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Calendar revisited

School board considers earlier start for 2020-21 school year Input sought at March 19 meeting

SOLON– One day can make a difference.
The Solon Community School District (SCSD) Board of Education voted to start the 2021-2022 school year for students on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, and will consider making a similar change for the 2020-21 school year at a March 19 meeting.
The new calendar and the possible revision were discussed at a Feb. 20 meeting of the board.
Superintendent Davis Eidhal presented the proposed calendar, explaining the district had taken a different approach this year.
The calendar has been pretty much set, Eidahl said, so instead of a board-approved committee, Eidahl sought feedback from the superintendent advisory group, a 20-teacher team representing all levels of experience and all four buildings, as well as parents serving on the School Improvement Advisory Committee (SIAC).
The dilemma continues to be balancing the district’s desire to end its first semester prior to winter break with the state’s mandate not to start school before Aug. 23, he noted.
“It shortens first semester,” he said.
For 2021, he said, that first possible day falls on a Monday.
The SCSD usually starts the school year for students on a Wednesday, providing younger students with a shorter week, but during discussions, high school teachers favored the ability to gain two days of instructional time, he reported.
After a lengthy conversation, he said, elementary teachers came to realize how different the semesters were for the different age groups and how much impact the two extra days could have, Eidhal said.
The group came to consensus supporting a Monday start, but with early dismissal for the first two days.
“It will still give those teachers at the high school 60-minute periods to really get rolling into the semester but we can ease those (younger) kids in,” he added. “I know it hasn’t been tradition.”
Another change to the 2021-2022 calendar would be shifting almost every early-out to Thursday, Eidahl noted.
“We used to have some conferences on a Monday night, or a Tuesday night or a Wednesday night,” he said. “We shifted everything to a Thursday.”
The exceptions would be the first Monday and Tuesday of the school year the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and the Wednesday before winter break, he said.
That recommendation came from parents, he explained, who felt the consistent early-out would make scheduling easier.
The calendar would provide 180 days of student contact, Eidahl explained, which will be submitted to the state as hours to provide flexibility in case the district runs into an anomaly or has to deal with winter cancellations.
Teachers would be provided seven professional development days and five holidays for a 192-day contract, he added.
The school year would include 41 early dismissal days and 139 full days, with no activities scheduled July 24-31. Graduation would fall on Sunday, May 22, 2022.
“Just know there was a lot of feedback on it,” Eidahl said.
Board member Dan Coons acknowledged the struggle to align the district’s first semester with winter break.
“I like this compromise a lot that first week where high school students are getting exposed right away and we’re not running our little ones into the ground,” Coons observed.
The SCSD has attempted a variety of methods to construct the school calendar, he said, and he supported Eidahl’s approach.
The calendar is not without its challenges, Eidahl noted.
He said he’d served in districts where three different calendar were presented to the public, with each version receiving support from different segments of the population.
“It was a good discussion,” he said of the work on the calendar. “There are some things that just aren’t perfect in here. For example, by shifting all conferences to Thursdays, November is pretty much wiped out for CLTs (Collaborative Learning Teams).”
But compromises were made, he noted.
“If parents are going to be happy with that, we appreciate the community supporting the early release time every Thursday. That’s a big commitment from our community.”
Board member Adam Haluska asked if concerns were expressed about the early start date, especially in relation to the Iowa State Fair, which typically concludes in late August.
Eidahl said not many people seemed to care.
“There’s just other issues that take precedent,” he added. “It just kind of gets pushed back.”
With informal agreement reached on the 2021-2022 calendar, board members turned their attention to the possible revision of the 2020-2021 school year.
Board President Tim Brown noted the 2020-2021 calendar, approved two years ago, follows the previous tradition of starting school mid-week to accommodate early elementary students.
During the work on the 2021-2022 calendar, participants questioned whether the board would want to make a similar change for the 2020-2021 year.
Doing so would require a public hearing, Brown added.
“So they’re in favor of it?” Coons asked.
Eidahl responded he had been asked if it was a possibility. He said he explained the process and said he would take it to the board members for consideration.
The current 2020-2021 calendar has the first day of school slated for Tuesday, Aug. 25, with a 1:45 p.m. early dismissal.
Coons if stakeholders are interested in making the change, he would be happy to open the subject up for feedback from the community.
Board members approved the 2021-22 calendar unanimously, and set a public hearing for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 19, regarding the possible change to the 2020-21 calendar.
“Again, we’re not agreeing to make a change, only saying we’re taking input and discussing it,” Brown said.