Year in Review: Flexible learning year discussion continuesWORTHINGTON — If area school districts get their wish, many students in southwest Minnesota will start their school year a bit earlier next year. A consortium of southwest Minnesota school districts has met regularly to discuss how to better share services and improve educational opportunities.
By: Beth Rickers, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — If area school districts get their wish, many students in southwest Minnesota will start their school year a bit earlier next year.
A consortium of southwest Minnesota school districts has met regularly to discuss how to better share services and improve educational opportunities. From those meetings, it was determined that a flexible learning year would add student-teacher contact days prior to key April test dates; improve professional development for teachers; and increase cost-effectiveness for school districts.
State law currently mandates that public schools have a post-Labor Day start date; the only option for school districts to start any earlier is to apply for a flexible learning year, which allows districts to set their own calendar.
In the spring of 2009, Worthington School District 518 began discussing the possibility of a flexible learning year, with plans to implement it for 2009, the school year beginning on Aug. 24 and ending on May 21, 2010. The calendar would have the same number of instructional days as in previous years, but would allow for five to 10 more days of instruction prior to key state and national exams, which are set in April.
In a column published May 2 in the Daily Globe, District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard explained some of the benefits of starting the school year earlier.
“In later August, a majority of our high school students are already actively participating in MSHSL fall activities (football, volleyball, cross country, etc.). An additional benefit is that students come to school with a higher energy level, since they are excited and eager about a new year,” Landgaard said. “We strongly believe that schools are missing out on these ‘high impact’ teaching days in late August and would love to trade them for the ‘less impact’ student days (summer fever) that occur after the April ‘high stakes’ tests.”
Advocates of the earlier start date believe that since it would align more closely with post-secondary calendars, the flexible learning year would encourage students to take advantage of higher educational opportunities. The flexible learning year would also allow districts to offer meaningful staff development days within the school year, instead of being lumped at the beginning and end, and for districts to work cooperatively on those development days, sharing expenses for presenters and offering training specific to subject matter.
Following three public meetings on the issue, the District 518 Board of Education decided not to pursue a flexible learning year application for the 2009-2010 academic year, due to concerns raised about the short timeline for implementing it, a lack of community support and negative reactions from staff members.
“Some (reasons) were personal, some sports-related. I think some conflicts with the staff could be worked out,” said District 518 board member Linden Olson during the May 19 school board meeting. “But I’m a realist … I do not think we have an attitude that this can work, either from our staff or our community.”
However, a flexible learning year application was submitted to the Minnesota Commissioner of Education by 13 other area school districts. Due to time constraints, the application did not move forward for 2009-2010, but the districts were encouraged to reapply for 2010-2011.
Since that time, the number of school districts interested in pursuing the flexible learning year has grown from 13 to 28: Adrian, Brewster, Canby, Cedar Mountain, Comfrey, Edgerton, Fulda, Hendricks, Hills-Beaver Creek, Ivanhoe, Jackson County Central, Lakeview, Luverne, Lynd, Marshall, Milroy, Minneota, Mountain Lake, Pipestone Area, Redwood Area, Round Lake, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton, Sleepy Eye, Springfield, Tracy Area, Westbrook-Walnut Grove, Windom and Worthington.
More community meetings have been scheduled in those districts regarding the flexible learning year. For Worthington District 518, meetings will be 4:30 p.m. Jan. 6 and 7 p.m. Jan. 11 in the media center at Worthington High School, and the topic will be on the school board agenda for January.