Third try brings 4-day to schoolsAfter a third try, the Lake Superior School District proposal for a four-day week at Two Harbors and Silver Bay schools was approved by the state this week. It means students, parents, and staff will face a radical change in the school routine come Sept. 7.
After a third try, the Lake Superior School District proposal for a four-day week at Two Harbors and Silver Bay schools was approved by the state this week. It means students, parents, and staff will face a radical change in the school routine come Sept. 7.
The Minnesota Department of Education on Tuesday approved the “Flexible Learning Year” application after meeting with school district representatives last week and ordering a few more clarifications to its plan.
The approval means the district can use the schedule for three years.
“That’s very good news,” said school board chairman Leo Babeu. “We needed this. This is an essential step to keeping us whole financially.”
The district hopes to save nearly $250,000 a year with the four-day week, much of it in fewer miles for buses and less energy used at buildings.
Superintendent Phil Minkkinen said the four-day week will save more elective classes and employees from budget cuts.
Babeu said it was a long route to get to the change. He, Minkkinen, and other board members had to convince the state that the plan would not reduce students’ time in class and teaching staff was on board. It also had to change the state’s thinking on whether the public was properly informed about the four-day week.
Students will likely have to stay in school a few more days than projected to meet state standards for classroom instructional minutes.
The district has said there would be 410 minutes of class time per day, about 6.8 hours, compared to 343 minutes, 5.7 hours, in the five-day schedule. The amount of days students will be in school will decrease from 170 to 142, with the possibility of a few more days being added. The schedule would be Monday through Thursday.
Babeu said he wishes the approval had come earlier in the summer so district residents could have planned more.
“We do regret that,” he said of leaving schools just a month to prepare for the change.
Carol Youngberg, a school board member, said she thought the district had a very strong chance of getting its application approved after school officials pled their case Thursday in St. Paul.
Minkkinen said the district calculated instructional minutes differently than the MDE but the end result will not mean less class time for students, a requirement for four-day approval. Babeu said some bad communication with the state led to the discrepancy in student class time calculations.
A memorandum of understanding about schedule changes between the district and teachers was signed this week. Babeu said the district has already talked with staff members about the switch and they have given the district its support. The district wasn’t required to get a signed agreement from support staff.
The state seems to have been convinced that the public meetings the district organized to discuss the four-day week passed its interpretation of state statute requirements. In the explanations attached to the previous rejections, the state said it believed the meetings were more about the election asking for an operational levy increase.
Babeu said the district remained firm that the meetings were specific to the four-day proposal. “They didn’t say they didn’t believe us,” he said of the discussion Thursday.
To remain in compliance, the district must submit an annual review of the Flexible Learning Year Program by July 1, 2011. Subsequent reviews would also be due in 2012 and 2013 should the district still want to use the schedule.
“The Department of Education looks forward to receiving evidence from your district that the calendar modification led to meaningful gains in achievement, staff development, cost savings and other factors described in your district’s revised application and related school and district improvement plans,” Alice Seagren wrote in a letter to the district approving the change.
“A final evaluation of the program is required to be submitted to the Department of Education at the point that the district decides to discontinue four-day weeks or at the three-year mark, whichever comes first.”
If the district decides to go past July 1, 2013, with the four-day week implementation, it would have to have to reapply for that status.