Monticello School Board votes to keep spring break

Monticello’s 2014-15 school calendar will look quite similar to this year’s calendar, school board members decided last week.
A couple of key changes include a full two weeks off for winter break due to the timing of Christmas and New Year’s Day as well as a different set-up for next fall’s break for the annual Education Minnesota Professional Conference, the large meeting of educators that takes place the third Thursday and Friday in October.
Still colloquially known as “MEA Weekend,” that Thursday and Friday are student holidays that enable educators in Minnesota to attend the conference.
Typically the district has a teacher workshop day the Wednesday of MEA week, giving students a Wednesday through Sunday break from school in mid-October.
However, Superintendent Jim Johnson said teachers voiced a preference for a Thursday-Monday MEA break instead, since this would eliminate a two-day school week, which he said many teachers find difficult.
Next year’s calendar once again includes a spring break week, which will take place March 30 to April 3. The other calendar that the board considered did not include a spring break week, and Johnson described that calendar option as a “sprint from beginning to end,” with graduation taking place May 29 rather than a June 5 graduation in the calendar the board approved.
The May 29 ending would have required only a three-day weekend for Easter break rather than the full week and a winter break that wouldn’t have begun until Christmas Eve.
Johnson said this year was the first time the district sought feedback on its calendar from students, and he said the students who were asked overwhelmingly spoke in favor of having a spring break even though that means ending school a week later.
Students reported that a spring break combats burnout and allows for time to catch up and refreshing their minds for that final push between spring break and the end of the year.
Johnson said this is especially true for high school students taking difficult courses such as College in Schools (CIS) and Advanced Placement.
“I definitely enjoy the break, not just to have a spring break but to have time to prepare for those spring tests coming up,” said Annie Dockendorf, the board’s student representative. “When you’re taking as many difficult classes as a lot of us are, you need a break every once in awhile and I think that will help us stay rejuvenated.”
In addition to approving the 2014-15 calendar, school board members voiced their preference for a tentative 2015-16 calendar to be released to families as soon as possible, knowing how far in advance families plan vacations. Johnson said they would look into accommodating that.
Board Chairman Robbie Smith also asked if the district built in more student contact days than they did this year to try and prevent having to add make-up days if next year dishes up a lot of inclement weather again. Johnson said they always build in several days for this purpose, but they didn’t add additional days for next year because this year has been the exception to the norm. In other business, the board:
• Heard a quarterly budget update from business manager Tina Burkholder, who also laid out a preliminary budget for fiscal year 2015’s capital projects, which will focus heavily on building security, especially at Little Mountain and Eastview. The capital budget will be approved during the March board meeting. Burkholder also laid out final budget assumptions for fiscal year 2015’s general fund, which the board approved unanimously. The conservative assumptions call for spending down the fund balance by nearly $300,000, which would give the district 9.36 percent of their general fund balance in reserve at the end of fiscal year 2015, compared with having just over 10 percent at the end of 2014. The board’s policy is to have between 6 percent to 10 percent in reserve.
• Heard from citizen Bob Esse, who asked why the school board does not put its agenda on a web site. Johnson said they do, but they will look at it to make sure it’s in the best possible location for interested persons to find it.
Approved the donation of a special propulsion chair donated by Abigail VonderHaar to Sherburne Northern Wright Special Education Cooperative as well as $2,000 from Walmart for at-risk students.
• Heard from industrial technology teacher Corey Derby on the high school’s latest offerings in that department, which include virtual design and development classes where students learn to write code and create original video games. Derby said next fall the high school will experiment with an independent study with the possibility for mobile app design and advanced virtual design and development. Johnson said classes like this hit many 21st Century skills like collaboration and problem solving.
• Heard a student representative report from senior Annie Dockendorf. She talked about the high school’s recent Snow Week festivities, the upcoming high school talent show taking place Thursday, Feb. 27, and the school’s bracelet selling to help Rwanda.
The next board meeting will take place at 5 p.m. Monday, March 17 in the middle school boardroom.

Freelancer Meghan Gutzwiller covers education and the Monticello School District.