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  Thursday April 24th, 2014    

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School Board wrangles over longer school year (05/19/2013)
By Sarah Squires

A new, "modified" school schedule currently on the table for Winona Area Public Schools would feature smaller breaks throughout the school year and push the last day of school into August. Supporters of the concept say that those short breaks provide for remediation sessions for students who are struggling with school work and that extra help peppered throughout the year can be an effective way to improve student achievement.

The schedule would have students attend classes for a month and a half, followed by a two-week break. Some students would not attend school during breaks, but those who need extra help could attend "intersession" classes that would provide three hours of remedial help in the morning, and three hours of enrichment activities in the afternoon.

Board members were briefed Thursday on several cost estimates for implementing the program at one or several school sites. (See story page 5a.)

The most expensive estimates came from Energy Savings Group, a consulting firm currently working on building improvements at Jefferson Elementary and Winona Senior High School. The company is also doing a building assessment of other district buildings, and came up with multi-million dollar proposals for the installation of air-conditioning at W-K, Jefferson and Madison elementary schools. Board members have asked for cost estimates for less luxurious climate control systems, but those numbers have not yet been provided by administrators.

The cost of implementing the modified calendar at schools with existing climate control systems, however, was more modest, and several board members expressed interest in the possibility of implementing the new calendar at the middle school, high school and Alternative Learning Center (ALC).

Board member Steve Schild objected to a proposal that would implement a modified calendar at anything less than all school sites. He said that if the board wanted to make the switch because it was good for kids, it should be available to all students in the district.

Schild also said he felt that the board should examine its facilities needs before implementing any such program. Because the $15 million air-conditioning estimate for the three elementary schools is so expensive, Schild suggested a community survey asking families if they were interested in the concept.

Bills in the House and Senate would require more than a simple survey to implement such a calendar change, however. Senate File 1211 and House File 910 would require a district to seek voter approval with a referendum to switch to a "flexible, year-round calendar" such as this proposed modified calendar equal to the normal number of school days mandated by the state.

Board member Ben Baratto said he didn't want to put words into Schild's mouth, but that he thought that Schild wanted to ask the public whether it would rather spend $15 million on new air-conditioning, or $22 million on a new elementary building to house all elementary students.

Board member Jay Kohner pointed out that there were many other options for building use and configuration. Other board members pointed to a new committee charged with facility planning as the method for gaging public interest in maintaining the current elementary buildings.

Others asked again for additional air-conditioning cost estimates so the board could have a clearer understanding of the potential cost of a modified calendar year at the elementary level. Board chair Mohamed Elhindi said he was interested in learning more about using a modified calendar at the middle school, high school and ALC.  

 

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