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School Would Start Aug. 13 Under Proposed Calendar

The Northfield School Board is considering a calendar that would start next school year on Aug. 13 and would end on May 21, 2014.

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.

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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.

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


Talking 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 board@nfld.k12.mn.us 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.”

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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.
Parent4 January 12, 2013 at 04:26 AM
The proposed calendar is bloated, big time. The scheduled start date is actually THREE weeks ahead of when it usually would be (traditional calendar would have school starting 9/3). St. Olaf doesn't start until 9/5, Carleton 9/16. Students need to set their schedules -which typically takes a week - and then get trained and placed, which takes an additional week or two. So Carleton students, for example, wouldn't be in the classrooms until early October - at *least* six weeks in to the term. And then just after they start, they have the ridiculous week off in October. The tutor coordinators have estimated that thousands of tutor hours will be lost as a result. And that's a big deal, considering all that they contribute. As for establishing before the end of the school year? Impossible. 3/4 of the tutors are students, and they won't have their schedules firmed up until they're back on campus.
Sara Liebl January 12, 2013 at 12:56 PM
My youngest two ages 5 and 7 are on the bus for an hour and a half each afternoon. Unfortunately we do not have the luxury of being able to pick them up each afternoon to avoid those extreme hot days. So as St Dom's kids the would be in a hot bus or hot classroom for 9 hours a day. And yes it is hot in August. This past August they came home a complete mess - exhausted, dehydrated, cranky...
Ruth Hoekstra January 12, 2013 at 06:08 PM
Google Harris Cooper and Summer Learning Loss. Please note that his research supports a shorter summer break, which is NOT provided in the proposed balanced calendar, although I wish it was. So, for now, it's a moot point.
Parent4 January 12, 2013 at 06:18 PM
I agree- I would be delighted with a shortened summer...I think it's too long. MN is in the bottom third of instructional days required (I believe). The majority have over 180. But I just don't see the logic in rearranging the dates with no net gain. Some of Northfield's scores went up 15% last year. And Apple Valley cut three days and their scores went up. I want to see hard data as to why this will work. And I also want to know why the proposed date is 8/13, when other districts with balanced calendars start on 8/19 (Windom, etc), and even Edina is proposing a balanced calendar that starts on 8/26. That seems far more manageable and lessens the impact on families, teachers, tutors, etc. ...as well as the expense to the district.
nicole Linder January 12, 2013 at 06:59 PM
Jeez guys, It is like you are trying to kill Santa here. Pure blasphemy. Ha! Interesting that we are in the bottom third of instructional days yet our schools are so much more successful than other areas of the country. The old argument of quality over quantity.
Jane Rezac January 12, 2013 at 09:04 PM
Has anyone considered the effect of long breaks on teen pregnancy rate, increased drug and alcohol use and increased crime rates? The pregnant and parenting teen groups that I work with find a direct correlation between unsupervised school breaks and pregnancy rates. Looking at the Northfield News and Patch over the holiday shows some of the activities of teens: assault, robbery, etc. Let's look at the whole picture and not just what is nice for the adults involved in the school
Corey Butler Jr. January 12, 2013 at 11:57 PM
That's an interesting point, Jane. Thanks for bringing it up.
JJ January 13, 2013 at 02:31 AM
It is hard to believe that this wasn't even considered when this calendar was proposed. Again, this is being put before us way too fast before all factors are considered, such as tutor hours being lost. It's too bad nobody asked the teachers or the colleges about this...
Kathy Phillipsen January 13, 2013 at 02:49 PM
Our schools can't keep our teens from doing things that will be detrimental to their lives. Teens need to make the right choice. Schools are a large part of our community in many ways, but we can't make pregnancy, illegal activity, drug dependency, alcohol use and other behavior something the school can prevent. Statistically, the biggest deterrent to these things are the kids parents. It's the family unit that has the biggest influence in our kids lives, affecting the choices they make. Even in good families who are involved in their kids lives and are around for them a good kid can make a string of bad decisions.
Sara Liebl January 13, 2013 at 05:19 PM
I did not read that Jane was blaming the schools for pregnancy, criminal behavior, etc. She simply stated there is a correlation between these things and unsupervised school breaks. An increase in unsupervised time for teens could lead to these activities. And not all families have the luxury or ability to have a parent home for 6 days in October, 11 days in December and another 6 days for spring break. And how many 13-17 year old kids want a babysitter, can go to child care, camps etc during these breaks. Further most of them can not find jobs that are week here or a week there to keep them busy. I think she was just trying to point out that the groups she works in have found a correlation between the them and it is something that should be thought about in making the decision for a balanced calendar.
Sara Liebl January 13, 2013 at 05:21 PM
Even the best of kids make bad choices when their in peer pressure and long periods of unsupervised time.
Parent4 January 13, 2013 at 06:12 PM
Sara - beautifully said. Couldn't agree more.
Kathy Phillipsen January 13, 2013 at 06:25 PM
I agree with Jane, Sara. Some bored teens will get into trouble. They will get pregnant, they will drink, they will do a lot of things that they shouldn't. But if that's the case we should be pushing for a year round calendar with few breaks. What I was saying was that we can't use fear of a teen making a bad decision to dictate what the school year calendar will be. School in, school out, it won't matter to those kids who make the bad decisions. Time off just gives them more opportunity - not THE opportunity.
Kathy Phillipsen January 13, 2013 at 06:39 PM
Indeed, even when parents "do everything right" it doesn't mean their kids will follow through. Here's the thing. 100 different calendars could be proposed. Somebody will find something wrong with all 100. Some will be closer to the mark than others. We could dig up statistics on each and every 100 of them to make it look bad or good. We would have our own personal reasons that we like the first 10 and hate the other 90. Or hate them all. Or like them all. There will not be 100% agreement no matter what. The only view I've seen expressed so far that holds real weight is the tutor situation. That directly affects a students education. It would be nice to see what alternatives would be possible within that program, and what the colleges think. If these are education majors, surely from the previous spring they would continue with their planned major in the fall. I plan as best I can my full time college schedule to accommodate my job and family time. I think there's a bigger degree of flexibility than what we think in class scheduling.
Parent4 January 13, 2013 at 06:49 PM
But St. Olaf and Carleton students don't have families or full time jobs (with very, very few exceptions). Small liberal arts colleges are *very* different than state universities - and I can tell you this with 100% certainty, since I have worked in higher education for 25+ years. Trust me - their schedules are NOT confirmed until about the second week of classes; they have a chance to add/drop/try out new classes, etc. And the freedom of time to do that. We got our tutor information from the colleges, and they will be speaking out at the meetings. In my view, what holds the most weight is that there is no data or research that supports that extra instructional days before standardized testing boosts scores. Northfield's scores went up (15% in one category) under the traditional calendar. Some schools -Apple Valley, for example -are cutting instructional days. Don't mess with people's lives, money, schedules and education unless there is a very clear and proven educational benefit.
nicole Linder January 13, 2013 at 06:52 PM
Kathy, What is it that you like about this plan? I have not seen any research to support that this Calendar will help student achievement. Have you seen any? The tutor issue is huge. Students are not going to start College early just because we are starting early. I am sure they have a lot going on in the month of August- ie jobs, family obligations. They would not be able to start tutoring the first day of classes. They need to get organized just like any teacher would- that is why the teachers start school a week before the students. You are expecting a lot from the college's who are doing us a favor. That is just one issue. If you have been reading other concerns there are many valid arguments against this. The test scores of our students are good already and have been going up every year with the traditional calendar. There are 256 reasons thus far as to why we should not pass this calendar. I doubt there are 256 people that are for this calendar. I have not heard from them anyways.
Kathy Phillipsen January 13, 2013 at 07:31 PM
And, if there are enough against this whole thing I hope the district respects that and just leaves well enough alone. If things don't change, no harm no foul and we march forward status quo. As the meetings come and go, we will see a better picture form. What do I like? It's a natural flow. It makes common sense. About the time one's brain is getting tired, after going at it hard for 3 months - it's over. You get a nice break. And not just a couple of days off to breathe, but 3 weeks over Christmas and New Year's. Then we are back into it, get a mid semester breather at Spring Break when some tend to take vacations anyhow, then run hard to the finish line without the interruption of Memorial Day. A person can start their summer (albiet the "unofficial start") for real that weekend. In the case of taking a summer class you get a 3 week breather. Otherwise you get until mid August to do whatever you want. It flows with the real world better, the calendar that we all have hanging on our walls. The one they will follow once they get out of high school (for the most part) and the rest of their lives. Matches up better with holidays parents naturally get off work, so it may account for more time off without using vacation days from work with your kids.
Kathy Phillipsen January 13, 2013 at 07:33 PM
Valid reasons don't have to come from statistics, clinical and scientific means. There are extremes within those numbers that should caution us, but should not be the end all be all.
Parent4 January 13, 2013 at 07:38 PM
Regrettably, I have never had three weeks off at Christmas. Or a week off at October. I have been able to (fairly easily) take time off in August, which, under this proposed calendar, would be when my children go back to school. So I actually don't think this is a natural flow. Not here, not in 97% of the state, or in most of the country.
Parent4 January 13, 2013 at 07:41 PM
And I disagree. This proposal is based on the assertion that it will improve test scores - that's a data/statistical benchmark. So if that's what we're being told, let's back it up with cold, hard facts. And if there are other reasons, let's hear them.
Mosquito January 13, 2013 at 09:46 PM
Since when is St. Dominic part of the Northfield School District? Take a look here: http://nfld.k12.mn.us/schools/ Do you see St. Dominic? I don't either. It's a private school and they can do whatever they want with their school calendar. If they like their current calendar they're free to keep it. If they want to have school every other day and twice on Saturdays, they can do that. The district should base their decisions on the well-being of the public school students. Parents who decide to send their children to a private school should remember that.
JJ January 14, 2013 at 04:14 AM
Their schedules take a long time to get figured out. Several college tutors didn't get back into the classrooms until last week because they were still rearranging their schedules. Many were on wait lists and hoping to get in. In fact, most tutors aren't getting back until next week.
JJ January 14, 2013 at 04:17 AM
I agree. Those of us working in the district have been provided with no data that supports this and in fact, were never even asked what we thought of it! Sort of odd being teachers are the ones in the classrooms and really know what is working and what isn't.
JJ January 14, 2013 at 04:18 AM
Whether you're for or against this, I hope you will attend the school board meeting on Jan 14th and the public hearing on Jan 15th. The board needs to hear from all of us!
Parent4 January 14, 2013 at 01:26 PM
JJ - exactly! I hope you're able to come, and also encourage other teachers to. It's really important that they can provide feedback. If teachers indicated that this calendar switch would benefit the kids' learning outcomes, I would be all for it. Not benefit their test scores, mind you - but simply that at the end of the academic year they would have learned and retained more. Isn't that the ultimate goal? For our children to learn? Or is it for them to perform like robots and spit out information on some random day in April so the superintendent can brag about marginally higher scores? For which their families and they will pay by losing family and vacation time, going to school in the dog days of steaming hot August, losing critical time with tutors and taking a financial hit by having to cover additional weeks of child care?
Ken Liebl January 14, 2013 at 08:28 PM
The district should be basing their decisions on the well being of all children in the district - not just the public schools. Parents who send their kids to private schools are paying tuition twice - once in the form of the multiple taxes levied on the residents of the district and once in the tuition they pay to the private school. Parents who decide to send their children to a public school should remember that.
Corey Butler Jr. January 15, 2013 at 04:47 AM
Big news out of tonight's board meeting: http://patch.com/A-1fQX
Joy Amunrud January 15, 2013 at 04:15 PM
Thank you Ruth on the information on Harris Cooper's and Summer Learning Loss. I hope that tabling of the calendar proposal will open a serious discussion on the possibility of year-round schooling.
Mosquito January 15, 2013 at 04:40 PM
Nope. The school district should be making decisions based on the best interest of the public school system. State Law: Duties. The board must superintend and manage the schools of the district; adopt rules for their organization, government, and instruction; keep registers; and prescribe textbooks and courses of study. School board member code of ethics: 3. Consider myself a trustee of public education and do my best to protect, conserve, and advance its progress. Private school students are private school students by choice. (Well, they're private school students by their parent's choice, anyway.) I'm not opposed to letting private schools come along for the ride, but they should not pretend they have any right to drive the bus. _If_ the school district decides to change the schedule at some point and _if_ St. Dominics decides they want to adopt that schedule, and _if_ they decide they need to have air conditioning then maybe this guy could sell one of his cups and fund the project. http://www.addictinginfo.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Pope-Gold-Pearls.jpg
Rob Hardy January 15, 2013 at 04:44 PM
There's a good podcast from WUNC of a program titled "Who Benefits from Summer Vacation." Harris Cooper is one of the guests, and he addresses the issue of summer learning loss. Here's a link: http://wunc.org/tsot/archive/sot082010ab1.mp3/view

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