School to begin before Labor Day for next 2 years in Albert Lea

Published 5:13 am Tuesday, December 20, 2022

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Albert Lea school board members approved pre-Labor Day starts for the next two school years during Monday night’s board meeting — but not unanimously.

Under the 2023-24 school calendar, classes will start Aug. 22, and there will be a long Labor Day break Sept. 1  to 4. The first quarter will end Oct. 2, with fall break Oct. 19 to 20. Thanksgiving break is Nov. 22 to 24, and the second quarter ends Dec. 22. The holiday break will be Dec. 25 to Jan. 2 for students, with classes resuming Jan. 3. Third quarter will end March 8, with spring break March 11 to 15. The Area Learning Center commencement will be May 16, while the high school’s will be May 17. The quarter will end May 22.

For the 2024-25 school year, classes will start Aug. 21, and students will have a Labor Day break from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2. The first quarter will end Oct. 16, with fall break Oct. 17 to 21. Thanksgiving break is Nov. 27 to 29, and the quarter will end Dec. 20. The holiday break will start Dec. 23, with classes commencing Jan. 6 . Third quarter ends March 14, with spring break March 17 to 21. ALC commencement is May 22, while the high school’s will be May 23. The quarter will end May 28.

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Early this month, Superintendent Ron Wagner presented a draft of the calendar to the board.

“I want to bring us back to what we stated and the decisions, and focus areas were students, first, then staff, then community,” he said.

To that effect, Wagner met last week with the Superintendent-Student Leadership Cabinet, where he brought the topic up again for additional thoughts.

“It was still reinforced specifically around ending the semester before winter break,” he said. “You heard from our student representatives this week of finals. It is a hectic week, but leaning into winter break, it relieves that anxiety.”

He also noted that students liked ending in May, as it gave them the opportunity to find employment.

By releasing calendars now, he wanted families to have predictability and the ability to plan.

Vice Chair Kim Nelson said she saw anxiousness among students who didn’t end the semester before the break.

“For them to be able to have a clean cut at that break, it really isn’t a break for them if they’re having to keep up with that piece,” she said. “I can appreciate the parent piece because that’s important, but I think students and teachers have to really be our focus on a calendar.”

And she said while she had heard concerns, she said there were few people who weren’t in favor of the proposed calendar.

Director Bruce Olson said the parents he talked with liked the calendars.

“It gives our students who are interested in taking high-stakes tests in the spring a little bit more time to prepare, to have class time to prepare for those tests like the ACT test,” said Neal Skaar, chairman of the board.

Student representative Marissa Hanson argued it was important for students to voice their opinions, a fact she was appreciative of regarding Wagner’s Superintendent-Student Leadership Cabinet.

“As much as the parents are an important role, the students are the ones that are living through it specifically,” she said. “I really appreciate that we get to have winter break as an actual break.

“It’s your pause. You’re like, ‘OK, now I get to relax for two weeks, and then I’m back at it.’ And I think that is very helpful and is good for our well-being.”

She also argued the calendar mimicked a college calendar and helped prepare students for their next step should they choose college.

“If you’re already used to a calendar like this, then you’re used to it. It was a little bit of a weird jump when we switched calendars, but now this is just how it is.”

Hanson also pointed out that fall athletes were already at the school and practicing before Labor Day, and because students were already at the building other students could consider trying a fall sport.

And it won’t just be Albert Lea Area Schools starting earlier. Last week, Rochester Public Schools voted to adopt a pre-Labor Day start.

Board member Angie Hoffman, in her dissent, argued parents should have more weight in the calendar decision.

“Until we would do a parent survey and kind of get a better feel of where people are at, I’m not comfortable voting for any calendars,” she said. “So I’m voting ‘No.’”

Board member Jill Marin also voted against the calendars.

“I was on the board when the pre-Labor Day calendar first went into place, and at that point it did feel like it was a push on the community that was a pressure without buy-in,” she said. “And it was geared to have some outcomes that were learning-based and score-based. And I haven’t seen those outcomes.”

She also noted she hadn’t seen a big community buy-in, though she was appreciative of the desire to have a calendar come out early.

“We have been able to do this because we have had construction waivers in a certain amount to be able to do that,” she said. “To me, I don’t know if that is really a sustainable outlook for the district.”

School Board Treasurer Dennis Dieser was not present for the meeting.