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  Monday January 26th, 2015    

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High schoolers need more time with teacher (05/15/2013)
By Frances Edstrom

The Winona School Board will discuss on Thursday the possibility of changing the daily class schedule at the high school. The impetus, apparently, is to improve our high school students’ success on the state tests required for graduation, a goal we applaud.

Currently, the schedule at the high school does not allow for students to take the necessary math classes prior to taking the state math graduation test. This schedule also places restrictions on acceleration in such areas as language classes.

Under the current schedule, students in our district have only about 260 minutes of instructional time per day. This is the least amount of instructional time in the Big 9. It is also much less than the 300 minutes of time the teachers’ contract stipulates must not be exceeded. Could it be that the fact that our students have less instructional time is affecting their ability to absorb the material they need not only to graduate, but also to excel in postsecondary education?

Another criticism of the current schedule is that often students take a half-year of a subject — math or a language, for instance — and don’t pick it up again until the next year. Isn’t this the rationale we are given for changing to year-round school? Haven’t we been told that teachers find that over the summer, students have forgotten much of what they learned the previous year? If students can forget so much in just three months, think what it must be like for the student to go nine months or more between, let’s say, Algebra I and Algebra II, or between Spanish I and Spanish II.

While we applaud changing the schedule, we feel that the public school administration is once again asking the board to make a decision — ostensibly between two options — without giving board members a chance to study the issue. The board “packets” — the agenda and other materials — arrive on the Monday prior to the school board meeting on Thursday. The packets arrived this week, but they did not include any materials a board member would need to discuss, much less vote on, the alternatives to the current schedule.

The board was presented some details last month on a five-period schedule, one that the majority of teachers who responded to a survey preferred. Other options were mentioned, but no details were presented. No details appear in the agenda packet.

Board members have been entrusted by the public with decision-making powers for the future of public education in the Winona district. How can they possibly make a decision without supporting data? If supporting data is presented at the same meeting at which they vote, can they in good conscience feel they are upholding their responsibility on such an important issue?

One has to wonder if the school district isn’t approaching the subject of the high school schedule in the wrong way. Shouldn’t the needs of the students to learn come before employee work day preference? The schedule preferred by the teachers includes an hour and a half — 90 minutes — per day for “teacher preparation,” meaning no student contact time. How can a school district, that has told us repeatedly we are soon facing huge budget cuts and another referendum vote, cater to “wants” by its employees over its responsibility to educate children and serve the public?

The School Board and district administration need to go back to the drawing board on this one. They are soon in negotiations with the teachers on a new salary and benefits contract. Our students have not performed well on graduation tests. Teachers should be giving students the 300 minutes the present contract stipulates. The public should not grant teachers 90 minutes of free time. It’s up to the School Board to represent the interest of the students and insure they receive the best education we are able to provide.

Outsource check writing

Winona County Administrator Duane Hebert told the Board of Commissioners that it will cost the county between $45 and $50 in staff time to issue one check. This revelation came in a discussion of how and whether to issue 1,100 rebate checks to St. Charles residents who have been billed for recycling services which have not been provided.

Could we humbly suggest that in the world outside government buildings it doesn’t cost nearly that much to issue a check. This may be the perfect opportunity for the county to begin to privatize some of its functions. There are plenty of people, we imagine, who would be willing to charge less than $1,500 an hour to issue checks. I can think of many who would jump at the chance to get half that.

What say you, commissioners?



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