Agriculture students break new ground at Pierz Community Gardens




Pat Tax, ag teacher at Pierz Healy High School, and a delegation of FFA members updated the school board Wednesday evening regarding the gardening project they have undertaken this spring at Pierz Community Gardens. Located on the southeast edge of town on property owned by Horizon Health, the horticulture class eventually wants to provide the school lunch program with fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables. They also intend to make the produce available at a Pierz Farmers Market.

In their first year as an organized group, the goal is to generate interest in gardening. “We want to create community awareness, grow our own food and recruit future FFAers,” Tax said. The possibilities are endless. Also on the back burner is the community supported agriculture movement whereby people purchase shares in the organization and students supply shareholders with vegetables.

Currently, in cooperation with Community Education, the ag students have established five theme gardens involving elementary students during the summer growing season. They are meeting Mondays in June through August to plant, weed, water and harvest the crops. In addition, the high school students are tending long rows of traditional garden vegetables utilizing experimental fertilizer techniques, etc.

Grant Smude, FFA president, along with his classmates, presented school officials with a master plan and budget for startup costs of the endeavor amounting to $8,200. Major expenses include a minimal salary for four supervisory students, plants, seeds and plot rental fees. The board voted unanimously to hire the students in support of the garden project as presented. To date the class has received $2,600 in grants.

At the May 28 meeting, the Board also got a glimpse of what the new eight-hour school day at Healy High will look like come fall.

“Classes would begin at 8:12 a.m. and end at 3:17 p.m.” said Supt. George Weber. “Basically, it adds 10 minutes to either end of the school day, assuming a 3.5 minute pass time between classes.”

Weber also shared technology plans for next year. “Our teachers and technology staff have evaluated devices for the last three years,” he said. They are recommending the LearnPad as their product of choice for several reasons. With an investment estimated between $130,000 and $150,000 the district will have enough digital devices for half the student body.

The high school will be adding 254 new LearnPads and the elementary school has ordered 60, plus 10 more iPads for special education students. “Our goal is to use technology to increase student achievement and success in school,” said Weber. Eventually, they will be able to take them home.

Pierz School Board briefs

In other action items at the May 28 meeting, the Pierz School Board:

•Accepted a donation of $2,500 from the Toyota Dealers Association for equipment in the science department;

•Accepted the retirement of Greg Tetrault, English/language arts teacher and coach at the high school, thanking him for 36 years of educating students. He joins three other recent retirees who collectively have devoted 125 years of service to the district. They include Business Manager Earl Athman (29 years), Karen Fischer (34 years) and Darlene Rocheleau (26 years);

•Approved the employment of Jenna Hauschild as elementary band teacher for the 2014-2015 school year and accepted the resignation of Nathan Blinn, band instructor the past five years;

•Granted a family medical leave for Jennifer Sadlovsky, elementary teacher, beginning in October for 12 weeks, plus an additional three weeks childcare leave.;

•Ratified a two-year contract for non-certified, nonunion employees (secretaries, cooks, custodians and other non-teaching assistants). Wage increases in Year 1 equal 1.5 percent and in Year 2 equal two percent, with health insurance the same as teachers. Total package benefits add up to 8.9 percent for the 2013-2015 life of the contract;

•Purchased Synergy software as the new student data base and lunchroom tracking system in the amount of $37,500 replacing two other products currently in use;

•On recommendation of Larson Engineering, accepted the bid proposal from Upper Midwest Athletic Services for resurfacing the high school track in the amount of $43,870;

•Contracted on a low quote from IEA for environmental, health and safety management services for the next three years;

•Approved an agreement with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to maintain a groundwater monitoring well on district property. It is part of the MPCA’s network of monitoring wells that involves placement of a two-inch pipe, 15 feet in the ground on the edge of the football practice field, said Supt. George Weber. The motion passed on a 4-1 vote with Board member Colleen Seelen voicing opposition. “I’m very concerned,” she said. “If you let them (MPCA) in and they find anything wrong, you pay for the cleanup.” Board member Dean Virnig was absent;

•Reviewed a draft copy of the district’s proposed teacher evaluation plan. Committee members have been meeting periodically over the past two years developing a plan as mandated by state statute. Both the Pierz teacher’s union and local school officials must ratify the plan to become effective July 1. “If either party does not approve this locally developed plan, then the district will be required to use a model developed by the Minnesota Department of Education,” the document states; and

•Will schedule a working session in June sometime to meet with architects and construction consultants to develop a master plan that takes into consideration existing spaces when adding on to school buildings.

The Pierz School Board next meets Monday, June 30 at 6 p.m. in the Healy High Board Room. Note the date change because of a conference conflict.