They may not have been singing “School’s Out for Summer,” but students at Eau Claire’s public middle and high schools had a definite hop in their step Wednesday as they prepared for an unusually late start of summer break.
After a record 11 emergency school cancellation days, mostly because of the record snowfall Eau Claire received in the 2018-19 winter, the last day of school arrived — finally — on Wednesday.
“Everybody’s happy. We finally get a summer vacation now,” DeLong Middle School sixth-grade teacher Nick Sirek said. “If I’m 11 or 12 years old, of course I’m excited about the prospect of getting to sleep in tomorrow.”
On his way into North High School on Wednesday morning, junior Zach Urdahl said it was tough attending classes so deep into the summer, especially when he hears from friends around the state who have been out of school for a week or two already.
But the UW-Madison hockey recruit, sporting a red Badgers hockey sweatshirt, took a businesslike approach to the undesirable situation.
“Get through it and do it,” Urdahl said. “I’m just trying to power through and get it done.”
Likewise, North junior Maddison Myher said the late ending to the school year is a tough pill to swallow after a brutal winter.
“I liked all of those snow days at the time, but then I realized that meant we’d have to go to school later in June,” Myher said before entering school for her last round of final tests. “I don’t like it at all now.”
Still, Eau Claire schools Superintendent Mary Ann Hardebeck said she has been extremely impressed with how students, families and staff have responded to the schedule changes resulting from the historic winter weather.
“Everybody seems to have pulled together and understood the conditions we were facing. We got very few complaints,” Hardebeck said. “People have just really risen to the occasion.”
She recalled how district officials built additional bad weather days into the calendar a few years ago after two unusually harsh winters in a row and were confident they had added enough time to avoid having to lengthen future school years.
Yet despite those so-called pullback days and other measures to make up for missed mandatory instructional time, this school year for middle and high schools had to be extended from its original end date of last Thursday. The last day for district elementary schools was Friday.
The Eau Claire School Board is expected to vote on possibly adding even more pullback days to the school calendar at its next meeting on July 22.
Canceling school is one of the most difficult calls a superintendent has to make because of the inconvenience it causes for families and the importance of having access to school breakfasts and lunches for some students, Hardebeck said, but safety is the No. 1 factor in the decision to order a snow day.
“This year was just unprecedented. We kept having to make up more and more days,” Hardebeck said. “I hope we never have another winter like this one, but it’s just something that’s beyond anybody’s control.”
Sirek also was impressed with how people responded to the weather-related changes.
“The kids and the teachers have really dealt well with what I think is a tough situation,” he said. “The kids are doing what they’re supposed to. They’re coming to school, doing their work and still having a good time.”
Sirek joined his fellow staff members outside at the end of the final school day, despite pouring rain, to carry on a DeLong tradition of waving goodbye to students as their buses pulled away from school for the last time of the year.
At North, Urdahl said the school year’s end came just in time for many of his classmates to make the trip to Grand Chute to watch the Huskies baseball team play in today’s state championship game against Sun Prairie at Fox Cities Stadium.
Looking ahead, Hardebeck said the extended year will cause a slight delay in launching some summer construction projects but shouldn’t prevent any of them from being completed by late September or early October.
The biggest project of the summer involves work at McKinley Charter School, but the district also will complete secure entrances at several schools, replace windows and repave some parking lots.