As educators across the state examine Gov. Dennis Daugaard��s plan for increased education funding, school officials in Rapid City are looking at increased days in the school year.
It��s a very preliminary discussion begun during a board meeting on Monday by member Ed McLaughlin, a former educator, Rapid City mayor and state legislator.
McLaughlin says it pains him to see great gains in learning made by students during the school year being lost by many during the summer months.
��The whole genesis of this thing is we evaluate students during the year, at the end, give them achievement tests and we gain, and make gains each and every year,�� McLaughlin said Tuesday. ��And then you come back and analyze it and we’ve lost two to three months. So instead of a continuous gain on an upward line, we step back over the summer.
��So from a learning standpoint, we have to engage students on a year-round basis,�� McLaughlin said. ��Learning doesn��t just take place nine month out of the year. And unless we enhance that and continue to improve it during the summer, we suffer that loss. “
Rapid City Area Schools Superintendent Tim Mitchell said summer learning loss is real and can be especially hard on low-income students with fewer summer learning options.
��So, take a look at many of those dollar we��re spending now, and maybe some additional dollars if we can find them �C and, of course, everything Ed and I have talked about is based on additional funding,�� Mitchell said. ��But is there a way for us to provide more opportunities for students, to provide that extended learning time which we know helps kids, and to take away the loss of summer learning?”
McLaughlin wants the school board to work on the problem soon. He and Mitchell said it will become a point of study and discussion with the board in February. But unofficially the discussion has begun already, because McLaughlin brought it to the board.
Mitchell said he received a phone call Tuesday morning from a woman who said she didn��t want her kids forced to go to school this summer. Mitchell told her there wouldn��t be any forcing, and any change in schedule will wait until after a thorough discussion.
Mitchell says expanded summer programs could be the first step.
“You know, we can’t just turn around tomorrow and become a year-long school. That would take a tremendous amount of conversation in the community to make that happen,�� he said. ��But moving forward to have extended learning opportunities in the summer for students that are optional for all students, would be something I think we��re all interested in.
McLaughlin and Mitchell say any added summer learning opportunities would be optional, at least at first. And adding days to the school schedule would have to be balanced against cost and existing staffing challenges.
Rapid City Education Association President Sue Podoll said many teachers would react to talk of an extended school year with apprehension.
��If you��re talking about adding 20 days to student time, that��s roughly another month of school. So that would require additional dollars for staff,�� she said. ��If you��re just spacing quarters of education, that��s a little different than extending a school year where you��re actually adding days.��
Depending on what school officials ultimately present, different teachers might find different possibilities appealing, Podoll said.
Rearranging the schedule to have more days of school during the summer months and more breaks during the regular school year would be one discussion option, she said.
��Maybe I want to do some of that summer school, less in November, December, January,�� she said.
And while some teachers might balk at the idea of additional hours in summer beyond the regular year, others might consider that a better way to make summer income than finding work outside of teaching, Podoll said.
“Teach summer school, or work an extended year, and not have that summer job at a retail store or shop, or working the Sturgis motorcycle rally,�� she said. ��You are going to have as many varied opinions as we do staff.��
But teaches would be interested in anything that helps student continue their education, with as little loss of learning as possible, she said.
��Think about being out of school from Memorial Day to the end of August, if they don��t have the opportunity for enrichment or that educational support in the home, then I think we do a little bit of a disservice to them,�� Podoll said. ��We work so hard to get them to a certain point during the school year, then if the resources aren��t there to support them during the summer, there��s that falloff.��