When the 2010-11 school year began, there were 25 Minnesota school districts that had been authorized to participate in an effort known as the Improving Student Achievement Initiative.

Through that, those school districts were able to implement a flexible learning year (FLY) and could start the school year prior to the state mandated post-Labor Day start. The Redwood Area School District was part of that initiative.

Nine years later, most of the schools have dropped out of FLY, but three districts, Redwood Area Public Schools, Sleepy Eye and Springfield have continued to operate under the initiative.

The 2018-19 school year is the third year of the third three-year commitment to FLY, which means the school board has a decision to make.

Will it continue to move forward with the initiative?

The Redwood Area Board of Education talked about that question during its Nov. 26 meeting, and at the end of the discussion it voted to proceed with the next steps.

While it has opted to move ahead, the school board has made no final decision regarding whether or not it will submit an application to the Minnesota Department of Education requesting permission to schedule a flexible learning calendar.

Prior to that decision, the school board is required to receive input from the public regarding the FLY initiative, and it will do that by hosting three public hearings. Those dates were approved during the meeting. They are:

• Dec. 3 from 6-7 p.m.

• Dec. 10 from 7-8 p.m.

• Dec. 17 from 5:30-6:30 p.m.

All of the hearings will be held in the board room on the campus of Redwood Valley Middle School/High School. 

The board has received some input already through surveys it conducted with parents and the staff working in the district.

During the first quarter parent-teacher conferences, those who attended were given a brief survey to fill out that asked their preference of calendars, with one starting prior to Labor Day and a second starting after that date.

Of the parents who filled out the survey, 56 percent were in favor of a post-Labor Day start, with 44 percent in favor of starting two weeks prior to that date. A total of 306 responses were received.

School staff responses to a survey asking the same question were also shared with the board, and in that case 59 percent of the staff was in favor of the pre-Labor Day start, with 41 percent in favor of starting after Labor Day. A total of 145 responses were received.

There continues to be several reasons the board has considered for submitting an application for another three-year FLY initiative, including the fact that it adds up to two weeks of high-quality instructional days prior to the high stakes testing.

However, Rick Ellingworth, Redwood Area School District superintendent, said the administration has not found that the earlier start date has had an impact on student achievement.

Ellingworth added the earlier start allows for an end to the first semester prior to the holiday break, adding starting after Labor Day would not allow for that.

There also continues to be a strong feeling that students are ready for school to start before Labor Day and those days in August are more productive than those that would have to be added in late May or early June should the school year start after Labor Day.

Jim Buckley, school board chair, said over the past nine years he has never heard a compelling reason why the school district should move away from the earlier school start, adding the decision is about doing what is best for the students and staff who are part of the district.

The public is encouraged to attend one of the scheduled public hearings to voice their opinion regarding the potential of submitting an application for another three-year FLY initiative.

In other action the school board:

• Accepted the June 30, 20108 financial audit as presented by representatives from ABDO, EICK and MEYERS, LLP.

• Accepted the retirement of Carol Frank from her position as an elementary-school paraprofessional. Frank has been part of the district in various capacities for more than three decades.

• Accepted the resignation of Shellie Mammen from her role as an elementary-school paraprofessional.

• Approved the employment of Virgil Felt as head speech coach at a stipend of $1,956, Kristin Rossow as middle-school speech coach at a stipend of $883, Heather Briese as a middle-school softball coach at a stipend of $1,956, Alonna Gemmill as a middle-school softball coach at a stipend of $1,956, Dillon Thooft as an assistant track coach at a stipend of $3,169, Kyle Hicks as ninth-grade girls basketball coach at a stipend of $2,567, Brenna Elwell as an assistant gymnastics coach at a stipend of $2,562.50 and Dean Wilson as an assistant gymnastics coach at a stipend of $2,562.50.

• Approved the employment of Amy Simonson as a special education paraprofessional at a rate of $11.50 per hour for five hours per day and approved an increase from five hours per day to six-and-a-half hours per day for Shelly Schliewe in her role as a special education paraprofessional.

• Scheduled a special meeting for Dec. 10 at 6:30 p.m. for the purpose of considering architect change order recommendations for the Estebo Career Development and Training Center.