Proposed calendar changes raise questionsWORTHINGTON — A small but vocal group of community members expressed concerns about the proposed flexible learning year during a Tuesday forum at Worthington High School.
By: Laura Grevas, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — A small but vocal group of community members expressed concerns about the proposed flexible learning year during a Tuesday forum at Worthington High School.
Superintendent John Landgaard began by explaining the flexible learning year — effectively an earlier start date to the school year — and its benefits.
The proposed calendar for the 2009-2010 school year would have a start date of Aug. 24 and would end May 21, with the first semester ending Dec. 23, before holiday break. Snow days would be added if needed after May 21.
If the calendar is approved at the May 19 school board meeting, the district will petition the Minnesota Department of Education for use of a flexible learning year, which would allow the district to set its own calendar without regard for the post-Labor Day start mandated by the state.
“It is not, is not, an option for getting around the Labor Day start. This is strictly about academics,” said Landgaard, in detailing what he sees as scholastic benefits of the calendar.
The calendar would have the same number of instructional days, 173, as the current schedule, but would allow for five to 10 more days of instruction prior to key state and national exams in April. He also said school days in late August have more instructional benefit than those in late May.
But there’s no concrete proof of that, argued Jodi Hansen, president of Education Minnesota Worthington, the local teachers union. Landgaard responded that other flexible learning year schedules, the 45 days on, 15 days off model, for example, have proved effective in increasing student achievement.
The new calendar would align with post-secondary calendars to encourage students to take advantage of post-secondary opportunities. It would also serve as a common calendar with some area school districts, 15 of which intend to apply for a similar flexible learning year schedule.
Having a common calendar with other districts would improve the ability to share resources and staff, he said, even allowing the possibility of joint staff development days, which could cut costs for guest speakers and training.
Those who miss school to attend the Minnesota State Fair (which runs Aug. 24-Sept. 7) as FFA members would receive an excused educational absence, he said.
Parent Scott Rosenberg said his family always travels to the state fair the last week in August, and wondered what would happen if his children missed school.
“What about the families and kids that are not participating in something like that (FFA)?” he said. “They’re probably getting just as much out of (the fair) as they would in the classroom.”
“We would work with making an exception or an excused absence for you to attend and we’d try to make that an educational experience for your kids … and fit it into our calendar,” Landgaard responded. “We know there’s going to be some of those little speed bumps that we’re going to have to deal with.”
Some questioned why the calendar couldn’t have an Aug. 31 start date, but Landgaard said that is not feasible if the district wants to keep a common calendar with other districts.
Others wondered how they would know whether students were benefitting academically from the new schedule.
“We’re going to have some measurable goals. ... Are test scores increasing or aren’t they?” Landgaard said. The three-year application would allow for the district to return to its traditional calendar if the expected benefits aren’t seen.
Hansen also said the majority of teachers surveyed in a straw poll had concerns about the proposed calendar.
“The staff concern is that this proposal was not developed with staff input,” she said. Landgaard said the opposite is true in the other districts, where about 80 percent of teachers support the idea.
Several said the process was moving too fast, suggesting the district wait a year and consider the new calendar for the 2010-2011 school year.
“We need to take a step back,” said Tim Bickett, who has two children at Prairie Elementary. “There isn’t necessarily a lot of negative feelings about it; it’s just happening a little bit too fast for us to adjust our families’ schedules and our community’s schedule to adapt to it.”