MILROY - Like other school districts that are part of the flexible learning year (FLY), Milroy Public Schools scheduled three public meetings for community members to attend, learn more about the innovative experience, ask questions or voice their opinions about whether or not they support the possibility of applying for a new three-year FLY application with the Minnesota Department of Education.
While some schools in the 25-district FLY consortium are just ramping up for upcoming meetings, including Marshall, which will set the meeting dates, times and places at the Dec. 17 board meeting, others are finished. For the majority of the schools in the 25-district FLY consortium that are finished with their meetings, very low community turnout was reported, including in Milroy on Thursday, where no one showed up for the meeting.
"I kind of take that as a sign they put their trust in our school board, that they'll do what's right for our kids," Milroy Superintendent Wade McKittrick said. "You hope you have enough of a relationship with people that they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts with you."
McKittrick said he was confident that he and the board members were accessible to people in the community, and if they wanted to stop by or give a phone call, they could do so.
"We've talked about it at the board level, about the pros and cons and if it makes sense to continue," he said. "I was just hoping to get some more input."
As the smallest district in the FLY consortium, Milroy sometimes finds itself in a unique situation.
"With a school our size, it can be a hindrance to do some of the initiatives in the FLY, to keep up with the advances," McKittrick said. "In smaller schools, everyone wears those extra hats. So we sometimes have to pick what's most important so we don't spread people too thin."
From what he's heard, McKittrick gets the feeling that people have gotten used to the early start before Labor Day and the earlier out in May. For those students who wish to attend the Minnesota State Fair or take vacations with their family, excused absences are given.
"Those families are still doing it," McKittrick said. "So I'm not hearing any complaints.
Although Minnesota has notoriously been one of the states to begin school after Labor Day in the past, they are in the minority. According to a survey from Market Data Retrieval, 75 percent of students in the United States return to school before Labor Day week.
On the flip side, people seem to like completing the school year in mid-May, which is still nearly a month after state assessment testing.
"There can potentially be unproductive days in May, so we have to work hard to avoid that," McKittrick said. "We're also in a unique situation, where we tie into Tracy Area and Marshall at the secondary level, so we have to be cognizant of that."
So far, community turnout has been the best in Canby. Superintendent Loren Hacker gave a presentation at all three of the public meetings, which were on Nov. 15, Nov. 20 and Nov. 29. Overall, Hacker said, the community had mixed feelings about the FLY.
"Some had concerns about the early start, with the impact upon 4-H and vacations, which are concerns we've had in the past," he said. "They tended to be, in my opinion, really good issues, but ones that were focused more on family issues than on education issues."
Though there is no way to clearly indicate whether or not the FLY was the reason or not, Hacker said data shows that students in the district have had gains. He also noted that collaboration and the natural break during the holidays were favored by the majority of people.
"Everyone in attendance was in agreement that the collaboration between districts is a powerful piece," Hacker said. "And, everybody likes the natural break between semesters. Nobody likes getting or giving homework over Christmas."
Hacker pointed out that the teachers in the district also appreciate that the first semester is wrapped up before the holiday break and that they don't have to spend six to seven days of review when the students return. The teacher workshop day during the break also becomes a real valuable day, too, he said.
"The majority of people in our community like what we're doing," Hacker said. "Spring sports get a little less time in the spotlight, but fall coaches and athletes really like the FLY schedule. They're at school three weeks before everybody else otherwise."
As far as snow days, Hacker said he felt they were better spent in the fall than in late spring, when state assessment testing is already finished.
"I'm all about kids and learning," he said. "I know there are other issues, but I think it's better to have the cows in the barn."
Loy Woelber, superintendent at Tracy Area Public Schools and Westbrook-Walnut Grove Schools, believes there is strong support from both districts to continue pushing for a new three-year application.
"I haven't heard anything that would make me believe any differently," Woelber said. "I think that people are willing to move forward."
Woelber said the 10 extra instructional days before state mandated testing made more sense than having those 10 days afterwards. Snow days, with late starts, early outs and cancellations, however, can take away from that. Woelber noted that for the next three school years, the earliest start date would be Aug. 19, Aug. 18 and Aug. 24 respectively.
Regardless of whether the consortium's application is approved again, Woelber said that the Professional Learning Communities (PLC) opportunities could still exist.
"I'm not so misguided to say that you couldn't do PLCs without the early start," he said. "And other schools will do that, too. That has really been a benefit of the consortium.
"If the application is granted, great. If it's denied, I think these schools need to continue anyway. We can't just pout, take our toys and go home. We might lose out on the early start, but we can keep going with the PLCs."
Along with Woelber, the majority of board members were present at the first of three meetings for the WWG district. Though attendance was poor, it was not unexpected.
"People probably won't come if they're for the FLY," Woelber said. "And, both boards are very reflective. They'll listen to the community."
Lakeview Public School Superintendent Chris Fenske said feedback from surveys have suggested that people throughout the district are in support of the FLY.
"We have good support from the teachers, parents and students," he said. "Not everyone responded to the surveys we sent out, but it does give us a snapshot."
One of the best aspects of the FLY, Fenske said, was the calendar alignment with the College Now program.
"The alignment of the College Now program through Southwest Minnesota State University is one of the strongest pieces of the component," Fenske said. "The first semester ends before Christmas. Before the FLY, students still had about two weeks left of classes after Christmas break."
Like other area administrators, Fenske will present a great deal of information to community members if they attend one of the next meetings. There is also an opportunity for questions and answers at the end, he said.
"Each of the FLY districts will have to decide by the end of January, if they're going to participate in the next FLY application," Fenske said. "Our school board will make the final decision."
After the meetings and after the school boards make their determinations, the fate of the application will likely fall into the hands of MDE Commissioner Brenda Cassellius.
Bruce Houck, superintendent at Russell-Tyler-Ruthton, Lynd and Hendricks school districts, reported attendance at all of the meetings was slim. Overall, he feels that the communities have supported the FLY and will continue to in the future.
"They liked the semester break at Christmas time," Houck said. "They also liked the College Now start. Athletes liked the early start, too. As long as their sport had started, they felt they might as well be in school, too."
Houck said he thought the consensus for the 25 school districts was that "everybody was moving ahead" with the application.
Lincoln HI-Ivanhoe Superintendent/Principal Michelle Mortensen said there were a few people at the first of the three meetings in the district, along with a good number of board members.
"I made sure my board was there," she said. "That way they can answer questions. Most of our people are happy. That's what I'm hearing."
Area school FLY?meetings:
Wednesday, Dec. 12,5:30 p.m. Lakeview Auditorium
Monday, Jan. 7, 5:15 p.m.
Wednesday, Jan. 9, 5:30 p.m Wood Lake Community Center
Thursday, Dec. 13, 7 p.m.
Room 206, LH School-Ivanhoe
Monday, Jan. 7, 7 p.m.
Room 206, LH School-Ivanhoe
Meetings tentatively scheduled for early January; school board will determine at Dec. 17 board meeting.
Monday, Dec. 10, 7:30 a.m. High school library
Tuesday, Jan. 8, 5 p.m.
High School Library
Monday, Jan. 14, 6:30 p.m. High school library
Monday, Dec. 17, 6 p.m.
Tracy Area High School
Thursday, Dec. 20, 6 p.m.
Currie City Hall
Monday, Jan. 7, 6 p.m.
Ralco (Former Balaton School)
Thursday, Dec. 20, 7 p.m.
Walnut Grove School
Monday, Jan. 14, 6 p.m.
Meetings completed already: Canby Public Schools, Lynd School, Milroy Public Schools, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton, Hendricks.