Districts hope to continue early start to school year
WORTHINGTON -- As they near the end of the first three years of the Flexible Learning Year (FLY) program, 22 area school districts have submitted an application to participate in the program for another three years.
If approved, the FLY program would once again exempt schools from a Minnesota state law preventing schools from starting before Labor Day. According to the resolution passed by Worthington Independent School District 518, classes would begin on Aug. 19 for the 2013-2014 school year.
"We've been a part of this for three years with two years of planning prior," District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard said. "We're starting to see the data and want to continue to identify whether it truly is a success. The data looks positive, and we want to continue."
Landgaard said the district has seen an improvement in test scores, especially in some of its subgroups.
In Luverne, test scores showed only a slight improvement, but, as Gary Fisher, superintendent said, "Our kids have always tested well."
"We may not see as big a change as some schools, but for us, a small change is significant," Fisher said.
Fisher added the Luverne district has also seen a decrease in the number of at-risk students.
"I think the big thing is to look at not just test scores but everything," he said. "When you look at the big picture, you see we have less kids at risk of failing."
The school districts submitted the application to extend the FLY program in the first part of February. Landgaard said he hopes a response from the state will be received by no later than mid-March.
In the past, supporters have named improved standardized test scores and ending the first semester before Christmas break as primary reasons behind the FLY. Local superintendents, though, have said they believe the benefits to be much more far-reaching.
"When we look at the total picture, it isn't just an early start to give more opportunity to work with kids before testing and ending the semester before the Christmas holiday," Fisher said. "We also are getting a strong piece of staff development and collaboration with teachers in other districts."
Windom Superintendent Wayne Wormstadt agreed the FLY program is more than just improving test scores. He said the professional learning community and the new teacher mentoring program have been huge benefits for the school's staff.
"New teacher induction has led to an enhanced mentoring program for new teachers in the district to allow for great success and long-term engagement between senior teachers and new teachers -- (it's a program) that directly affects student learning," Wormstadt said.
"The second piece is professional learning communities, which have become teacher-led discussions about student learning, whereas before the discussions were led by the administration," Wormstadt added.
All school districts included on the application were required to host multiple public meetings to gather input. Landgaard, Fisher and Wormstadt all noted low turnouts at the open forums.
"We had no one show up at the first meeting, two at the second and two at the third -- excluding administration and board members," Wormstadt said.
Fisher also said he believes the progress being made by the schools in the consortium will be used as an example for additional schools looking to create collaborative relationships with other districts.
"It's a good thing, and it's being recognized," he said. "It could be a model for a lot of schools because it's working."
Milroy, Tracy and Canby each decided not to be part of the application for an additional three years of the FLY program. Milroy Superintendent Wade McKittrick cited differences in staff development priorities as the primary reason his district will not be part of the consortium in the future.
"Milroy is unique. We have very specific needs for our staff development," he said.
While the school board and staff agreed the FLY school's initiatives are positive and beneficial, they were not in alignment with the needs of Milroy's staff. Milroy will be focusing on RTI (Response to Intervention) this year, followed by PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Support) next year.
"Those are two major initiatives, plus we'll be implementing a new reading curriculum," McKittrick said. "When you wrap those things together, those are big things you need staff days for."
Milroy is currently working with schools that have similar priorities to create some common staff development days.
"Making it more focused on our school was the biggest thing (behind our decision),"McKittrick said.
In spite of their decision, most parents and teachers liked starting before Labor Day, McKittrick said,
"If fact, if we could start before Labor Day and be able to direct our own staff development, we would love to do that," he said.
"I've never believe in a one size fits all. While I see the positive of FLY --and our school board has echoed that --it's not a good fit for Milroy."
For schools like Luverne, Windom and Worthington however, the FLY has been an apparent success thus far.
"We're excited to be part of putting in another application," Landgaard said. "We think the positives outweight the negatives of what we're doing. Hopefully, there will be continued improvement."
Daily Globe Reporter Alyson Buschena may be reached at