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School after memorial Day weekend? DL board wrestles with school calendar

The Detroit Lakes School Board took a first look at the proposed calendar for the district's 2008-2009 school year and discussed possible changes at its meeting Monday evening.

Students in Minnesota schools cannot begin the school year before Labor Day, said Superintendent Doug Froke. The proposed first day of school would fall on Sept. 2, 2008, the first available day for students to attend classes.

Added teacher in-service days and proposed holiday breaks would extend the school year to May 27, two days after Memorial Day (May 25). Graduation would be on May 30, 2009. Students would have two weeks off over the December and January holidays.

Froke said it would be difficult to hold graduation on Memorial Day and end classes at the high school on May 22. It wouldn't give the teachers and staff enough time to evaluate whether seniors have fulfilled the necessary graduation requirements.

Board member Deanna Sinclair said she preferred that graduation not fall on the holiday weekend, since it can create various conflicts for those who wish to attend graduation celebrations but also want to have a family weekend.

Sinclair asked if they couldn't remove some student time off in February and April and then end the school year before the early Memorial Day weekend.

"If you take a day out of each one of them (President's Day and Easter vacation), you won't have school after Memorial Day," she said. She would also like to see plans for the teacher in-service days and scheduled parent-teacher conferences.

Sinclair said she isn't opposed to going past Memorial Day for classes, "but I don't see the benefit of having a five-day weekend in the middle of the winter (President's Day)...I think a longer summer is better than a 40-below day off from school," Sinclair said.

She also said having a whole week off in April would make it hard for kids to get back into learning due to spring fever. It was also pointed out that testing could begin after the proposed April holiday, which Sinclair said was counter-productive to improving testing scores.

"I like shorter breaks during the school year and I like a longer summer. I think keeping the breaks shorter during the school year keeps the kids more on-focus, especially when you're preparing for testing and things like that," Sinclair said.

She said it would keep things more consistent through the school year to have four-day weekends in October, February and April. It would also be good to get input from the principals and other sources on what would be covered during teacher workshop days, so the board can decide whether or not to add more teacher in-service days.

Klyve told Froke he should have some ideas to work with before bringing the calendar back for consideration during the March school board meeting. Klyve said they will vote on the final calendar in April.

The school board also discussed the evaluation process for the superintendent. Klyve said that in the past, the board has evaluated the superintendent once a year, but he thought twice a year would be good and would allow the board to set goals and evaluate progress.

"I would tend to agree that twice a year is probably good. I do think that setting actionable target goals would be wonderful because then we would all know what we're expecting," said board member Terrie Boyd.

The board agreed to evaluate the superintendent twice a year and picked an evaluation format that would allow space for comments. Sinclair said she thought the comments would be very helpful and the board could tailor the questions to fit the district's needs.

Klyve said the board could tailor the questions now for approval at the March meeting and an evaluation could be done later that month.

The school board agreed to contract with Big River Consulting for $6,500 to update the district's strategic plan. The board asked about the timeline for developing the strategic plan. Froke said the firm could begin in April and work to have a plan in place for the 2008-2009 school year.

"I would think we would work pretty methodically throughout May, June, so that we've got something ready to roll, as far as a planning document, as we head into the subsequent fiscal year. That would be a goal for me anyways, is to have something ready to go and a working document in place for 08-09," Froke said.

The board also heard a presentation from Steve Morben, the DL High School principal, on students who leave the high school. Morben said all he had at the time was information, not an analysis of why students leave the district. He said the school is in the process of working to collect more data through exit interviews with students who have left the district.

The information still provides a good picture of the number of students leaving the district. Morben said he is very interested in finding out why the students are leaving and what the school can do to retain those students, and the high school is currently pursuing more information through exit interviews.

"What I'm very curious about is the data that we are able to control, the students that we are able to control. Those that choose to open enroll in another district, why are they leaving us? If they choose to transfer to the ALC, what are the conditions that led to that move? If they're choosing to home school or go online, what's the rationale for that choice as well? Some of these things we have control over to some degree," Morben said.

"If it's a student who's leaving us for reasons that we really should have been more aware of and could have addressed, then we need to view those kids as lost, and in my opinion, we need to view those as our responsibility to try and address that. We may not ever get them back, but I'd like to be able to prevent them going in the future."