School board: Are you ready? Staff: Yes!

by Barbara Cameron

The regular August meeting of the District 317 School Board took place on Monday the 18th with Vice-Chair Lee Pederson handling the chair’s duties in Mark Box’s absence. After welcoming everyone he asked them to rise for the flag pledge. Tonight’s agenda included a summary from the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) students of their San Antonio trip, as well as reports from most of the regular presenters at the school board meetings.

Three of the four students who attended the national leadership conference last month spoke with the board and presented a PowerPoint from their trip. Vanessa Truelove, Elysia Morris and Amy Gustafson engaged the directors; the fourth member of their group, Ali Juntunen, had to be away at work.

The Deer River delegation did well at the national competition with over 7,500 other students, coming home with two golds and two silvers in their STAR events. The theme of the 69th annual conference was Soar – to go beyond mediocrity.

Their advisor, Deb Passeri, was also recognized at the national meeting with an award.

Pederson asked the students what they’d learned from their experiences in Texas. They talked about an inspirational speaker who never settled for others’ expectations of her when she had come to this country as a poor immigrant.

Sarah Bellefy was happy to hear they all wanted to give back to the community. “Thank you for making us proud,” she told them.

Pederson said he was hearing from them, “Don’t feel bad about your roots; little Deer River can do great things, right?”

After the FCCLA presentation the school board moved on to approval of their July meeting minutes, approval of the July financials and approval of their lengthy consent agenda.

Consent included the resignation of Kelly Curell; hiring DuWayne Long as a full-time custodian; a contractor agreement with Raina Heruth for psychological services; the hire of 12 paraprofessionals, Cristine Saccoman, Jamie Martin, Amy Blomquist, Jennifer Williams, Karmin Hill, Teresa Greniger, Amanda Theilmann, Jesse Stacklie, Deborah Sernett, Justina Martin, Darla King and Shawna Anttila; and the hiring of coaches in cross country, volleyball, football, girls basketball and wrestling.

Contract renewal through June 30, 2016 was approved for the Dean of Students/Activities Director and Buildings and Grounds Director; with Administrative Assistant/Accounts Payable; with the Administrators Association; and with AFCSME Local 498. A Memo of Understanding with the Local regarding make-up of lost time was also approved.

A number of inter-district and agency contracts were also approved under consent, including Kootasca Head Start; special ed with Floodwood; work experience teacher services with Nashwauk-Keewatin; autism, hearing, physical and health disabilities and other impaired services with Greenway; and a joint powers agreement with the state (Perpich Center).

The revised bullying policy led to some discussion. Pederson led off with the statement that they needed to find themselves in compliance with the state mandates, despite the fact that he had some concerns, beginning with the definitions themselves. One of the mandates involves training of staff, and he asked Superintendent Matt Grose if there was a strategy in place for that. Grose replied that he’d met with Sue Akre and the school principals to discuss their plans for the fall, as well as with Mark Schenken (for Nor-Tran bus drivers). He would also be meeting with other director-type staff such as Brent Schimek (Buildings and Grounds; Activities) to ask them to train their individual staffs. The preliminary plan is laid out.

Grose said, “The state doesn’t have any guidance. It’s a loose definition of what training even means. For right now to meet the minimum criteria we need to go through our policy.”

Pederson wondered about age-appropriate remedial training.

Grose responded that Deer River had a bullying policy and took it seriously long before there was a Safe and Supportive Schools Act. “We’ve got good people in place.”

When Pederson called the question, the directors present voted unanimously in favor of it.

The next item was passage of the resolution declaring certification of four names on the ballot for election of three candidates for the four-year school board term on Nov. 4. The candidates are: Rose Villeneuve and incumbents Leland Pederson, Ryan Fox and Pam Thompson. Tiffany Johnson is designated the election administrator for this cycle.

The board also voted to proclaim September as Attendance Awareness Month.

Teaching, Learning and Assessment Coordinator Sue Akre was first with the staff reports. She noted that Pearson is the new testing company for the Minnesota assessments, and only online MCAs for math, reading and science will be available this year – no more paper tests. A few OLPA opportunities still remain for some teachers to use (sort of a get-ready-for-the-MCA practice run).

Other new things this year: 8th graders will take the mandatory Explore test, 10th graders will take the Plan. These are college and career readiness assessments and they cannot be made up if they are missed. Another such test has been added onto the MCAs for 11th graders, ACT Plus Writing.

A significant change this year is that there will be no MCA III-Modified available from now on. That means students who are struggling because they are disabled in some way will be taking the regular tests. Akre remarked, “It’ll be interesting, but not probably good.”

The GRAD tests are being phased out. In the past, kids who didn’t pass the MCAs had to take the GRADs to graduate. However, now there probably won’t be a cut score (a proficiency level) for the MCAs in 10th and 11th grades, but the kids still have to take them.

Grose added an explanatory comment. “So the kid just has to run the race, but doesn’t have to finish in a particular time.”

Bellefy said, “That just doesn’t make sense to me – plus take the Modified away!”

Pederson summed up, “So they’re phasing out the GRAD but adding more, is that accurate?”

Akre answered, “Yes.”

Grose again: “This obsession with assessment … just proves that this is about a fundamental belief system that’s flawed in America right now. We’ve had complete changeover at the state government, but we haven’t seen a gigantic amount of relief, if any, and probably going the other way, in terms of what we are required to do.”

He gave an analogy to show the uselessness of this testing obsession: “You [don’t] make a pig fatter by weighing it.”

Pederson asked a rhetorical question of Akre, “Does this help us make all our students college ready at the time of graduation?”

“No.”

Grose found something positive for Deer River students in the ACT situation now. That test used to cost $75, now it’s free, it’s offered here to everyone, and it is used for college admission.

Akre introduced the issue of trying to align curriculum to all these tests. “You can imagine – the teachers will be swimming this year!”

She updated the board in their packet with a document showing the Formative Assessments (continuous, in the classroom), the Benchmark Assessments (three times per year, standardized for state and district) and the large-scale Summative Assessments (annually, to judge the progress of the school, district and state).

The elementary teachers will be piloting some new reading and math curricula this year. The Reading Wonders curriculum for K-4 is phonics-based, and free to the district.

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