Starting Oct. 26, the Esko School District’s early release days will start at 12:15 p.m. instead of 2:30 p.m.

The school board approved the decision 4-0 at its Tuesday, Oct. 6 meeting. Board members Julian Bertogliat and Margaret Sunnarborg were absent.

Students who attend class in person will be dismissed at 12:15 p.m., and teachers will use the rest of the day to touch base with distance learners and to plan their lessons, said Superintendent Aaron Fischer. Currently, the change only impacts elementary students who attend school in person. Students in grades 7-12 have been in a hybrid learning model since the school year began and attend class virtually on Mondays. The district uses several early release days a month for professional development purposes.

Because the recommendation involved instructional time, adjusting the school calendar and the child care needs of families, Fischer said he pushed Winterquist Elementary Principal Brian Harker on some of those challenges.

For example, the district’s Cool Kids program will have to meet at Winterquist after the early release time because the space they normally use is occupied by School Readiness students on Mondays. Paraprofessionals will be asked to help staff the Cool Kids program after the early release time, as well.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

The district will still meet its minimum number of hours and days of instruction with the change, Fischer said.

“I wouldn’t ask for this if I didn’t think this was important, because it is an inconvenience for our parents, and we also know our kids like to be here,” Fischer said.

School board member Todd Rengo asked if there would be an additional cost for Cool Kids families for an additional couple hours. Fischer said yes, there would be an added cost.

“Frankly I think it’s important. I make the motion that we do approve that. I think the teachers need some extra time, and we have to accommodate as necessary,” Rengo said.

If families have trouble finding child care, board chair Jeff Salo asked if officials had a backup plan.

Fischer said Esko would accommodate families currently utilizing child care through the district. Those who have trouble finding child care should reach out to Harker or Community Education Director Michele Carlson.

Board member Mark Nyholm asked if officials have given teachers other supports to optimize their time, in addition to the earlier release time.

The elementary school added an extra 30 minute recess per grade level to give teachers time to plan lessons and get work done, Harker said. However, they realized the time wasn't sufficient when factoring in the time it takes educators to get their students out the door for recess and to go get them afterward.

“We have tried some baby steps here and there, but when it comes down to it a larger chunk of time is really what I think will be most beneficial,” he said.

Prep livestream

The board also approved spending up to $3,000 to broadcast football, soccer and volleyball games online, as well as winter sports contests.

Fischer said officials are still negotiating a one-year contract and will bring it to the board for final approval.

Families who tune in to broadcasts would have to pay a fee, but Fischer said his goal is to have the service be as low-cost as possible. He said he hopes to get it down to $5 per viewing.

“We would like to do it for free,” Fischer said. “We’re not finding a service where we could do it for free.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Minnesota Department of Health limited the number of spectators at outdoor events to 250 people and prohibited fans from attending indoor prep contests, such as volleyball games. The livestream broadcasts would be a way for members of the community to watch the games online, Fischer said.

The district would also be able to broadcast extracurricular events such as concerts and plays.

Nyholm asked about sound quality and equipment.

Fischer said the district can broadcast everything from an iPad. Officials have no plans for play-by-play during the broadcast at this time.