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School year may include early releases

BEMIDJI – Local students could have four early-release days in 2013-2014.

The Bemidji school board on Monday considered two proposed calendars for next school year, ultimately choosing to support one that includes early-release on four Wednesdays spread throughout the year.

“We’ve heard over and over again (from teachers) that we need professional time to do professional work,” said Superintendent Jim Hess.

The Bemidji school board unanimously approved the first reading of the calendar. A second reading, which could include adoption, will occur next month.

If the calendar is adopted, students would be released two hours early on Nov. 13, Jan. 15, Feb. 12 and March 12, allowing teachers to meet in professional learning communities for concentrated collaborative work with their peers.

“These are very special meetings aimed at improving instruction,” Hess said.

Two proposed calendars were presented for consideration. Both feature 173 student days and 183 teacher days.

The first calendar option is more traditional and included a full two-week-long winter break, from Dec. 23 to Jan 3.

The second option, with the early-release dates, has a shorter holiday break, from Dec. 23 to Jan. 1.

Hess said the district’s meet-and-confer committee, comprised of administrators, staff and board members, unanimously supported the second option because it set aside dedicated time for more intense professional development.

“This is driving at improving instruction and that’s where we need to put our time and our resources,” he said.

Such time would have be “squeezed in” before or after school in a more traditional school calendar, Hess added.

School board member Melissa Bahr questioned whether Kids and Company, Bemidji schools’ after-school program, would be open during those early-release hours.

Hess answered that it would for those students enrolled in the program.

“It would just start earlier on those days,” he said.

The early-release calendar received unanimous support from the school board.

“I think it’s really important that we offer these opportunities for our staff,” said school board member Ann Long Voelkner. “It’s critical for the success of our staff and, subsequently, for the success of our students.”

The only doubts voiced came from Erik Sorensen, one of two student representatives to the school board. He wondered whether early-release dates would become “targets” for high school students considering skipping a day of class.

“We hope that would be the exception rather than the rule,” Hess said.