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Fillmore Central and the FLY?

Fri, Feb 18th, 2011
Posted in Education

Fillmore Central Superintendent Myrna Luehmann spoke to the public during a recent meeting on the proposed Flexible Learning Year consortium. Photo by Jade Wangen

On the same night as their February meeting, Fillmore Central School Board and administration held the second of the three required public meetings for the proposed Flexible Learning Year (FLY).

Luehmann explained to the audience that the district has to apply to the Minnesota Department of Education by the end of March, along with the other districts in southeast Minnesota, that decide to join the consortium. The Commissioner of Education makes the decision to give permission for the consortium to make these changes to their school year.

The application for the FLY is for three years, and there are certain regulations each district must follow. The school year will start two weeks earlier than usual, which means it will be before Labor Day. The first semester must be completed before winter break, and there must be common professional development days with the other districts in the group.

Luehmann said there are some benefits to starting school two weeks earlier. The school would be on the same schedule as local colleges, and the first semester would be finished before Christmas. The students would also have two more weeks of instruction before the MCA testing in the spring.

Luehmann said she believes that the staff development benefits are the biggest value to the FLY. With this program, they will also be able to track test scores, something the district currently does by hand.

There is a cost to join this consortium, which is $10 per student per year, for the three years. Luehmann said this will only take up part of the staff development money that is budgeted.

Board member Jim Love, who had been to an MSBA meeting recently, said the schools in southwest Minnesota who started this year are overwhelmingly positive about the experience. Luehmann said one of the biggest plusses they talked about was getting done with the first semester before winter break. That way, students were able to enjoy their break without worrying about school work, and the teachers didn't have to backtrack and hurry to get things done when they returned from break.

Luehmann also said there is a possibility starting school early may not improve test scores; they have to try it and see. It is also possible that spring sports will be going on after school is done, but Luehmann said that sometimes happens even now. Another big concern for people is the State Fair, especially for students involved in FFA or 4H. Luehmann said the school would treat that like any other vacation, and would excuse students as long as parents felt it was important for their child to be there.

Luehmann added that of the 25 districts in southwest Minnesota participating in this, there are 16,000 students. Only 238 of them missed school because of the State Fair. Luehmann is certain it won't hold kids back from attending, and things can be worked out.

Preston resident Tracy Raaen asked if the school would be able to get out of the FLY after the first year if it didn't work out. Luehmann said the contract is for three years, and they would have to stay in it.

The draft of a calendar had the start of school on August 18. It has the last day of school on May 18, with graduation on May 20. Luehmann said this will also be the Trout Days weekend in Preston, so it could be changed. Dustin Arndt of Preston said he is on the Trout Days committee and they would not like to have graduation that same weekend. Luehmann assured him it can still be changed.

Dave Harrison asked how starting early would affect football practice, and if they would be having two practices a day like last year when they started two weeks early. Dean Chris Mensink said practice would start on August 15, which is mandated by the state. They would be having practice before and after school once school started, but only for grades 9-12. Harrison questioned how the kids would be functioning those first two weeks when they would be exhausted from football.

Principal Heath Olstad said he spoke with all of the teachers, and had positive feedback overall. There were some questions about getting enough staff development for the $10 per student, and concerns about the State Fair, as well as the hot weather in August.

Board member John Torgrimson said he thinks it's a false expectation that test scores will improve from the early start, but he sees a lot of positives to the idea. The common calendar, the shared staff development, and how the districts will be focused on a joint effort are all positive things to look at. He added he would be more influenced by how many schools ultimately decide to join.

Raaen noticed there were no representatives from Fillmore Central on the workgroup for the FLY consortium. Luehmann said they are very good about communicating with superintendents and principals. Kiehne also felt that Fillmore Central would be well-represented.

Kiehne expressed his appreciation for everyone who came to the meeting to get more information and ask questions. He added that if they really want to improve education, they really need to have more teaching days, and maybe this is a step in the right direction. Luehmann agreed. "We'll see education making these changes in the future," she said. "The economy is forcing us to look at other options."

Committee Reports

Kiehne, speaking on behalf of the Superintendent Search committee, said they developed an advertisement for the search, and are ready to do any needed refining. There will be an article in the Rochester Post Bulletin. They will also be advertising in newspapers in Winona and Mankato, as well as local papers. There will be emails sent to the MASA (Minnesota Association of School Administrators) and MSBA (Minnesota School Board Association).

Board member John Torgrimson said the budget committee looked at the revised budget, and he said the numbers look solid. Torgrimson explained it looks like there is a million dollar deficit, but that is including the payments for the HVAC project at the middle school last year. According to Torgrimson, there will be a $40,000 surplus by the end of the year.

"The numbers look positive and really solid at this point," said Torgrimson.

Torgrimson also mentioned there is no certainty what will happen with the state legislature this spring, as they are dealing with a $6.2 billion deficit. He said they hope for the best, but there will not be any federal stimulus money next year. He said the district may have to plan a three percent budget cut, which would be $160,000.

Luehmann said the projected enrollment is almost constant for next year, which helps a lot. She said the budget is a huge improvement over previous years.

Other Business

The board approved the hire of Jackie Whitacre to direct the high school musical. Someone is still needed to help with the vocal portion of the directing.

The board approved advertising for bids for lawn mowing at both the Harmony and Preston locations. They also approved getting bids for multi-coverage insurance, and food service, which is mandated by law.

The board approved the revised budget for the 2010-2011 school year. Luehmann said the numbers look better than they did in June when it was first put together.

They also approved the list of spring coaches as recommended by Athletic Director Jane Montgomery.

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