Administrators express support for early start

Published 10:30 am Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Bargaining units neutral or in favor of pre-labor day school yr.

Teachers and administration in Albert Lea Area Schools expressed support for starting the 2017-18 school year before Labor Day on Tuesday.

Mark Grossklaus

Mark Grossklaus

Discussion came after two school calendars were presented to the Albert Lea School Board Feb. 6. One proposed calendar has school starting Aug. 22; the other would start school the day after Labor Day, Sept. 5.

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Board action was not taken during the meeting. Another public forum and board action on a start date is expected March 6.

High School Principal Mark Grossklaus and Southwest Middle School Principal Steve Kovach presented a statement signed by district principals in support of starting school in late August.

“The Albert Lea Administrative Association supports the pre-Labor Day start calendar,” the message states. “Our experience with this calendar provided many positive opportunities for staff and students. Therefore, we recommend continuing this model for the 2017-18 school year. We appreciate the community’s support as we continue to provide high levels of learning for all of our students.”

Kovach and Grossklaus discussed how this year’s early start allowed for more of a relaxed Labor Day and Christmas break for students and staff. The early start allows more time for students for Advanced Placement testing in the spring, Grossklaus said.

Jim Quiram, director of technology and human services, presented feedback from a committee formed to look at the calendar. All bargaining units were neutral or positive on starting school before Labor Day, Quiram said.

Board member Angie Hanson questioned whether support for the early start would wane as students grow accustomed to starting school in late August.

Hanson said she did not agree that there were an overwhelming number of people who support starting school in late August and cited a Tribune poll that found a more than 2-to-1 ratio support for a post-Labor Day start. She said teachers have not indicated a strong support of either start time to her.

Board member Neal Skaar said a majority of constituents have told him they support starting school in late August, and student School Board member Justine Nelson said if students finished school in May they would finish while fatigued from finishing standardized tests.

Social studies teacher Kurt Barickman expressed support for starting school in late August, because he said it capitalizes on student motivation to get back to school in the late days of summer. He also supports finishing school in May because he believes students are less motivated by the end of the year. Barickman said this year’s calendar provided more of a calm, peaceful environment.

Barickman said he is not aware of any staff members who are against starting school before Labor Day.

Under the pre-Labor Day start, the last day of school and commencement would be May 18. Under the post-Labor Day start, the last day of school and commencement would be June 1.

District 5 Commissioner Mike Lee and Amy Wadding, Freeborn County 4-H program coordinator, presented statistics on how many Albert Lea students are 4-H members and have attended the Minnesota State Fair while school would be in session. The early start could mean Albert Lea students who would otherwise attend the fair might not because of academic responsibilities, Wadding said.

Science teacher Corey Black said the early calendar allows students who participate in extracurricular activities transportation to and from school at the beginning of the fall sports season.

Board Chairman Ken Petersen said he wants the board to move quickly on the issue so the calendar can be better planned and he wants a decision to be made in a non-divisive way.

The board on Monday directed administration to include three more student contact days to alleviate concerns about snow days being made up at the end of the school year or on holidays such as Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents Day.

Albert Lea Superintendent Mike Funk said he supports the early start.

“I support any calendar that puts the needs of students and staff first,” he said. “The proposed August start clearly does this. We are becoming known as a progressive district, and this is just one example of that.”

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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