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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
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Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
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Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
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Grinnell-Newburg schools struggle to make up for lost time

This year’s winter weather has left schools in Grinnell nearly a month behind in curriculum and activities. The Grinnell-Newburg district had to cancel seven full days and 13 hours in late starts or early dismissals since January. These cancellations have pushed back the last day of school, which, as of now, is June 6 instead of the planned May 31. This could also possibly impact the graduation date of the seniors.

The decision to delay school or not is made by the Transportation Director and the Director of Facilities and Maintenance, as well as a few area superintendents who come together in the snowy mornings.

“There’s about 12 superintendents in our area that get together to talk about weather-related cancellations,” said Janet Stutz, superintendent of the Grinnell-Newburg Community School District.

In the early hours of the morning the superintendents and various directors text each other if the buses can’t get through both pavement and gravel roads. This group has to make a decision by around 6 a.m., because the buses have to be out of the garage to pick students up by 6:30 a.m.

The school district spans 224 square miles, according to Stutz, and weather patterns vary by location. This adds to the difficulty of the judgment.

“There are times where I’ll have to say, ‘It’s hard-surface pick-up only,’” Stutz said.

Parents, informed of the new route via the school website, a radio station, or emergency voice reach (a messaging system that allows the district to call all parents simultaneously with a message about a delay or a closing), then have to get their kids to the paved roads.

If by 8 a.m. too many roads are still closed, a two-hour delay becomes a day off. Stutz said, “The rule of thumb is that if the buses can’t make it through … and they can’t put their side-arm out with the lights on, and visibility is bad … then we say it’s not worth the risk.”

The winter weather affects more than transportation, however. Using so much salt repeatedly over the winter kills the local flora and erodes the concrete. The salt has been an expense that expanded the district’s original budget. Around Feb. 12 the school district received their last truckload of salt for the winter. The school district is now working with the grounds and country roads directors to find sand.

Moreover, this winter’s unusual weather forced the district to have people come in early and over the weekends to clear roads and sidewalks through overtime pay. “We have [emergency funds] that have been allocated towards this … but let’s hope this slows down a bit. We’ve really taken a hit this winter,” Stutz said.

Trainers for teachers have also been facing difficulties. Many trainees and trainers come into the school to help prepare the teachers and staff with implementing the New Generation Science Standards and a new reading and writing curriculum. To make up for lost time, trainers have to come in early or on professional development days. “We already have contracts with the [trainers] so we can’t [cut the trainers],” Stutz said.

Additionally, the teachers have to make up extra hours in order to prevent the missed days from pushing their summer vacation until July 4. Teachers have already missed a professional development day. Make-up hours, or “floating time,” allows teachers to create their curriculum or create new units collaboratively with other teachers. This time can now be during weekends or spring break. “We’re just so behind. I’ve never felt so behind … I feel like we’re almost a month behind in getting things accomplished,” said Stutz.

Preparation for extracurricular activities, like the speech competition or state qualifications for athletic events, is behind schedule as well. Many athletic and music events have been postponed already. In some cases, in order to proceed on schedule, groups ask for special permission for the students to come in on a volunteer basis to practice during canceled school days. Permission depends on the shape of the roads after noon.

As for seniors, who cannot graduate more than five days ahead of the rest of the district, this winter weather might delay their graduation date. More than seven days’ worth of school has been canceled, so their graduation day might be two or more days later than originally planned.

Furthermore, the state of Iowa requires 1,080 hours of instruction. Although the school system already has plenty of hours built in, Stutz wrote on Feb. 22 in the Superintendent’s Weekly Update to the district that “Adding a few minutes to each class period would simply not enable staff to complete a full lab, or teach new material as they would within a full class period or regular school day.”

In avoiding instructionally bad practice, Stutz said she hopes the kids are learning and getting their needs met. Therefore, whole days of school are made up, not partial days.

Currently, Stutz is planning to wait until early March to decide how to make the rest of the days up. School officials hope there will be no more snow storms to add to those days.

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