Sleepy Eye denied 4-day school week

/ 20 April 2012 / jennifer

Fritz Busch, New Ulm Journal, April 20, 2012 –

Superintendent questions decision by Department of Education

SLEEPY EYE – The Minnesota Department of Education (MnDE) Commissioner denied Sleepy Eye Public Schools Flexible Learning Year District Application for a four-day school week.

In a letter dated Tuesday, April 17 to Sleepy Eye Superintendent John Cselovszki, MnDE Commissioner Brenda Cassellius wrote that she denied the application because she believed that the proposed four-day week was “not driven, first and foremost, by academic needs of the students of the district.”

The district estimated a four-day week would save more than $80,000 a year.

Cassellius listed her reasons for the concern:

Academic goals, particularly in mathematics lacked sufficient rigor, less so than even those previously approved under the Common Calendar Consortium Flexible Learning Year program. Although the school currently performs very low in science, the application did not adequately address how a four-day week would creatively

Sleepy Eye Superintendent John Cselovszki used to boost performance, such as through project-based learning on the “fifth day.”

Use of the “fifth day” for out-of-school time learning was weak overall, not only related to science. MnDE is concerned that Sleepy Eye proposed meeting community concerns about childcare with having teenagers employed as babysitters that day rather than being engaged in rigorous homework and other learning projects.

Sleepy Eye proposed that student athletes would practice on the fifth day, shifting costs for their transportation to families, and creating inequities for families whose teenagers do not have their own cars or parents at home to drive them. Families face increased child-care costs.

Low-income families whose children receive free and reduced-cost meals would lose 20 percent of those meals for their children.

The application lacked an adequate, clearly articulated goal related to financial savings.

The application’s evaluation process proposed an over-reliance on stakeholder satisfaction and feedback for continuation of the four-day week, and placed insufficient weight on information about student academic gain and district financial savings as determinants about its effectiveness and future.

Breakfast was mentioned in some parts of the application but not deducted from instructional time. Community concerns about attention spans for special needs students was mentioned with the caveat that the district would meet this concern by adding in extra breaks for these students. However, there was no explanation of the impact of these breaks on lost instructional time.

Cassellius expressed concerns about lost instructional time for student athletes who would be excused early for “away” games, especially where students participate in sports in multiple seasons.

Cassellius referred questions about the application denial to Assistant Commissioner Rose Hermodson at 651-582-8742 or

Sleepy Eye Superintendent John Cselovszki questioned the denial of the district’s 35-page application, much of which compared district and statewide proficiency tests for all and certain grades.

Cselovszki set up a 9:30 a.m., Wednesday, April 25 meeting with the commissioner in Roseville that may include staff, school board and community four-day week study committee members.

He was not a loss for words about the application denial.

“I believe they’re wrong. We meet the requirements,” Cselovszki said. “I don’t think we got a fair shot. We put a lot of time and work into this…I believe none of the current four-day week schools have been held to the same standards as us. Clearly unfair.”

A district four-day school week committee visited several other districts using four-day weeks including MACCRAY (Maynard-Clara City-Raymond) and BBE (Brooten-Belgrade-Elrosa) and hosted three hearings on the subject that included MACCRAY and BBE administrators who described their flexible learning years in detail and answered questions.

In its application regarding mathematics proficiency tests for all grades, Sleepy Eye tests followed a statewide trend of higher 2010 scores than 2009, but lower 2011 scores than in 2010.

“We believe daily intervention support will help move scores up,” read the application.

It stated the district’s Flexible Learning Year Program Purpose and SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound).

The purpose of the proposed flexible learning year program was detailed in the application: “Sleepy Eye Public School currently has no local operating referendum in place. The district made more than $850,000 in reductions the past three years. We have asked our taxpayers to approve an operating levy to provide local support for our school, but unfortunately, both levies failed by a wide margin. The main purpose of the proposed flexible learning year is to save money (estimated at $80,359 a year).”

The district’s undesignated fund balance as of June 30, 2011 was $1,634,754. According to future projections, the district will continue to dip into reserve funds over the next five years, even with anticipated new small school revenues. We will continue to advocate to the public the need to pass a local operating referendum, the application read.

Positive aspects of the four-day week were financial savings, an improved high school schedule with school year-round core subjects being offered, 2,700 more instruction minutes each year, less passing (between class) time, lower drop-out rates, improved attendance, and elimination of scheduled noon school dismissals.

The application added that the district began a district-wide restructuring process in spring, 2008 by hiring an outside agency (Phi Delta Kappa International) to do a curriculum audit.

Dr. Audrey Hains reviewed existing curriculum, board policies, interviewed students, teachers, administrators, board members, and parents besides classroom visits before presenting a report to the board a year later.

The district hired a curriculum coordinator and began the curriculum writing process.

“We truly need a new science curriculum. Our scores have been very low. We’re hoping the focused curriculum will move our results up. Since we adopted our new math curriculum, our scores have trended upward and we’re no longer on math AYP,” read the application.

“Currently, we have a trimester-based schedule that only allows core subjects to meet two out of three trimesters. Under our four-day week proposal, we’re moving to a semester-based schedule that would allow up to offer core areas (math, English, social studies and science) year around,” the application added.

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at