Albert Lea schools to start pre-Labor Day again

Published 9:36 pm Monday, November 6, 2017

District will utilize construction exemption from state

After one tie, the Albert Lea School Board passed next year’s school calendar Monday night. Students should prepare to start before Labor Day in 2018.

A Minnesota state statute requires schools to begin after Labor Day. To start before Labor Day, district Superintendent Mike Funk said the district will utilize a construction exemption, which allows schools to start early to help them work around construction projects totalling $400,000 or more.

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According to Director of Elementary Services Mary Jo Dorman, the principals unanimously voted for a pre-Labor Day start.

“From a teaching and learning perspective, when we do a pre-Labor Day start, we have more days of instructions before we assess the standards,” Dorman said.

The school board was not as single-minded, as each said they represented constituents who were also of mixed opinion.

Board members Neal Skaar, Jill Marin and Angie Hanson said they do not think the early start is not in line with the intent of the statute.

Additionally, Marin said the move to a pre-Labor Day start is not in the favor of students who work during the summer.

“Many of our students are hard-working middle- or lower-class students who work during the summer and often during the school year, and I believe we are creating problems for those students,” Marin said.

One of Hanson’s objections related to test scores.

“I never like the idea of starting early to try to raise MCA scores,” Hanson said. “It’d be like gaming the system.”

She likened it to a coach allowings athletes to begin practice before any of their competitors. Marin said the extra time with the material then would not allow the district to have an equal comparison of student growth between the coming year and previous years.

Board member Mark Ciota said his vote for a pre-Labor Day start came from what he heard community members wanted. Board member Dave Klatt said he liked the pre-Labor Day option because it created more student-teacher contact days.

The student board members, too, were split in their opinions on which start would be best. While Gigi Otten saw the value in starting later for kids who want to be involved in the fair, Ella Zelenak appreciated the ability to finish the semester before break so students could have a reset before the next semester. Zelenak also said the early start would not affect her ability to hold a summer job, of which she has two.

After the first vote tied with Skaar, Marin and Hanson voting in favor of a post-Labor Day start, and Dave Klatt, Ken Petersen and Mark Ciota voting against, the adoption of a pre-Labor Day start was passed with Skaar changing to carry the vote.

“I’ve said many times, I seriously believe that on the list of all those factors that contribue to a quality education, when we start the school year is not very high on that list,” Skaar said earlier in the meeting.

However, he acknowledged that it is an issue many people are passionate about.

“My hope is that we can overcome that passion … and I hope that everybody can accept it,” Skaar said of the adopted pre-Labor Day start.

The school board took a recess and then reconvened at Hammer Field to discuss the athletic facilities. The school board did not receive a presentation on the results of a ThoughtExchange survey regarding the facilities given to the community, as the presentation was not ready at the time of the school board meeting Monday night.

The board visited the locker rooms and athletic training room in the field house, as well as the concessions and entrance area and looked at the state of the bleachers.

According to activities director Afton Wacholz and Ciota, the field house as it stands presents a Title IX issue. There are not equal facilities for girls and boys, as the field house was not built to accommodate both genders.

“It’s just a disaster from a social aspect,” Ciota said.

Additionally, Wacholz said they aren’t always able to make space for visiting teams in the locker rooms, which could cause the teams to change in portable restrooms or on the bus. Wacholz said this is what the school hopes to avoid.

Wacholz said there has been some talk that the solution would be to rebuild the fieldhouse with two stories rather than the one it currently has.

Additionally, the bleacher area is not up to ADA code. There are lips on the concrete ramps into the bleachers.

However, Wacholz said, the amount of space the school has and how close the fieldhouse and locker rooms are to the field work to the facility’s advantage. Because of the space they have, a lot of sports are able to stay on the property.

“We have great space, and there’s a lot of potential here,” Wacholz said.

Before moving to Hammer Field, the school board also:

Discussed the dates of standardized testing for the school year

Revisited the district reading and math proficiency numbers and ACT results.

About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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