Correction: In the issue, the headline was written as 2019-2020, but the Marshfield R-1 amended the item on the agenda list to 2020-2021 calendar during the November meeting.

While it was just a discussion item, the 2020-2021 calendar served as an important item during the Marshfield R-I Board of Education's November meeting.

As of July 1, 2019, Missouri statute directs that each school board shall prepare annually a calendar for the school term per Section 171.031.1, RSMo. According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the school term in school year 2019-20 and subsequent years shall consist of 1,044 hours of actual pupil attendance shall be required with no minimum number of school days required, and “school day” shall mean any day in which, for any amount of time, pupils are under the guidance and direction of teachers in the teaching process. For kindergarten and prekindergarten grade levels the board shall provide a minimum of five hundred twenty-two hours of actual pupil attendance in a term no minimum number of school days.

Superintendent David Steward said the thing that changes next year is the start date. With legislation last year, now the school district can start no more than two weeks prior to Labor Day, which is Aug. 24, 2020. Comparing that to where they started this year and next year, Steward noted they want to keep the same number of hours and days.

“If we’re trying to fit this all together and trying to make the semesters make sense for the high school because they have semester classes, as a former high school principal, I’m a believer that semester needs to end at Christmas,” said Steward. “I don’t think we need to come back if we take finals as soon as we come back because we just had two weeks to forget everything and not be focused.”

Steward explained the school district currently has 168 student days and 180 teacher days. Those numbers are pretty sound with where the district is, according to Steward, who added he wants to keep the teacher number at 180.

“To get some collaboration into the schedule, because we believe collaboration is important, we’ve tried late start Wednesday and that was a struggle because of managing kids while in the building and different things that took away from that collaboration piece,” said Steward. “Last year, we got away from that and tried to collaborate just before school and after school during teacher contract time, but no really release time or focus time to do that. It had been said for years that collaboration without invitation doesn’t work. It only works if it’s highly structured and a plan in place.”

Steward said the ideas they have reviewed so far include not doing a late start. The elementary schools, according to Steward, were against having students in the building and teachers trying to collaborate. He noted the other option to consider is if they would let students out early.

“Districts do this a number of different ways,” said Steward. “There are some that get out half a day every other Friday. There are some that do an hour release every Friday or some that do an hour early release every Monday.”

Steward explained what the district has been looking at to keep those 168 days and 1,004 hours is to lengthen the school day at every campus by approximately 10 minutes. That would allow what is one day per week to dismiss about 50 minutes early, which would send students home and give teachers (still within their contract time now) to spend an hour collaborating once a week.

“It could be in teams, it could be as a whole building,” said Steward. “I think if we have a regular schedule, we could set up here’s what we’re doing the first day of the month or here’s our focus for September and other months. We can create a lot of planning.”

Steward said they can do this without adding time to the day, but to accomplish it, they would need to have days of student attendance and lose some professional development days. If they left their days the same and they got out of school 50 minutes early one day a week, the district would have to add three more student days. To keep the teacher contract at 180, it would have to lose three professional development days.

Board member Damon Seiger asked what that would do to the last day of school date. Steward explained the calendars he has built all end on a similar day — the week before Memorial Day, which will be the last day of school. If they didn’t lengthen the days, Steward said they would lose professional development days in the fall and winter. He noted he believes the district could adjust to five minutes or 10 minutes longer and it isn’t going to be a transportation issue. The bigger issue would be having three more days, then it would mean three more days of buses running, which would cost more money to the district.

Seiger asked if those additional minutes would be included in the morning or at the end of the day. Steward said it would be a combination of both, but they would want to keep the dismissal times staggered exactly as they are now because the district has a good system at the end of the school day.

Steward said the other piece to take into consideration is making sure the calendar stays consistent so parents will know how to plan for it. Between Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Steward said there is potential of groups leaving early for competitions, so if they were to do an early release date, then his personal preference would be on Wednesdays.  

"Unless you’re in a district tournament somewhere or there’s a make up game, you’re not going to have groups leaving early Wednesday,” said Steward. “If parents just get into the habit on Wednesdays instead of getting out at 3:15, we'll get out at 2:25 p.m. That’s just a rough estimate. I’ve thought so far ahead as a former coach, ‘What do I do with my athletes because I can’t start practice 50 minutes early?’ The coaches are in collaboration. They have to be a part of that, so I think we can figure something out with our paraprofessionals to do study halls. That way, our students don’t have to leave, they are supervised by an adult and they have 60 to 75 minutes to work on homework. The other option would be coaches could have practice before school on those days.”

Steward noted they will continue to review calendar options and discuss it with the school board.

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