Responding to a petition initiated by local resident Padrin Grimstad that requested that the school year begin one week later, the Decorah Community School Board conducted a lengthy discussion Monday night about the implications of such a potential change. In the end, the Board unanimously voted to keep the date (August 16) as had been recommended by Superintendent Mike Haluska, the Administrative Team, and the District Learning Team (that includes administration and about a dozen teaching staff). The scheduled last day of school would be May 22.
Superintendent Haluska addressed many issues including the potential impact on Vacation Bible School, Parks and Recreation programs, heat in August, the use of school facilities by New Minowa Players beginning June 1, and difficulties for athletic games and practices. All the school principals present spoke in favor of the August 16 date. They all commented on the learning environment being much better with students ready to learn in August, versus the frequent challenges of late May and possible June. High School Principal Kim Sheppard cited statistics on the significantly better test scores that were achieved by starting school one week earlier. Teacher Mark Rhodes spoke in favor of the earlier start date as something critical to the timing and successful testing for students involved in Advanced Placement Classes. Board members, while being sympathetic to the petition and the desire to hold onto one more free week of summer, were convinced that the issue was "all about the best education for kids."
The petition did not necessarily call for a later end date of school, but sought to recoup some days in the middle of the year. Those options were not considered viable because of the professional development days (and the need to spread them out during the year), contracted teacher compensation days and designated holidays. Again the Board felt strongly that in order for teachers to effectively work on issues such as curriculum mapping and other state mandates, there had to be time built into the calendar for that professional development. Board member Ron Fadness said he had talked to about 18 teachers, all who supported the early start date.
Grimstad and several other community residents spoke related to the Save Our Summer petition for about 10 minutes in a public hearing prior to the School Board meeting. She said that there were about 260 signatures for the petition. One concern from the public was that the early start date interfered with participation in the Iowa State Fair (runs August 9-19).