Cindy Zahrte

Cindy Zahrte

As stated on the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction website, “School districts across Wisconsin are continually seeking new ways to improve learning and increase opportunities for their students. Innovative practices are used every day, but in some cases, more flexibility is needed to innovate. To address this, State Superintendent Tony Evers is empowering school districts with a new opportunity to become Innovation Districts to pursue locally driven solutions that will improve outcomes for Wisconsin children.”

To that end, a public hearing has been set for Monday, Dec. 18 at 7 p.m. to allow the community to express opinions about the Tomah Area School District’s request to the Department of Public Instruction to consider a waiver of the Sept. 1 school start date.

During the 2017-18 school year, the Tomah Area School District successfully implemented a non-traditional 45/15 school calendar at Lemonweir Elementary School. This calendar is designed to assist the educational staff and the students at Lemonweir with increasing achievement results. We also want Lemonweir to become a school of choice so that families who wish an alternative to the traditional school calendar have an option.

Lemonweir Elementary School currently has a population of 273 students in grades 4K-5. We believe this is the largest group of students in the state of Wisconsin to be on a non-traditional 45/15 calendar. Given that this is our first year of the 45/15 calendar, we are closely monitoring student performance and student/teacher/family satisfaction with this calendar. To date, feedback has been extremely positive, and we are confident that Lemonweir will, within three years, return to its full capacity of enrollment (approximately 350).

Running two different calendars for our school district has created some unique challenges. We have strained our bus transportation system to the maximum. There is a shortage of school bus drivers, and two different school calendars has resulted in us needing to create more bus routes and employ more bus drivers. Relieving stress on our transportation system is one reason we are requesting a waiver of the school start date. Also, aligning our traditional calendar with our 45/15 calendar during the traditional school year, as closely as possible, is extremely important to families who have children attending schools on both calendars. By beginning the traditional school calendar prior to Sept. 1, we would be better able to align days off during the traditional calendar that match the 45/15 calendar.

Seventeen years ago, legislation was passed that schools could not start before Sept. 1. At the time, the argument was made that this mandatory start date was needed for areas that rely on young people to help in the state’s tourism industry and on the family farm. Does this currently reflect the needs of our community today? Many of our high school and middle school students are back at school events in mid-August. Football and volleyball practices have begun for the fall sports seasons, and marching band and show choir camps are held.

The proposed 2018-19 school calendar with a start date of Aug. 22 and an ending date of May 30 can be viewed on our district website. For comparison, we have also posted the proposed 2018-19 school calendar with a Sept. 4 start date and June 6 end date. The school district is not attempting to move all schools to a 45/15 school calendar. We are simply doing our best to be fiscally responsible and efficient −making it less challenging for our bus transportation system and more user friendly for our families who have opted to attend Lemonweir Elementary School − and taking advantage of options available to us through the Department of Public Instruction.

If you have any questions or comments about the information and opinions expressed in this edition of The School Bell, please contact Cindy Zahrte, district administrator, at cindyz@tomah.k12.wi.us or 374-7002.

Cindy Zahrte is the superintendent of the Tomah Area School District.

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Tomah Journal editor

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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