Catholic elementary school pupils in the Archdiocese of Baltimore will see their academic years lengthen by two weeks over the next several years, according to a letter sent to parents late last month.
Although the change won't affect the current school calendar, instructional days for 2005-2006 academic year will increase from 170 to 175, according to Ronald J. Valenti, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese.
In 2006-2007, the number will rise to 180, the same as the state requirement for public schools.
The shift from the 170-day year - the state's minimum for nonpublic schools - will affect nearly 25,000 pupils and more than 1,200 teachers at the archdiocese's 67 elementary schools, which serve pupils in kindergarten through eighth grade. The archdiocese comprises Baltimore City and Allegany, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick, Harford, Howard and Washington counties.
Valenti said the archdiocese is making the change because it needs more instructional time to meet the changing needs of pupils and national teaching standards.
He said teachers need more time to integrate technology into lesson plans and develop curricula across academic disciplines.
Valenti said the changes stem from a recently revised course of study for all elementary schools. Catholic high schools will not be affected, he said, because they devise their curricula independently.
The effect of the additional days on tuition charges - now averaging $4,200 in elementary schools - was unclear. "That could vary from school to school, because each school sets its own tuition," Valenti said.
Valenti said principals would have the discretion to rearrange their calendars to accommodate the increased instructional time, perhaps opening schools earlier or cutting days from Christmas vacation.
Principals reported mixed reactions to the policy change.
Wilma Short, who runs Immaculate Heart of Mary in Towson, said some teachers are worried that a longer year could keep them from taking summer jobs that provide critical income.
Some parents, she said, also have expressed concern that a longer school year will cut into family time and vacations.
Short, who has served as principal at Immaculate Heart for two decades, said she has started classes early in the past, and that it hasn't worked well.
"My concern is when you open before Labor Day, many of our parents are vacationing, especially when the rates at [Ocean City] go down that third week in August," she said. She also noted that her school does not have air conditioning and that classroom temperatures can hit 95 degrees in June.
"I think that everyone needs a respite. We give 100 percent at Immaculate, and summer downtime is very important for faculty, staff, administration and families."
In order to lengthen the school year, Short said, she would probably cut days from Christmas and Easter vacation, depending on when the holidays fall. She said the school also might have to raise salaries to account for the added workdays.
"Compensation will have to be looked at," she said.
At a time when the nation's education system is facing many challenges, though, some parents backed the move to a longer school year.
"I don't have a problem with it," said Mary Hutchinson, a Baltimore businesswoman who has two children in St. Pius X School on York Road. "I think if we need to increase the school days to have a strong academic program, then that's what we need to do."
Ward Smith, whose daughter, Katherine, is a second-grader at St. Pius, said extra days would make up for some class time students have lost in recent years as teachers have attended more training programs.
And Sean Malone, whose son, Brian, is a kindergartner at St. Mark School in Catonsville, said he thought the school year already included too many vacations.
The time off, he said, breaks up the educational routine and puts more pressure on working parents such as him and his wife, Gail, who works part time as a hospital recruiter in Bethesda.
"It's harder," Malone said of the vacations. "One of us either has to stay home, or we have to have day care."
Sun staff writer Laura Loh contributed to this article.