Proponents see opportunity to bring up students’ scores

Published 9:00 am Sunday, September 21, 2014

The wind blows strongly as students walk across the shared campus of Sibley Elementary School and Southwest Middle School on Friday. — Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

The wind blows strongly as students walk across the shared campus of Sibley Elementary School and Southwest Middle School on Friday. — Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune


With the first public hearing on Albert Lea Area Schools’ proposed calendar drawing near, proponents of the schedule change are starting to speak up.

Kim Nelson, executive director at The Children’s Center, said her views supporting the proposed calendar never really changed but opened up as she learned more about it.

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Nelson said she believes healthy dialogue between the proponents and opponents is key.

Individual people and their lifestyles are the concern, Nelson said, but stressed that everyone’s situation is different. What works for one family might not work for another.

She said she has been in early childhood education for 15 years, however, and education looks different than it did back then, saying kids are educated in a different way now.

Nelson, a parent herself, has a 15-year-old and a 12-year-old in the district. She said once January, February and March roll around, her kids are usually due for a break. She also noted that teachers need a break as well to prevent burnout. She said her children are ready to go back to school after the fair.

Greg Anderson, a parent who has a son in third grade, agrees with this sentiment. He said his son is antsy to get back to school by August so he can see his friends.

For Anderson, the proposed calendar wouldn’t hurt his schedule. He works weekend shifts, so he wouldn’t need a babysitter during the week.

However, for parents hurt by the schedule, Nelson said The Children’s Center is looking at what contracts might look like for child care during breaks. However, she noted there still will be issues.

Dennis Dieser, executive director at the Albert Lea Family Y, said that the Y would be able to work with parents for school-aged child care.

Dieser believes the proposed calendar would be good for the community because, he said, it will help close the achievement gap and reduce learning loss.

The proposed calendar was brought about because of a desire by the school board to close the achievement gap and have additional time for remedial learning.

In one of the school board’s initial meetings on the proposed calendar on March 31, Albert Lea Superintendent Mike Funk said state law says school districts must cut the achievement gap in half by 2017.

At that same meeting, Funk said students who need remediation are often left behind the class as lessons progress.

Nelson said with all of this remediation, students who are in the middle — students who are not in the gifted and talented programs or in remediation programs — are often left unchallenged and can fall behind, too.

She has spoken to many teachers, she said, and district staff who think the proposed calendar is a good idea but are reluctant to speak up because of others opposed to the proposed calendar.

To gain more information about the community’s thoughts on the proposed calendar, the school board hired St. Paul-based Springsted Inc. to conduct a survey.

While many parents are upset that 69 of the 303 people interviewed were district parents, the results need to be taken with a grain of salt, Nelson said, and that dialogue is the best way, in her opinion, to learn about the issue. She stressed she is open and respects those who oppose the calendar, but noted that sometimes dialogue closes between those who support and oppose the change.

Nelson also said she wondered if the percentages were flipped — that more people didn’t favor the calendar — if the opponents to the proposed calendar would think the survey was valid or not.

Though she said the opponents aren’t expected to propose any other solutions, Nelson said it’s easy to be critical of things that don’t work and that the school board should be open to hearing other suggestions.