The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


August 7, 2012

Four area districts start school in two weeks

MIFFLINBURG — Summer ends in about two weeks for four Valley school districts, and the Mifflinburg Area School District leads the pack with its earliest start ever, Monday, Aug. 20.

The Mifflinburg school board approved in February the early start date, done in part to help boost standardized test scores in the school district.

“It’s been a topic of discussion for number of years, to get a jump on the school year,” Superintendent Dan Lichtel said. “I hate to hinge things on the PSSAs, but they come in March or April, and that’s a critical point. It’s important to get as much education in as possible before that,” he said. “It’s a high-stakes test. ... We decided to take advantage of this and get in more education.”

Mifflinburg isn’t alone in this thinking; it’s the same reason why the Lewisburg Area School District has started school in the fourth week of August for the last four to five years, Superintendent Mark DiRocco said. Lewisburg and Midd-West schools districts will begin Wednesday, Aug. 22.

“The basic theory is that more instructional days in the front of the school year are much more valuable for teaching and learning than they are in June,” after the state tests have occurred in the spring, DiRocco said. “The more instructional days we have in advance of state testing, the better.”

Mifflinburg has received some pushback about the earlier first day of school, Lichtel said.

“It’s definitely created some inconvenience for folks that weren’t prepared for that,” he said. “It’s a break in the routine, and adjustments in the routines are always tough.”

But the good news also is that, barring an avalanche of extra snow days, the school year will end much sooner, likely in late May.

“When PSSA season is over, there seems to be a letdown,” Lichtel said. “If it’s a longer period of time, then the spring becomes a drag for people: students, parents and staff combined.”

DiRocco said if Lewisburg school buildings were air conditioned, he’d push for an even earlier start in August to ensure there are three complete marking periods before the tests in March.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous that state gives assessment tests in March,” he said. “The challenges become greater,” especially as the state uses the scores more as a gauge of student — and hence school — progress.

Ned Sodrick, acting superintendent of the Shikellamy School District, said the district’s 2012-13 school calendar is identical to that of last year; the Thursday, Aug. 23, start date is close to last year’s start date, Aug. 26.

This year, Shikellamy’s calendar includes the usual four snow days and, if no more are added, school should conclude June 4, he said.  

Sodrick, who took over as superintendent April 9, said there is no thinking regarding test scores when it comes to Shikellamy’s start date. Rather, the pros and cons for students of starting earlier or later come to mind.

The value to starting later, for instance, is that students working over the summer can stay on their jobs longer; the same can be said of an earlier end to the school year, he said, giving kids a leg up on getting summer employment.

“I’m sure each district weighs it on their own objectives,” Sodrick said, adding he doesn’t know how much school starts coordinate with that of SUN Area Technical Institute in New Berlin, which serves most of the Valley’s school districts.

Danville, Line Mountain, Milton and Warrior Run schools get a week more of summer and will begin Monday, Aug. 27; Selinsgrove schools will start Tuesday, Aug. 28.

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