Our Views: Accept Carlton's race to four-day school week

 

April 19, 2024



It would be easy to cast a wary eye at the actions of the Carlton school district, which over the course of roughly 10 days this month adopted a four-day school week beginning next year.

The notion came as a surprise.

The move to adopt it was hasty and could be construed as panic.

The outcomes of a four-day week are worthy of a much longer discussion than the one held by the board and

administration.

The board’s action ignored Wrenshall altogether, even though the districts are in the process of negotiating

consolidation.

The superintendent pulling together the necessary three public hearings in a single week seemed questionable and not in accordance with good faith or even the ebbs and flows of normal everyday life, when even big news can take time to filter into everyone’s field of attention.

In another day and time, the whole thing could have been considered a bad look for the district.

But in writing this editorial, we’re going to give the district and its superintendent Donita Stepan the benefit of the doubt. These are difficult and dynamic times for Carlton and Wrenshall, two districts struggling for footing in an era that presents mounting challenges to all public schools. You’ll recall last week, Cloquet public schools agreed to let go of two dozen teachers to balance what are shrinking budgets.

It was the state that last month removed a moratorium on the adoption of four-day school weeks, while providing such a blistering timeline for application as to not expect any district to comply this year.

While we’d have preferred the idea to come up in a school board meeting before a public hearing, we tend to understand the haste and believe Stepan’s explanation that the district’s strategic plan had introduced the four-day option last year.

The idea that Carlton and Wrenshall have to be in lockstep now that they’re partnering more and more is unrealistic. Until their boards do vote to come together, both remain independent school districts and need to conduct business in a manner that best suits their students and

staffers.

Just as the Wrenshall district is considering options on how to approach its tenuous superintendent position — likely by renewing its contract with part-timer Jeff Pesta — the Carlton district has the right to consider what’s best for its independent survival.

Until consolidation becomes reality — there’s another consolidation committee meeting at 5 p.m. April 24 in Carlton — students, parents and residents need to expect some of the business of the day to reflect the muddy reality of considering business on two tracks, either together or proceeding alone.

If time waits for no person, then it doesn’t wait for districts to come together either. There are budgets, hires, standards and students that require near constant attention.

Juggling the work of consolidation and the operation of the school year wasn’t ever going to be easy. The board members and administrators at the core of this consolidation endeavor are tirelessly pulling double duty with minimal reward other than what it means to do right by their students and communities.

So, instead of blasting Carlton about its race to the four-day school week, we’ll take a step back and try to understand it. In doing so, we’re taking a page out of the Wrenshall board’s consolidation ground rules, which guided their members as they entered into talks with Carlton.

The ground rules told the board members to approach consolidation in good faith, to stay positive, and see the best in their neighbors, while discouraging listening to the worst.

We haven’t understood every decision made by the districts, and we will continue to question what unfolds. But if a four-day week is what the school board agrees reflects the best direction for Carlton, then we’ll support that. Even if we were rushed to understand it.

 
 

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