LF School Board approves phase II of Project REAL

By Tina SnellStaff Writer

Three years ago, Little Falls Schools implemented Project REAL – Resources to Engage All Learners. It was an innovative project launched by then Supt. Curt Tryggestad and Technology Director Mark Diehl. Little Falls was the first school in the state to offer iPads to all students in grades 5 – 12.

Monday, the School Board approved financing to begin phase II of Project REAL.

The continuation of the project will give all students, from Early Childhood to grade 12, the opportunity to work with iPads.

“Little Falls is the first in the state to do this project from E – 12,” said Diehl. “Plus, we are waiving the fees to families for the use of the iPads and parents now have the option to purchase the devices using payments.”

Diehl said the project will cost approximately $750,000 which is about $400,000 less than the start-up of Project REAL in 2011.

The district will be purchasing 225 laptops at a cost of $214,615 and 1,650 iPad minis at $460,350 ($279 each). The apps for the computers will cost the district approximately $14,000.

“RadioShack in Little Falls gave us the lowest bid for protective cases for the iPads,” said Diehl. “The cost came to $59,317.50.”

Board Member Brad Laager said the district needs to toot its own horn for what it’s accomplishing.

“Little Falls has lowered taxes, lowered project costs and waived the fees (for the iPads),” he said. “Also, the buses now have ‘hot spots,’ allowing students to do homework while riding the buses.”

Little Falls School Board briefs 

Other business conducted by the Little Falls School Board night included:

• Approving the posting for and unknown number of technology coach positions within the district as part of Project Real Phase II. The tech positions, which would be under the teachers’ contract, are 0.6 positions. The district is looking for those interested in helping staff with the newly-implemented technology while still maintaining a 0.4 teaching position;

• Approving the Blue Cross Blue Shield renewal rates for 2014-15 school year along with the language which is necessary for the Affordable Care Act. Business Manager Nancy Henderson said the rates increased 6 percent across the board for the three levels of insurance coverage. The premiums for a $5,000 deductible policy for a single person increased from $370 to $392 monthly. For a family with a $10,000 deductible, premiums increased from about $966 to $1,025 monthly. Premiums for a $1,500 deductible policy for a single person increased from $517 monthly to $547. A policy with a $3,000 deductible for a family saw premiums increase from approximately $1,350 to $1,432. The Preferred Gold policy with a $500 deductible for a single person saw its premiums increase from $606 monthly to $645. The premiums for a family holding the Preferred Gold Policy increased from $1,589 to $1,687.

Henderson said the district received great rates from Blue Cross Blue Shield as she has heard many district policies have increased between 10 and 20 percent;

• Denying a leave of absence for Kenora Goodrich, the language arts teacher at the Little Falls Community Middle School. Supt. Stephen Jones said she was not eligible because she does not have 10 years of allowable service nor was she requesting the leave for advanced study, exchange teaching, professional development in the field of education or for a job experience in some other field.

Board Member Jay Spillum said that this could set a precedent. “Staff could leave and work elsewhere, then return and bump another teacher,” he said.

“Kenora is a wonderful teacher, but this sets precedent. If someone is hired to take her position, they would be out of a job,” said Board Member Brad Laager. “The vote is on the job issue, not the person;”

• Voting to not renew the contracts of probationary teachers Amy Brisson and Melissa Notsch. Jones said the two do not have appropriate licensure and were hired under a variance. If a licensed teacher is not found to replace them, they may be rehired;

• Voting to hire Jackie DeVine and Alex Farber as assistant track coaches at the middle school, Laurie Larsen as the ninth grade softball coach and Emily Wright as the assistant varsity track coach;

• Accepting the resignations of Kent Gomez and Shelly LeBlanc as co-gymnastic coaches, Jay Robinson as the middle school custodian and electrician, Nate Swenson as the middle school principal and Todd Toulouse as the junior varsity girls basketball coach;

• Accepting retirement requests from Jill Diebel, language arts teacher and Diane Gohl and Lora McChesney, both paraprofessionals; and

• Learning that Wednesday, May 7, is scheduled to be the 2014 Day of Caring in the Little Falls area.

The next School Board meeting will be held Monday, April 7, at 5 p.m. in the Morrison County Government Center.