Start date & school year length up for debate in Des Moines - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Start date & school year length up for debate in Des Moines

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

The debate over Iowa's school calendar continues Thursday in Des Moines. Educators, representing districts across the state, are meeting at the state capitol. On the agenda is the amount of time kids spend in the classroom, and how it affects their education.

Lawmakers created the School Instructional Time Task Force in the spring when they signed the Education Reform bill into law. Legislators wanted advice from educators before making a decision on a uniform start date or increasing the number of days students are in class.

One school that's already increased the number of days in session is Lincoln Elementary School in Waterloo. Two years ago, Lincoln Elementary was identified as a "Persistently Lowest-Achieving" school. At that point, they began making major changes to their day -- starting with the calendar.

"Our start date is earlier. So our students have actually been here since August 6th. They started teaching reading the very first day. They started teaching math the first day of school," said principal Stephanie Mohorne.

In just two years, the scores at Lincoln Elementary improved so much, Superintendent Dr. Gary Norris recognized the school with the "Swartzendruber Award for Academic Excellence." That kind of progress is what lawmakers, and educators, are looking to achieve in every classroom in the state.

Lincoln Elementary is a perfect example of how changing a school calendar can impact student performance. But just because it works in this school doesn't necessarily mean it's right for every district.

"Most people in American would agree some kids are probably doing very well with the 180 days. And then there are a huge number of other students that need more time," said Norris.

Norris is one of about twenty educators tackling that conflict as part of the School Instructional Time Task Force. The school start date and the overall calendar year are hot topics in Des Moines. The Iowa Tourism Board is concerned about the first day starting earlier and earlier each year. But the task force is also considering the future impact on the state's economy.

"The states where the economies are most successful have a well-educated work force," said Norris.

The goal of the task force is to keep the focus on what's best for the kids, and stay away from partisan politics.

"We don't need political infighting or bickering. We need a solution that will help people get better jobs and help our states grow," said Norris.

At Lincoln Elementary, the efforts are starting to pay off through test scores and improved student achievement. Mohorne said, that's worth the extra effort.

"To see that students are achieving, students are gaining that learning. that's the most important part to us. That's better than a paycheck, that's better than any award. To really see what students are learning and that they're excited about learning," said Mohorne.

The School Instructional Time Task Force meets Thursday in Des Moines, then one more time in September before making final recommendations to lawmakers in October. The meetings are open to the public.

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