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Rochester Public Schools names four days for staff planning and well-being

The days off will be Dec. 8, Feb. 9, April 10, and May 11.

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Rochester Public Schools
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Rochester students will be getting four Wednesdays off throughout the rest of the school year in order to accommodate staff networking and “well-being.”

Rochester Public Schools Interim Superintendent Kent Pekel initially broached the possibility of the days off at a school board meeting Nov. 16. The district notified families of the days off, which will be Dec. 8, Feb. 9, April 10 and May 11, last week.

Pekel said the off-days would be for staff to coordinate and network. He also said it would be a day for them to focus on their “well-being.”

“Our staff are going through a lot right now,” Pekel said at the board meeting. “We want to be very clear: these are not days off. The four days I’m considering now would be days for our staff to do the work that they need to do to support students through the pandemic.”

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Pekel said the four days interrupt stretches of time that otherwise would not have a built-in break.

The board did not vote on the decision. Rather, Pekel said he brought the issue to the table for discussion and transparency. The district's administration subsequently made the decision in the following days.

The board discussed the possibility after hearing a presentation addressing student violence at the secondary level. Pekel referred to them as “related but distinct” topics, indicating the increased violence was one of the issues the staff days hopefully would be able to address.

Rochester Public Schools isn’t the first district to implement alternate planning in the wake of the pandemic. In October, South St. Paul High School implemented a system where students with higher grades would not have to attend school on Wednesdays and would instead focus on home-based studies. Students who needed additional help would still attend, according to the Pioneer Press.

“A number of other districts are doing this around the state,” Pekel said.

Board member Jess Garcia raised the concern that additional days off could provide an issue for families who may need to find other accommodations for their children. She asked if the district could work with third-party organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Club or the Y to supplement services or activities for students.

Pekel responded that they could look into the possibility.

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Board member Melissa Amundsen reiterated concern for how the decision could affect families and encouraged them to weigh in on the situation.

She also voiced support for the plan.

"I definitely see this as the best thing for kids, and I think we as a school board are charged with selecting the best thing for kids," Amundsen said.

Board Chairwoman Jean Marvin supported the idea as well.

“I think it’s been a long time coming,” Marvin said. “Especially now when teachers are working with students who are at school, who are quarantined -- kids who need to catch up.”

Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or jshearer@postbulletin.com.
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