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Snow days piling up

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe A group of Prairie Elementary School students walk to their bus through a cut in a tall snow bank Tuesday afternoon following class.

WORTHINGTON -- If you're a kid, there's nothing quite as grand as having a snow day. But as snow banks continue to mount, snow days and late starts are accumulating as well. Schools throughout southwest Minnesota are anxiously searching for ways to make-up days without compromising the academic calendar already set in place.

Students in Worthington District 518 made up one snow day on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and will make up another day on President's Day, Feb. 21, with a teacher in-service. But three snow days last week have caused concern with make-up days and less time in the classroom.

"Abbreviated class schedules definitely impact the amount of education actually happening," said superintendent, John Landgaard. "Right now we're trying to look at every option available which benefits the kids and their academics. It's not about making up time, it's about educating kids. We have an open forum of options right now."

The last day for students is still scheduled for May 24. And a final decision on make-up days is expected to be announced by the end of next week.

Making up snow days at Southwest Star Concept has proven to be a lengthier process, literally speaking. Classes have been extended by 30 minutes Monday through Thursday for the second year in a row. Students' extended days started Monday and are scheduled to last until April 12.

"It's tough," said Cindy Owen, Dean of Students at Southwest Star Concept. "The kids need to get back into the normal routine. But it's only February, so who knows what lies ahead for the rest of winter. Hopefully we won't have many more days like this."

Administrators are still uncertain on how time will be made up in the event of another snow day. While adding days to the end of the school year is still an option, Owen believes this approach would be most challenging.

"The end of the school year is difficult because our classes are mixed with students from ninth grade through 12th grade," she said. "Our seniors are set to graduate May 27, and we're running into the problem of deciding when to give the last final and end classes."

While there hasn't been any major controversy over the amended schedule, most concerns have been with high school students who have jobs immediately after the end of the school day and students involved in sports in neighboring towns.

"We are willing and able to work with the parents on these types of things. We have to be flexible, especially when the changes to the schedule came about very quickly after the three snow days we had last week," she said.

Although making up snow days has been a challenging task, Owen emphasized student safety above all else.

"The safety of the students is first our first priority. We have roads that are tough to go through, so getting them to school safely is what we are most concerned about."

SSC Superintendent Ann Wendorff believes extending classroom time will ultimately benefit students and their performance in the annual state tests.

"We're going to use this time to prep for graduation standards testing and focus on math and reading," said Wendorff. "It's really not a bad situation at all. Working more on reading and math is not time wasted. We're going to use the time Mother Nature has given us wisely and hopefully do better on our next exams."

Scheduling conflicts continue at Jackson County Central, who has had three snow days and seven late starts so far. Classes were expected to end May 20, but due to inclement weather, students can now expect to be in the classroom until May 23.

"Right now we're sitting pretty well," said Todd Meyer, JCC superintendent. "You don't like to miss days because of the weather, but with living in southern Minnesota that's not always an option."

Students at Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn have missed five days of class and one staff professional development day due to the weather. One snow day was made up during the month of November and another during December (Both make-up days were initially scheduled as holidays.) Because of two snow days last week, students will now have school on Thursday, April 21 and on Monday, April 25, leaving April 22 as the only day for spring break. Any additional snow days will be made up at the end of the year.

"Anytime you miss a day of school, due to the weather or any other emergency, it causes a disruption, but I don't think it has substantially harmed education," explained Lynn Evans, Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn superintendent. "We've built snow days in our academic calendar around vacation times. We're able to get that continuity back into learning by going to school on a scheduled vacation day than by adding days on to the end of the school year.

"When you live in the Midwest, like we do, snow days are going to be a reality," Evans said. "The good news is the groundhog sprung out, so spring is just around the corner."