You won't find much activity in the hallways of Luverne, Minnesota schools because students have been out of class here for two weeks, thanks in part to the district's early start time.
School started before Labor Day last year, and will again this fall for the third consecutive year.
"This is probably going to be the year that is going to catapult us into educational reform. I know all states and the Federal Government are all looking for some kind of educational reform to improve learning, to improve student achievement," Luverne School Superintendent Gary Fisher said.
The start of that reform began when the Luverne district and ten other schools applied for a special early start to the school year. Minnesota law says that schools are not allowed to open before Labor Day. The eleven districts were rejected, but that didn't stop the process. The number of schools on board grew to 25 by the time the second application was submitted to the Minnesota Department of Education.
“Our basic premises of the application were, we wanted to improve student achievement and the process of how we were going to get to that point were in the application," Fisher said.
Now, two years of the early start program are completed and this next year will be the final year approved. The 25 districts have pooled their resources and aligned their schedules, allowing their in-services and educational opportunities for teachers to be joined together, making them stronger, and more powerful for the schools.
"So when we look at the possibilities of what we can get out of that and what direction we can take, we've just got that many more education resources that we can pull together to look at what is best for kids," Fisher said.
Now, 1,200 teachers and 16,000 students are part of the program. This fall, all 1,200 of those teachers will hear some high-powered speakers, like they have over the last two years. The alignment also allows them to network together.
“All teachers have a lot of good things that work for them. Some teachers might struggle in specific areas. This whole process of bringing those teachers together who have those resources and to have that communication piece is going to be invaluable for us and for our teachers and the impact will be on our students," Fisher said.
The districts will soon have to go back to the department of education and receive a continued approval of the program. But, Fisher says that shouldn't be too much of an issue.
However, there are some people who don't support opening the school doors ahead of Labor Day.
"There are certain regions of the state that are impacted, supposedly impacted, by the early start. One of them are the resort areas that felt that it would infringe on people attending or traveling to those areas. The other was the state fair," Fisher said.
However, the schools do allow their students to attend or compete at the state fair and while the program isn't about what's on the calendar, Fisher says there are also benefits for starting earlier.
"When you bring kids back that are ready to learn, that just improves the chance that they are going to get the stuff that you're trying to get across to them. When the weather starts changing for the better in May and June, they're also ready to be done," Fisher said.
The start time also allows the first semester of the year to be complete before the Christmas break. That's another benefit Fisher notes. Surveys are being collected and test scores analyzed. Fisher says that information will likely help convince education officials to consider long-term changes in this state, and perhaps beyond.