Falls School Board revisits spring break

by Jeff Pederson Sheboygan Falls News Editor

After eliminating the traditional week-long spring break vacation nearly three years ago, the Sheboygan Falls School Board is preparing to revisit its decision.

During a monthly meeting on Monday, Oct. 26, the subject of spring break came up as part of a discussion of the 2016-17 school calendar.

For the fourth consecutive year, the calendar does not include a traditional week-long spring break as had been a yearly custom prior to the 2013-14 school year.

The proposed 2016-17 calendar does feature three days off around the Easter holiday (Sunday, April 16) in mid-April, including Thursday, April 13, Friday, April 14 and Monday, April 17, but not a traditional Monday through Friday spring break as in the past.

Board member Mark Debbink began the discussion by asking why spring break was eliminated in the district.

District Administrator Jean Born stated that the board voted to remove the traditional spring break in 2013 due in large part to state testing, which is typically held in the spring.

“The idea was to help in improving student achievement on state testing, which normally takes place in March and April,” Born said. “As a district, we feel that student engagement is critical in preparing students for these state assessment tests.

“That is why we felt it was very important not to have that long break right before the tests were to take place,” she said.

Board President John Mauer said families have adapted by utilizing other days off that have been placed throughout the school year.

“I think we’ve seen that families that want more time off for vacations will schedule them around the other break days that we have scheduled,” Mauer said. “Often times that means taking an extra day or two before or after the scheduled break day or days.”

Born said student absences have not changed significantly since spring break was eliminated.

“We’ve seen more people use the two-day break we just had in October and in general they’ve also taken advantage of the scattered off days we now have, which are more spread out throughout the calendar.”

Mauer said the board should consider re-evaluating its decision on spring break in the next year.

“This is our fourth school year less a spring break and at the time we said we would evaluate the impact of the decision, after it was implemented for a measurable period of time,” Mauer said. “I think five years is enough time to get a good read on the kind of affect it has had, good or bad.

“We owe it to the community to look at the data, evaluate it and report back on what we found,” he said. “From my point of view, the truth is parents can make the decision to take their kids out of school for a vacation at any time during the year, so it becomes an individual decision on when vacations occur.”

Debbink agreed that the board should evaluate the decision in the near future.

“I think it is a good idea to take another look at it,” Debbink said. “It has been a couple of years now and I have people ask me quite often about it. It would be nice to have data to refer to when people ask why we don’t have a spring break. That way we will have a good read on whether it is working or not working.”

Born asked board members if they would prefer to start the 2016-17 school year on Thursday, Sept. 1 or after Labor Day on Tuesday, Sept. 6.

“Right now, the first day is set on September 1st because that is the earliest day we are allowed to start by state law,” Born said. “However, there is a thought that because September 1st falls on a Thursday, it might be best to wait and start after Labor Day Tuesday, Sept. 6.

“We sent out a survey to the staff and it came back nearly 2-to- 1 in favor of starting on the Tuesday after Memorial Day,” she said.

Board member Naomi Borgenhagen expressed her preference to start after Labor Day.

“If the teachers think it would be disruptive to start on September 1st with a two-day week, I would recommend starting after Labor Day,” Borgenhagen said. “On top of that, the County Fair is going on that Thursday and Friday, which makes it a challenge for the kids involved with the fair to be in school on those two days.”

The proposed 2016-17 school calendar includes off days for students on Thursday, Oct. 20; Friday,

Oct. 21; Thursday, Nov. 24, Friday, Nov. 25; Monday, Dec. 26 through Monday, Jan. 2; Friday, Jan. 20; Friday, Feb. 17; Friday, March 17; Thursday, April 13, Friday, April 14 and Monday, April 17; Friday, May 26 and Monday, May 29. The last day of the 2016- 17 school year is set for Tuesday, June 6.

After a lengthy discussion, the board agreed to table a decision on the school calendar until the next board meeting in November.

The board approved a pair of changes to the Sheboygan Falls High School student handbook at the suggestion of SFHS Principal Luke Goral., who explained that the school’s current policy for student participation in after-school sporting events states that the student must be present for all classes, during a particular school day to participate in sports. However, he noted that the policy has come into question when students arrive late for classes in the morning.

“We’ve had issues where students oversleep, are sick or generally just show up late for their first-hour class, but then expect to participate in their sporting event because while they may have been late, they were technically present for that class,” Goral said. “That has become more of an issue, so I would like to see the policy change to state that students should be present for the entire school day in order to participate in a sporting event.

“Of course, we will allow for exceptions in the case of doctor’s appointments and other unforeseen circumstances,” he said.

Goral also stated that the school’s policy requiring shorts, short skirts and dresses to extend to the mid-thigh has become unenforceable and no longer applicable. As a result, he asked for it to be eliminated from the student handbook.

The board approved the resignation of high school English teacher Jenny Kronas.

The board also approved the second and final reading of 25 NEOLIA district policies and the first reading of five new NEOLIA district policies related to the recently passed state budget.Born explained that graduation requirements have changed so that now students will be required to pass a civics test to graduate.

Students will be required to achieve a score of 60 percent or better on the test, which will be administered to high school juniors this year. In addition, home-based, private or tribal schooled students can now participate in WIAA sports with the district allowed to collect a participation fee.

District Facilities Manager Kevin Dulmes presented an overview of how he manages and maintains the district’s facilities.

Dulmes also provided an update on the Innovative Design Center (Engineering Academy) currently under construction in the tech. ed. wing at the high school.

“The storage shed is completed and we came in three weeks ahead of schedule on that,” Dulmes said. “Everything has been pulled out of the auto lab to make way for the engineering academy.

“The old paint has been removed from the auto lab and we will start with the new paint next week,” he said. “We are putting in a service door, which will allow entry into that part of the school without going around. That should work great for the robotics team. We are looking at being done with that by December 1st.”

Goral noted that the school is planning to start an engineering academy program next year at the Innovative Design Center.

“We are planning our first intro to engineering class next year and we will start building a program from that,” Goral said. “Our goal is to build a sustainable engineering academy, but right now we don’t have 15, 20, 30 kids to get that started properly.

“We are planning to start small and work our way up in,” he said.

Born noted that three trees adjacent to the 4-year-old kindergarten playground at the elementary school will need to be moved or cut down due to safety reasons.

“We have three trees that were planted in 2000 when the elementary school opened, which are now huge and obstructing the 4-K play area,” Born said. “It is a safety issue as there is a road there and the trees block the view.”

Dulmes said a plan is in place to take out the trees and install a fence to shield the play area from the road.

The board closed the meeting by approving a facilities vision statement, featuring the formation of a Facilities Advisory Committee design to provide the School Board with feedback and potential solutions for the middle school building and 10-year capital replacement plan as the board works to finalize a referendum proposal.

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