UPDATED: 10:30 p.m. Monday
The Northfield School Board has voted to nix the proposed calendar at this time. Read more about the decision.
Rob Hardy hasn't yet been sworn in as a new member of the Northfield School Board, but he's already facing several big topics when he takes the oath of office on Monday.
Chief among them is the proposed modified "balanced" calendar, which, if approved, would start next school year on Aug. 13 and have it end on May 21, 2014. Under the modified calendar, the number of student-contact days would remain the same at 174.
Since the proposal was made last month, there have been plenty of critics of the idea.
A petition opposing the calendar was started by parent Nicole Linder, who has written on Patch saying the shift in days would negatively affect family gatherings, summer activities and 4-H preparation heading into the Minnesota State Fair. As of Friday afternoon, the petition had 212 signatures. A Facebook page in opposition of the calendar has also been created.
Hardy has been the recipient of plenty of feedback, the majority of which he said opposed the changes, but added there have been a fair share of supporters. He's blogged about the topic and said he's observed the conversations about the proposal on Patch and the Northfield News.
“I don’t want to be in a bubble and think only what I’m thinking,” he said. “I have to find the solution that’s the best for the education of students.”
The proposed calendar would also align the first quarter break at the traditional October MEA week, where students would get a full week of school off under this plan, and then end the semester and finish final exams before a two-week winter break. Students then would end their third quarter on March 21, 2014, and have a full week off for spring break.
The focus of the balanced calendar, according to Superintendent Chris Richardson, would be to "align instructional periods, reduce shortened weeks and holiday interruptions, and increase instructional days prior to high-stakes assessments (state standardized tests and AP exams) to aid retention of learning and reduce re-teaching and review." (See more on Page 10 of the attached PDF)
Though Hardy said he's still weighing all the considerations and is undecided on how he would vote on the calendar, he's not a fan of standardized testing dictating the calendar year.
“I’m not convinced that it’s really important to shift the calendar to get the days before the standardized test,” he said. “I don’t know if the research is there for that.”
- See Richardson talk about the calendar changes
The board will discuss the calendar at its Monday meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. at the Northfield High School media center. A second calendar, more in line with what's in place now, is also up for consideration. There are also three public meetings scheduled for Jan. 15, 17, and 22 to discuss the proposed calendar with the community.
Should the school board ultimately select the modified calendar, it would need to be approved by the Minnesota Department of Education and Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius. The earliest the calendar could be voted on is Jan. 28. Because of an agreement in the Northfield Education Association contract, Richardson said a calendar must be in place by April 1. You can contact the school board at firstname.lastname@example.org or find their phone numbers on the school board website to share your comments.
Further complicating the time line, Richardson said, is the MDE didn't make the application available until mid-December.
“The department had to have that piece in place before we could take a look at it,” he said. “The application is such, when you apply, you are saying to the department that if the proposal is approved, you will implement the proposal next fall."
Richardson said the topic of a modified calendar in Northfield has been discussed off and on for several years as members of the District Meet and Confer Committee, which includes staff members, administrators and school board members who create the calendars, wanted to see what it might look like.
On the petition, Nancy Malecha listed a number of concerns as to why she thought the modified calendar was the wrong choice for Northfield.
"If we're not adding any days to the school year, then what is the point of this?" she wrote. "Also, many families have already made their plans for vacations this August, with many non-refundable deposits already spent. Don't do this. Don't force it upon us. I am all for more days of school with longer breaks, but this "Balanced Calendar" is a poorly thought-out plan."
But supporters have been vocal, too.
"If we are to stay relevant with the rest of the world we need children to have more time in school. With added emphasis on science and math specifically!" wrote Joe Paulbeck on the Northfield Patch Facebook page.
Richardson said he welcomes all feedback and wants to hear more of it in the weeks to come at the public meetings.
“Anytime we have people that are sharing concerns, I think we need to listen to those concerns and weigh those ideas as we weigh a decision,” he said.
For new board member Hardy, he knows every critic has a very real and personal reason to oppose the calendar. And until he has to cast his vote, Hardy said he's going to make time to listen to every one of them.
“What I can’t think about is what’s going to make the fewest people mad. I have to think what’s best for these kids and schools.”
Have an opinion on the matter? Leave a comment below or share your thoughts in our Local Voices section. Follow this link and click on "Post on Patch."
What they're saying on the Northfield Patch Facebook page:
- Penny Dinneen Hillemann: Interesting, indeed. The earlier start won't be popular, but the idea of a more logically balanced calendar seems to have merit, and it adds instructional days, shortening up the summer break a bit. August's heat can be a real issue; I don't think all our buildings are air conditioned, are they?
- Ruth Hoekstra: All the elementary kids (and their parents!) are ready for school to start then. My niece and nephews in other states start their school years in mid-August; why shouldn't we?
- Kuan Ski: There's still a lot of farmwork to be done.
- Angela Lauterbach: Considering sports and practices start around then it would be a more cohesive feel...but summer is so short here as it is.
- Alyssa Bauer: No! My firstborn will be starting Kindergarten - please don't hurry it up any more than it has to be!
- Joe Paulbeck: If we are to stay relevant with the rest of the world we need children to have more time in school. With added emphasis on science and math specifically!
- Shannon Hyland Tassava: I think the reward for surviving 5-6 months of cold weather is being able to go to the pool with your kids every day until Labor Day. Soak it up! School comes after.
- Kelly 'Polzin' Radtke: No Way!! School days are very overwhelming for some children. I enjoy seeing my daughter happy and learning other things all summer long. Exploring nature, planting, weeding and harvesting our garden, catching and studying butterflies and all kinds of bugs. And with no air conditioning the classrooms would be so hot they probably couldn't focus anyway.