Heritage Southwest ISD granted pre-Labor Day start waiver

CASS COUNTY — The Heritage Southwest Intermediate School District, formerly Lewis Cass ISD, was given the go-ahead by the Michigan Department of Education to begin instruction before Labor Day in the fall. Students in Cassopolis Public Schools, Dowagiac Union Schools, Marcellus Community Schools and Heritage Southwest ISD will begin fall classes on Aug. 30.

Edwardsburg Public Schools will continue to begin classes after Labor Day.

During a public hearing Monday morning, Heritage Southwest Superintendent Brent Holcomb led a presentation on the Labor Day waiver request.

“The primary purpose of moving the calendar is to address the pandemic concerns and impact it has had on learning,” Holcomb said. “This is a decision about kids and trying to maximize our opportunities to create, increase learning and exposure.”

During his presentation to two superintendents and a representative from the Michigan Department of Education, Holcomb touched on the learning loss that has been a result of “inconsistent modes of educational delivery.” Classrooms have been moving between in-person and remote options due to mandates, lengths of illness, and quarantine periods after COVID-19 exposures.

“For kindergarten through 12th [grade], this waiver will allow districts to focus on the growth of pre-identified essential standards for all students,” Holcomb said in his presentation. “Outcomes will be measured by using a combination of formative classroom assessments as well as benchmark and state assessments determined by individual districts.”

Holcomb said another reason for the waiver is to give students time during the 2021 and 2022 summers to allow for credit recovery for students in ninth to 12th grade and allow summer school for kindergarten through eighth-graders. The earlier start is said to also allow for more consideration of potential interruptions in face-to-face instruction.

“By shortening up summer, it helps with the transition from this school year to the next school year, allowing less learning loss or ‘summer slide,’” said Dowagiac Union Schools Superintendent Jonathan Whan. “It will get us back into the flow for a more normal situation for the 2021/2022 school year. We see that as a value. It’s really trying to shrink the time between this year and next year while providing instruction over the summer for students.”

Marcellus Community Schools Superintendent Nanette Pauley joined the meeting via Zoom. She focused her comments on creating connections with the students.

“We want to build, and rebuild, the connection between our students and school,” Pauley said. “We want to rebuild that connection and bolster it.”

The waiver to begin classes for students before Labor Day was approved by MDE for the next three years, at the discretion of the districts.

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