School board to consider switching to ‘balanced calendar’

Published 7:40 am Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Albert Lea school board is considering the possibility of changing its summer break to reduce the backward education slide students often experience.

Educators often call it “learning loss.” The proposed calendar would be for the 2015-16 school year.

Superintendent Mike Funk was reticent to call it year-round schooling.

“We are trying to emphasize that this as a balanced school year, not a year-round school year,” Funk said. “I think when people hear year-round, the red flags immediately go up.”

The school year would be the same number of days, but breaks would be spread throughout the year. Students would still get a two-month summer break instead of a three-month one.

Funk said the discussion is a result of the district’s multi-million dollar heating and cooling upgrades, which will allow each school building to be air conditioned.

“We have the infrastructure in our buildings,” Funk said. “This is something that could help students in our district.”

Funk hopes having interim breaks, instead of a three-month summer vacation, will keep students on track.

Research has shown that shortening the summer break helps students perform better, especially for students in low-income families, Funk said. Fifty percent of Albert Lea students are on the free- or reduced-lunch program.

A draft of the calendar is outlined on the school website. Students would have June and July off. The school year wouldn’t start until the Freeborn County Fair ends.

The first semester of school would be completed by winter break, with school would ending by Memorial Day. There would be several two week breaks, including one in October and December.

Funk hopes these breaks will help provide more opportunities for remediation and enrichment, like ACT prep courses.

More than 2 million students in more than 2,900 schools have year-round school year, according to Funk.

The school board directed the administration to plan for possible implementation that includes: 1. Research the impact of a balanced calendar on student learning. 2. Develop a prototype calendar to share with the community. 3. Establish a community task force that includes input from all sectors of the community. 4. Develop an internal task force that includes people from all the bargaining units in the district.

Since the school year would be starting before labor day, the district would also need the approval of Minnesota Commissioner of Education before the calendar could be implemented.

A community meeting to discuss the calendar will be at 7 p.m. March 31 at Brookside.

Funk’s presentation and a copy of a draft of the balanced calendar can be found at alschools.org.