Royalton School Board discusses district’s goals and achievements

By Kerry Drager, Correspondent

The Royalton School Board met Monday, June 30, to discuss and approve their goals for the 2014-15 school year. The district has made some significant progress with many of its goals and the Board spent the meeting identifying achievements and ways to make the goals even better.

For the Community Engagement goal, school board members will build relationships and partnerships with families and the community. The Board discussed how it has been more active in the recent years in making improvements to the community.

The Board has been working with the Lions Club and the Royalton Ballpark Improvement Club (RBI) for the betterment of the ball fields. The Board discussed how the school district is matching contributions toward these projects.

“It’s nice that the school district is matching some of the money to get the projects done,” said Supt. Jon Ellerbusch. “Each year, let’s put some more money in, if they want to help do the labor that saves us a ton. It’s a point for everyone. They feel that we are working more collaboratively on these projects.”

The Board feels that the relationship and partnership building goal needs a little work in the district utilizing its website to communicate with families and the community.

“There are some dynamic school websites out there,” said Board Member Jim Block. “Everything is on them, and everyone is accessing these school websites. As a family, I can go to the school website but it’s a little challengingto get to where you want to go. Anyone who has kids, they are getting onto the website, so I think that it would be a good thing to focus on and get it up to date.”

Many options were explored in discussing the Academic Excellence portion of the district’s goals. Improvements to extracurricular activities are the forefront of their focus, and the board feels they have done a good job in maintaining a high participation rating from students and their families. Ways the district may continue to improve this is with their Gifted, Talented and Enrichment Services that will begin next year.

“We want to look at students that have an interest just to enjoy the events but may not be the best at them. Let’s find a way to fit in as many kids that will get involved as we can. The fondest memories in high school could be from pep band for some of these kids,” said Ellerbusch.

The district is expecting a large turnover in the next few years due to many staff members reaching retirement age, putting additional pressure on the district as they try to maintain their Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) scores.

Middle and high school principal Joel Swenson said he had hired 50 percent of his staff over the last four years. “That’s a lot of turnover and a lot of young people that are developing their teaching careers,” he said.

To help improve MCA scores in the middle and high school, the district is interested in making some changes on the way children can elect Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) courses. They want to ensure that students are being exposed to STEM education every year, especially in math. By ensuring four years of STEM courses, students may retain the information more readily and should boost MCA scores.

Despite having to make some changes in how the curriculum is set up, the district is pleased with the outcome of its STEM courses.

“I’m proud of the STEM we are working with,” said Swenson. “There are bigger schools around us that have failed in Project Lead the Way. We have diverse groups of students getting involved. We are going to get Project Lead the Way certified this year. This way, students can get college credit for taking the course. We are always improving those STEM areas.”

College and career readiness is also a goal the district is greatly interested in improving this coming year.

Advanced Placement (AP) level courses have lost participation over the last few years. Swenson feels this is because kids who are maintaining a 4.00 grade point average (GPA) and are trying to achieve valedictorian status and scholarships, do not want to risk their GPA for AP courses.

Students also have an option for College in the Schools (CIS) courses, but those college credits are tied to specific colleges and may not transfer over to all post-secondary schools.

With the certification of Project Lead the Way, students will have a third option to obtain college credits. The district is also looking to make a Lead the Way course a requirement for ninth grade, ensuring that all students will have at least one college credited course upon graduation.

To help prepare kids for the changing world of technology and how it is being incorporated into their post-secondary education, the district is looking to add online courses.

“I’d like to see our teachers offer even just nine weeks of online coursework. This will be exposing students to online classes before college. Our kids need to have this experience,” said Ellerbusch

Hot Spots on buses is also being looked into so that students will have the option to complete homework during their daily commute home. Verizon Wireless is currently renting from the school for their cellular towers. They will be using some of those funds for the purchase of the Hot Spots.

During the special meeting, the Board discussed and approved three new positions. A new technology support assistant will be hired for the coming school year. Currently, the entire district’s technology support and maintenance is being run by one individual. As computers continue to be readily available and necessary in every classroom,  this has become too much of a job for one person.

A junior and high school attendance secretary and district office secretary are also being sought.

Interviews for the building project manager and architect are set for July 9 at 1 p.m at the high school.

The next regularly scheduled Royalton School Board meeting will be Monday, July 21 at 6 p.m. in the high school.