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Extended local school year inches toward reality

The idea remains in the preliminary stages, but it's looking more likely that select Mitchell students will be pioneering a longer school year beginning Aug. 1.

The idea remains in the preliminary stages, but it's looking more likely that select Mitchell students will be pioneering a longer school year beginning Aug. 1.

The Mitchell Board of Education last fall considered extending the school year for several weeks to sharpen the academic skills of elementary students. About 850 to 900 questionnaires were mailed to the parents of K-4 students early this year, said principals at the district's three elementary schools.

Longfellow Elementary Principal Mary Wilson and Principal Deb Olson of L.B. Williams both said they received a number of questionnaire responses, but the responses were scattered among various grade levels and were insufficient to create a class.

The 23 questionnaires returned by parents at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary School provided the greatest number of responses concentrated at specific grade levels, said GBR Principal Marilyn Forst, so that's where -- if interest remains -- the program will begin.

The next step, said Mitchell Superintendent Joe Graves, will be to contact those parents and determine that the earlier level of commitment is still there.

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That will be the job of Forst, who expressed some disappointment with the low number of parent responses.

"It's something new," she said, "so you never know what the response will be."

Under the proposed scenario, students would start school about two weeks earlier -- around Aug. 1 -- than other students and end their school year about three to four weeks after the traditional school year.

If parental interest remains, Forst said the first extended year program would be a combined class of first- and second-graders for the 2007-2008 school year. Most of the responses were from parents in that grade range, said Forst.

If sufficient demand remains for the program, Forst said the next step would be to start the hunt for the new program's teacher. Forst said she will not be able to contract a teacher for just the extended portion of the school year since the program will require a full-year contract.

The program first will be offered to teachers on the GBR staff. If she receives no interest, Forst will consider hiring new staff and possibly making one of open teaching positions for the 2007-2008 school year a year-round contract job.

GBR, named a "Distinguished School" under No Child Left Behind guidelines for the past two years, has three teaching positions and one special education opening for the coming school year

Forst, who will retire in June after 36 years in education, believes quality teachers are available for the new program. She doesn't believe extra pay will be the sole motivation for the job.

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"The teachers who I know who are interested in the program are doing it because they believe students need more time to learn," Forst said, noting that the information all students are expected to learn is increasing exponentially.

The extended year classes would consist of the regular school curriculum, "taking them from where they're at, to as far as we can take them," she said.

L.B. Williams' Deb Olson said the long-term goal of the program would be to create more extended classes at the schools. Its continuation would depend on sufficient interest and whether or not it was a positive experience for students.

Forst expressed concern that the stack of applicants for elementary teaching positions is thinner than in past years.

"We used to have a lot more applicants than we have now," she said, "but as long as I have good applicants, whether there's three or 300, I don't care."

Where they did go?

"Other states, other professions where there's more money. I don't know," she said.

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