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Hours-based academic calendar wins approval to begin in 2020/2021 school year

Posted: Mon, Mar 9, 2020 8:30 PM

The Decorah Community School District will begin a new approach to its academic calendar beginning with the 2020/2021 school year. The Decorah School Board approved a proposal at Monday's meeting to make the switch from a days-based calendar to an hours-based one.

"All in all, this is a good step forward for us," commented School Board President Ron Fadness.

Iowa schools are required to have a minimum of 1080 hours of instructional time between teachers and students. The proposed 2020/2021 calendar for Decorah has a total of 1114 instructional hours over 177 student days. Superintendent Mark Lane emphasized that the goal is not simply to reach the minimum number of required hours.  He said, "Quality of instructional time is important. So if we have a snow day, we most likely are not just going to tack on an extra 15 minutes at the end of the day to make up the missed hours."

The biggest motivator for this change is a desire for teachers to have extended collaborative time and to make use of strategically placed staff development. Staff will have more full-day teacher in-service days spread throughout the year.  These dates are specifically chosen to make the most efficient use of what data will be available at that point in the year. This will help make data-informed decisions.

One thing that might catch someone's attention on the calendar is that April 5th, 2021, ("Easter Monday") is currently a day off for students.  It is noted on the side, however, that this could be used to make up a missed day of school. Lane assured those at the meeting, saying, "April 5th is up to the district to use as a snow day.  It is not mandated that we use that day. We would have to look at where we are with the instructional hours and then make a decision."

Given that this will be the first year of implementation, the school board will receive periodic updates on how the increased professional learning time is being utilized, and how any late starts, early dismissals, or cancellations impact potential student and/or staff make-up time. Lane concluded, "We will have some reflecting to do after we finish our first year of using an hours-based calendar. But we are excited for this change."