Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

August 28, 2013

Why start so early?

Steve Woodhouse
Journal-Express

Knoxville — With Knoxville School students getting out early every day this week, one may wonder why the first day of school was so early. Superintendent Randy Flack offered this explanation when asked about the early start date. 

The start of the school year has been pretty consistent for several years.  It might vary a day or two from year-to-year, but we pretty much stay with corresponding dates.

Most schools in Iowa try to dismiss before June 1.  I doubt that there is data to support this but most teachers will tell you that students are more ready to come to school and learn in August than stay into June.

There are many factors that go into the development of a school calendar, for example:

What day of the week are Christmas and New Year on?  If they are in the middle of the week, we often have two full weeks of winter break.  If they are at the beginning or end of the week our break is shorter.

What about spring break?  We alternate between a week-long spring break and a shorter break.  If a week-long spring break coincides with a two-week winter break, classes are going to last into June.

We try to account for the possibility of cancellations due to winter weather - The average number of cancellations is 3-4, each year; we've had as few as none and as many as nine.  While we try to schedule make-up days on professional development days, severe winters mean we may have to have classes well into June.

The state mandate for professional development influences the calendar to some degree; research does show that professional development spread throughout the year is more effective than professional development at the beginning or end of the year.

Interesting note - The "official" legal date for starting classes this year was August 26. Through waivers, nearly every district in Iowa started the week of August 19, a few the week of August 12.  When have we experienced the most extreme heat this fall, the week of August 26, the "legal" date for starting school.  This is the longest stretch of 95' days I have experienced in 28 years as an Iowa superintendent.

We have air conditioning in about 50% of the middle school, about 25% of N*, and very little at West.  GOAL has no air conditioning.  A few years ago, I asked an architect what he thought it would cost to provide air conditioning throughout the elementary buildings.  He estimated $300,000 - $500,000 per building, but couldn't give an accurate estimate unless a thorough review of buildings was done.

The decision to dismiss early isn't based only on outdoor temperatures.  The humidity is a factor, as is overnight temperatures.  If overnight temperatures stay near 75', the buildings don't cool off in time for the next school day and rooms stay hot.  The length of the "heat wave" is also a factor.  Most times, one hot day does not result in an early dismissal.  When we have 7-10 days of excessive heat in a row, buildings stay warmer.

We try to take precautions - we open doors and windows early in the morning and run fans in the halls to help circulate the morning air.  Students have water bottles at their desks and are encouraged to take water breaks.  We reduce or eliminate afternoon recesses to prevent students from overdoing it.  Outdoor practices are held in the morning or later in the evening.