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School board: new website, revised school calendar

This screenshot was taken from the new District 833 website, which debuts in March.

Students in District 833 could be starting school a week early next year.

Superintendent Keith Jacobus sent a letter to the Minnesota Department of Education requesting permission to start the school on Aug. 31, a week before Labor Day.

The South Washington County School Board voted to request the waiver at their Feb. 21 meeting, when Jacobus gave the first reading of the proposed 2020-21 calendar.  

In an interview earlier this month, Jacobus said they need to make the adjustment because Labor Day falls on Sept. 7 of that year.

“The concern about the later start is we’re trying to have as many instruction days before the MCA’s as possible,” he said. “We have a trimester system. We try to have balance out having equal days per trimester.”

They would qualify for the waiver under state law because they have at least $400,000 worth of construction in the summer, he said.

Jacobus also presented the first reading of a revised 2019-20 school calendar. Citing input from elementary school teachers, he proposed swapping two teacher workshop days with two assessment days. The teacher workshop days would be bumped up to Aug. 20-21; assessment days would be moved to Aug. 26-27.  Having workshop days first would give the teachers more time to prepare, Jacobus said. The move would also mean they would start kindergartners at the same time as the other grades. Kindergartners currently start two days later so they can enter a more settled, less intense environment.

The board will vote on changes to both school calendars at their March 7 meeting. 

In other school board news: 

•The district will launch a major website redesign in March.

Director of communications and community relations Shelly Schafer gave the board a sneak peek at the district’s new look.

“Part of the reason we decided to do a website redesign is that industry standards recommend that we refresh every three years," she told the board. "For us it’s been five years, so it’s about time.”

The new website will move the district further into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. New regulations took effect in Jan. 2018.

The redesign will be more responsive and mobile-friendly. The majority of visitors to the website access it through their mobile devices, Schafer said.

The website was redesigned using a template from SchoolMessanger. The company will take over hosting duties of the site from the district. They were the most-cost effecitve of the four vendors who submitted bids, Schafer said.

“By shifting the  maintenance to a trusted third-party vendor, it ensures that the site will be as secure as possible."

She was joined in her presentation by district webmaster Ben Reichel and video communications specialist Cassondra Knudson.

•Board member Michelle Witte provided the first update on negotiations toward a new collective bargaining agreement between South Washington County Schools and the United Teachers of South Washington County (UTSWC). The first negotiating session is Feb. 27  at 4 p.m. at the District Service Center

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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