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Pine Point School to have school year round

Pine Point School students will be heading back to the classroom Monday, Aug. 1 this year and continuing their education routine until mid-June 2012.

The small, rural K-8 school is implementing a Flexible Learning Program, calling for 45 days in school followed by a 15-day "vacation" schedule to boost academic success.

The school learned of the Minnesota Department of Education's approval earlier this month. The application came after public forums and surveys on the issue.

Pine Point superintendent and principal Rochelle Johnson was "thrilled" with the news.

"All schools deal with summer learning loss," she explained. Teachers spend September "reviewing and reteaching."

Pine Point did not receive funding for summer school this year. "Without summer intervention, test scores drop," Johnson said.

This schedule provides a continuum of education.

Students will spend nine weeks in the classroom with three weeks off. The schedule calls for school through August and September with three weeks off beginning Oct. 3. They will be back in the classroom until Christmas, returning Jan. 18 through March 16. School resumes April 11.

Summer vacation will run from June 13 through Aug. 1 next year.

If parents and the public had expressed opposition, the district would not have submitted the application, Johnson said.

Students were also apprised of the plan. Their initial opposition to a shorter summer vacation was dispelled when they saw the three-week vacations on the calendar.

The district is one of just a few in the state to implement the Flexible Learning Program, Johnson said.

Staff members traveled to the Minisinaakwaang Leadership Academy near Mille Lacs to speak to teachers and administrators. The Pine Point teachers returned buoyed.

"They had very favorable things to say," Johnson said.

The flexible schedule opens education opportunities, the garden planted in May among them. Students will return in August to witness the fruits - and vegetables - of their labor.

Pine Point pupils will also have more opportunity to experience outdoor, nature-related activities.

The school's enrollment ranges from 55 to 75, Johnson said. Students are welcome to open enroll at Pine Point.

Students head to Park Rapids after eighth grade unless they chose open enrollment in another district.

She forecasts discipline issues will decrease and attendance increase. "They will come back refreshed."

Johnson is working with the Boys and Girls Club to arrange activities corresponding with the schedule.

Teachers' salaries will remain the same, she said. The schedule will not add costs to the district and may actually save money, Johnson predicts.

She foresees less need for substitutes because the 15-day breaks will give teachers time for dentist and doctor visits - and "rejuvenation."

"Districts around us will be watching," she predicts. With state funding cuts, "there is no guarantee summer school will be funded."

The Department of Education "looks forward to receiving evidence from your district that the calendar modification led to meaningful gains in achievement and other factors described in your district's application," commissioner Dr. Brenda Cassellius wrote in the approval notification letter.

Johnson plans to "showcase the gains" and address obstacles as they arise.

"This will be a short summer," she said of implementing the program.

Contact the school at 573-4100 for more information.