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District applies for four-day week renewal

It’s that time of year again — Lake Superior School District officials are working on their four-day week application.

LSSD officials hope to get another “yes” from the Minnesota Department of Education, which reviews applications for flexible learning years. The district has used four-day weeks for four years and is applying for a two-year extension.

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“We are continuing to accept those and considering them,” director of communications at MDE, Josh Collins, said of flexible learning year applications.

In 2010, LSSD transitioned to a four-day week as cost-saving measure. The district initially hoped to save a quarter-million dollars per year with the four-day week. According to superintendent Bill Crandall, they ended up saving about $225,000 annually.

Nine other Minnesota schools made the switch to four-day weeks. The cost-saving tool is most effective in rural districts, where transportation costs are a large part of the budget.

“If you look at the research on four-day weeks and they start describing school districts that would benefit, they are describing our district,” Crandall said.

The MDE however, has expressed concern for how the structure affects learning. In Two Harbors and Silver Bay, test scores haven’t fallen overall since the four-day week started, but few gains have been made.

An achievement plateau is a concern for the district, Crandall said, but “when you look at our data, we’re not hurting our kids.”

The district has received two positive designations from the MDE during the four-day week – William Kelley Elementary School in Silver Bay was celebration eligible last year and Minnehaha Elementary in Two Harbors was named a celebration school this year. The designation is based on student proficiency, student growth, reduction of achievement gaps and graduation rates.

“That’s a real positive,” Crandall said.

Students get even more instruction minutes than they did during the five-day weeks, thanks to longer school days. The flexibility a four-day week provides has also proved helpful this year after a handful of days were cancelled due to weather and could be made up on Fridays. Fridays are also used for a range of extracurricular activities.

“It seems we’re fitting the community’s needs, students’ needs and staff needs,” Crandall said.

According to surveys sent out last year, 70-80 percent of community members, students and staff in the district view the four-day week positively.

Despite the glowing reviews, MDE officials ahave expressed concern.

“Both (MDE commissioner Brenda Cassellius) and (Governor Mark Dayton) have said that they prefer five-day school weeks,” Collins said.

The district hopes to submit its application for a two-year renewal of the four-day week sometime in March and will likely hear back from MDE by May. Much of the heavy lifting – like community meetings and surveys – was completed last year and was waived this year. Crandall said they will focus on highlighting the benefits of the four-day week in this year’s submission.

“We’re going to try to share our story a little bit better,” he said.

Though the only purpose of moving to a four-day week was to save money, there have been some unexpected benefits, Crandall said. He pointed to increased community use of the school facilities, more flexibility for scheduling sporting events and fewer hours on buses for students as some of the rewards the district has experienced.

“The needs of districts are all unique,” Collins said. “This is a state where there is an option for (alternative calendars).”

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
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