BAXTER— School district calendars are in place for the next two school years, but the fate of e-learning days will likely be back for discussion.
Brainerd School Board members approved calendars for the 2023-24 and 2024-25 school years during their meeting Monday, Nov. 14, which took place at Forestview Middle School in Baxter, as the final remodeling project of a multi-year effort takes place at Washington Educational Services Building.
“That’s a sign of us getting back to normal. We’re now doing two calendars at once, trying to give people an opportunity to plan in advance,” said Tim Murtha, director of teaching and learning.
Without having to plan schedules around extensive summer construction work for multiple building projects, the district is back to approving calendars for two years in advance.
The calendars are based on the same 169 student-teacher contact days as this school year, Murtha said, and include the same footprint for in-service days.
While the 2023-24 calendar includes the same eight days of winter break as is typical, students will have two full weeks off in December and January in 2024-25 because of how the Christmas and New Year’s holidays fall in the middle of the week.
“When we built the calendar, we used one of the common assumptions that we historically used in not bringing staff back for anything less than three days of work,” Murtha said. “So that reflects the structure and makeup of the calendars.”
When a week is shortened to less than three days, Murtha said there are typically staffing and attendance issues.
“So we try as much as we can to make sure that we’re preserving the instructional integrity of what we do by honoring the fact that that’s just part of the reality,” he added.
Before approving the calendar, Board Chair Ruth Nelson asked about snow days and e-learning days, saying she has read that some districts are going back to snow days instead of e-learning days again because of how e-learning and distance learning panned out during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While many people seemed excited about the idea of e-learning days in place of snow days before the pandemic, Superintendent Heidi Hahn said post-COVID engagement with e-learning days is much lower because of how much time was spent behind screens.
Murtha said e-learning days come with several pros and cons. If the board wanted to eliminate e-learning days for the next two school years and still keep the same 169 contact days with students, it would likely mean eliminating an in-service day during the year or adding another day on at the end of the year. President’s Day was historically saved for a snow makeup day, Murtha said, but it is now set aside for a teacher in-service day.
The district has latitude with the amount of contact days though, as the state requires only 165, but Brainerd has 169.
While retaining the e-learning days keeps the schedule more on track, Murtha said, it is not easy for teachers to hold students accountable for absences during those days. And because there will always be a population of students without the technology for e-learning days, teachers spend a significant amount of time at the beginning of the school year, he said, preparing physical packets if needed.
“I think it comes down to, where do you think you’re going to get the best learning? Are you going to get better learning adding days that were thought to be holidays, or are you going to have better learning through distance learning?” Murtha said. “… What we want to do is keep the instructional quality as our central focus when we make that decision.”
Board member Sarah Speer asked if there was a way to get input from teachers on the topic. Because e-learning days are built into this year’s schedule, Hahn said she can definitely get feedback on engagement and attendance for the board.
While the board approved the calendars as presented, with e-learning days, Murtha said board members could discuss the topic again before the end of the school year if they so choose.
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