NB school board: long meeting, difficult decisions, voices heard

By MaryHelen Swanson—

Last Thursday, as part of a nearly 5 hour meeting, the North Branch school board and large audience heard an update by high school assistant principal Glen Stevens on the D3 initiative, which allows and encourages students to utilize their personal digital devices to enhance their learning in school.

High school student Heather Rubischko gave a testimony as to how it works for her, noting that if she doesn’t understand a classroom discussion, she can look it up and be able to participate better.

Using these digital devices, she said, better prepares the students for life after school, no matter what job they go into. Even the games – word games, she assured the board members – are used to pull the students together.

Some students wish the teachers would use more technology in the classroom, she said, and yes, there are those who find the loopholes in the rules for D3.

All in all, she noted, D3 has gone really well, and she said she uses it for all her classes.

Stevens noted that the addition of 60 Kindles in January has also been very good for the district, and that special needs students are using them and loving them.

The D3 initiative is active in the high school and middle school. Stevens stressed, however, that the use of digital devices is to enhance learning, not replace it, the hope is the students will grow up to become good digital citizens.

Superintendent Deb Henton said the district plans to continue the initiative next year.

During open microphone, as negotiations continue. three members of the North Branch Education Association spoke on behalf of the teachers and one former school board member commended the school board.

NBEA member Jennifer VanDyke explained where the teachers were during the levy campaign, as there has been questions about their support. She noted that they were in the classrooms getting ready for the start of another school year, exactly where they should have been, and yet, they were on the levy committee also.

Ursula Scheele reminded all that while it is “all about the students” it is also about the teachers and the need for a decent work environment. Marilyn Fagerness noted the many new things that have been initiated in the district with less staff and resources, but added that there is a need to support the adults in order to move forward and support the children.

Former school board member Donna Setter thanked the board for holding the line, saying she knows the board appreciates the dedication and hard work of the teachers, but she also knows the resources are not there to give increases. Until the state decides to fund schools more equitably or the district residents agree to a levy, the line must be held, she said.

In other business, the board:

• Awarded the sale of a little over $15 million in general obligation refunding bonds. While the refunding of district bonds will save the district over $2 million for the duration of the bonds, the action won’t free up money to reinstate any cuts made to address the coming year’s budget, noted finance director Randi Johnson.

• Being satisfied, to an extent, on the wording of the district tobacco use policy, the board, upon the fourth reading of such, approved policy 419 Tobacco-Free Environment. The issue for some board members concerned banning smoking in a personal vehicle when used for work purposes. The ban will exist if a student is riding in the vehicle.

• Received a visit from Rep. Bob Barrett who spoke of his proposed legislation meant to provide more funds for lower funded schools, although the likelihood of passage this year is dim. Supt. Henton thanked him on behalf of the entire community for his efforts, and board member Kirby Ekstrom thanked Barrett for being available to the local Legislative Action Group.

• After considerable discussion, approved the school calendar for 2012-13, with school beginning on Sept. 4 and graduation being June 5. Snow days are not built in but are noted as they will be rescheduled, if needed. The spring vacation is still included, although that was questioned by board member Jay Falk. When he was told it was not the time to discuss specifics of the calendar, he asked when that time would be. Newer members of the board would like more advance time to discuss subjects.

• The board took action to terminate a number of employees due to the budget cuts: Gretchen Christensen, Kristie Hauger, Kyle Kahl, Renee Luther, Stephanie Meyers, Shelley Stuen, Alison Trampe, Mary Jo Hess, Sara Lebens, Ramona McAllister, Stacy Turner, and Amber Gerdes.

• A lengthy discussion of the district’s attendance policy led to frustrations all around. With as much contention as has been occurring around policy approvals, Supt. Henton suggested that perhaps there be a school board policy committee created to review the policies before they come to the board. This year, newer board members have had a number of concerns about policies infringing on citizens rights. Henton reminds them continually that the policies are written by an attorney and that same attorney is consulted with each of the board member’s concerns.

— Interested citizens are invited to the Legislative Action Committee, April 24, 7 p.m., at Sunrise River Elementary School Media Center. Area superintendents are encouraging parents to get involved, believing they can make a difference.

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