The Northfield School Board recently considered a “calendar shift.” The change would have moved the start of the new school year to the second week of August, the end of the first semester to the middle of December (to correspond with Winter Break), and the end of the year to the middle of May. The proposal included no additional instructional days and a plan for addressing the Minnesota’s ban on public schools beginning classes before Labor Day. However, with the proposed changes generating considerable community interest, the board chose to shelve the plan and open the floor for the public to express their concerns, with the hope to consider an alternative 2014 - 2015 school calendar. This post seeks to engage the student body of Northfield Public Schools by objectively addressing the pros and cons of an altered school calendar.
The school board and district officials seek to consider an altered calendar in order to fulfill the district’s mission of improving student learning. They see the post- Labor Day start as an antiquated element of an agrarian calendar. An earlier start would give students extra instructional days prior to standardized tests like the MCA, MAP, and AP exams. The shift also has the potential to help lower income and minority students, who are often more susceptible to the “summer slide.” Also, the calendar change would end Northfield High School’s first semester at Winter Break, thus giving students time off immediately after, rather than before, their final exams.
Many community members maintain that a calendar shift would only be a detriment to Northfield. They point to the fact that the district has provided little hard evidence that the early start would improve standardized test scores. The proposed changes would also interfere with both fall and spring sports at the High School level, limiting preseason practice for fall athletes, and extending the season beyond the school year for spring athletes. Families connected to St. Olaf and Carleton have expressed concern over the lack of coordination with the colleges calendars. Furthermore, a shift could limit students’ opportunity to participate in 4-H at the State Fair, attend August summer camps, and enjoy other late summer experiences.