First and foremost, learning should not be driven by a calendar," Ginopolis said. "Secondly, we continue to be stuck in an old and conventional — traditional — model of delivering education. In the 35 years I've been in this business, we haven't budged very much in our design of the educational environment. With the advances of technology, we have so many opportunities for our students that did not exist in the past and perhaps a year-round structure will accommodate a variety of instructional approaches that the traditional structure does not."

Ginopolis envisions a committee comprised of school staff, parents, members of the community and students. "I definitely want students on the task force, too. Students will provide an unvarnished view of the impact such a structure would have on their school life," she said.

She would like to have this "task force" formed by the time school is out for the summer, saying there would be some summer "work" but that most of the work will occur in the fall.

"I hope a recommendation will be to the Board by the end of the calendar year, December," she said.

This district already has a successful model to look at for the future, she said, in Carpenter Elementary. It is currently a school of choice in the district where parents can choose to send their children. "We always have a waiting list," she said.

"However there are other models across the country, too," she said. "In Texas and in California to name a couple."

According to Ginopolis, since she floated out the idea last week, she has received positive feed back from the community and from a number of teachers.

"I have my own ideas (what a year-round district would look like), but I don't want to stifle the thinking and creativity of the task force. I want to let them have open season on the direction of this for the district."

The task force will be responsible for looking at the pros and cons of such a structure. They then will make a recommendation as to their findings to the board of education. "If it is not a good idea in the task force's opinion, cased closed," Ginopolis said.

"The only criteria are to be open-minded and willing to support the consensus decision of the task force," she said.

What would such a district cost to operate? More, less? Nobody knows until it has been thoroughly investigated by the task force. But, there is a twinkle in her Greek-brown eyes when asked those questions.

"Will it cost more, hopefully no. Will it cost less, hopefully yes, but (and this is where the twinkle comes to light) one thing I have been thinking about relative to cost. The Governor has made it clear that he will support — financially — new and creative approaches to education. Depending on the recommendations of the task force, we may be able to qualify for supporting funds if we move forward."

In just six months at the helm of Lake Orion Community Schools, Ginopolis has dealt with the electoral loss of a school bond, draconian cuts in funding, disheartened staff, but she isn't drowning in plates of moussaka and stuffed grape leaves. She is determined to move the district into some out-of-the-box thinking

"My vision of Lake Orion schools is a 21st century educational environment where all students, regardless of their abilities and talents, have multiple opportunities to be successful at whatever career they choose to pursue in their future," she said.

The next school board meeting is slated to start at 7:00 p.m. next Wednesday (May 25). If interested in serving on the task force, please send an e-mail to jolko@lakeorion.k12.mi.us.