Minorities, literacy top school agenda

/ 5 June 2012 / jennifer

Jenny Kirk , Marshall Independent, June 5, 2012 –

MARSHALL – While the 2011-12 school year has officially come to an end, for the Marshall School Board members, it’s business as usual. And continuing to make improvements for the good of the district’s student population while operating within a proper budget was still the board’s primary focus at the work session meeting Monday night at Marshall Middle School.

In the first presentation of the night, MPS minority advocate Gustavo Estrada spoke to the board about the importance of helping minority students make connections at school and within the community.

“We need to find a way to work together,” Estrada said. “We need to be more open.”

While developing leadership in students was a top priority, Estrada pointed out that it was also important to better communicate with parents.

Reading coach Brian Bertrand added that minority students also needed to feel rooted in their community. Next week, a summer program will help students explore their place in the Marshall area.

“We need to foster more connections for these students,” Bertrand said. “We want to connect kids with their future.”

In light of the increasing minority population at MPS, board chairman Jeff Chapman asked if students were being engaged as much as they could be. Estrada said that it involved a process, which wasn’t always a fast one, especially when language barrier communication often involved knocking on doors and explaining situations as opposed to less time-consuming methods like email.

“Maybe you should advocate for an assistant,” Chapman said. “I’d like to see another minority advocate to help with the growing population.”

In a second presentation, elementary principal Heidi Critchley, reading coach Stephanie DeVos and curriculum director Amanda Grinager walked the board through their primary level literacy plan. The purpose of the plan is to ensure that all students will achieve grade level proficiency and read well by the third-grade.

Critchley explained that through the district’s use of professional learning communities, MPS has worked towards identifying best practices possible and closing the achievement gap.

“We’re going the right way,” Critchley said.

DeVos pointed out that 90 minutes a day were set aside for reading for K-3 students. When interventions are involved, a student spends additional time working on reading concepts. A good deal of effort has been spent, the presenters said, identifying weak language areas within the district.

“The most important thing we can do is make sure our core curriculum is strong and that it’s getting to our students,” Grinager said. “I’m excited for our new (curriculum) additions for fall.”

Chapman asked if the schools’ reading scores had increased. Superintendent Klint Willert said there had been an upward trend in reading and math the past five years despite the increase in poverty-level students.

“We’re showing improvement,” said Willert, who clarified that he’d expect to see improvements from fall to spring, but that he was more concerned with seeing improvements from spring to spring. “That way, we’d know the student not only improved but that the information stuck.”

Interested and qualified community members are being sought for upcoming school board elections. The positions of three current board members (Tim Swenson, Matt Coleman and Bill Mulso) are up for re-election this year. July 17 is the last day candidates can file with the district office to be considered. Voting takes place in November.

Swenson said that he would no longer be able to continue serving the district, though he enjoyed his time on the board.

“I really can’t continue because my business is needing my time,” he said. “This will be my last year. But I’ve really enjoyed being on the school board. It’s been very rewarding.”

The board discussed moving the regular July meeting, from the July 16 to July 23, in order to allow members the opportunity to support the Pride in the Tiger Golf Classic. Official approval of the change will be voted on at the June 18 meeting.

The board also heard updates on the possibility of switching conferences for football. Though officials reportedly met recently, no invitation from the Wright County Conference has been extended yet.

Another reading of the Fiscal Year 2013 budget took place, noting an overall net projected reduction of $134,000 in the general fund reserves, primarily due to the $252,000 projected transportation deficit.

Board discussion also centered on the action plan for reading success and the new Multiple Measure Ratings (MMR) for Minnesota schools as part of a waiver from No Child Left Behind. Willert said the new system, which now validates growth and graduation rates, is more in alignment with how the district views improvement.