By Wanda Hanson
On October 1, 2020, The Houston School Board heard from a humble principal Rick Bartz that Houston Elementary had been notified that it had been recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School. Only eight schools were selected for the award in Minnesota. The award is for “exemplary work in closing achievement gaps.” Normally the award would include a trip to Washington, D.C. for the administrators to accept the award, but this year it will be done over Zoom. Superintendent Krin Abraham hopes to place a Blue Ribbon School banner on display on the exterior of school, with a local celebration in the spring.
With over 2,700 students now enrolled in MNVA, the board approved the necessary hiring of 17 more teachers and increased the contract of another. In addition, 13 hiring memos were approved for instructional trainers and advisors for clubs and activities. Abraham is posting job openings for another advisor and another assistant principal for MNVA to assist current MNVA administrative staff. Three-hundred-seventy-six more students enrolled in MNVA in October.
MNVA is in the process of collecting student data for the fall. Since the school strives for at least a one-year academic growth for the school year, it’s essential to test the students for beginning of the year data.
Both MNVA and the brick and mortar schools are trying to work with Teachers on Call to have enough subs. Abraham noted there just aren’t enough subs for any of the schools.
Beginning of the year
Principal Michael Mangan reported to the board that the COVID procedures were going well; students occasionally needed reminders to wear their masks over their noses and observe the six-foot social distancing, but overall their attitudes were good and they were cooperative. Lunches and COVID-safe games in the courtyard area are enjoyed by the students.
The high school student council is planning a Fall Festival with COVID compliant protocols for all the events.
While a few teachers have needed to be out, other teachers have stepped up to help out. Teachers have been striving to build meaningful relationships and engage the students. The foods teacher had to change part of the curriculum, but Mangan commented with a smile, the resulting food he’d had a chance to sample had been great!
Elementary Principal Rick Bartz offered that the year was going “better than I could have even imagined!” He lauded the “professionalism of the teachers and the fabulous kids.” Bartz shared that both the staff and kids want to be in-person at school as long as possible.
With football and volleyball soon to begin, the board discussed the procedures for the games. A total of 250 people may attend the football games; tickets will be available by presale at the schools. The home team will be allotted 150 tickets and the visitors 100. By noon the day before the game, the visiting school’s AD will call the host school with ticket sale numbers. The host school may then offer the extra tickets for sale. All tickets will be $6.00 with no season passes. The players, cheerleaders, refs and chain gang will not count toward the 250 limit. Chain gangs and refs will be screened before they work the game.
Volleyball games will not be allowing spectators, but games will be screened using a free of charge app. There is also a possibility of streaming football as well using iPads, wireless, and the free app.
If a school is in distance learning by the school’s choice, they can still participate if the board decides to allow it; if they are ordered by the state to go to distance learning, they will not be able to play.
School board chairman Tom Stilin offered that he felt if the guest school had sick kids, he didn’t think the game should be played.
Superintendent Abraham agreed saying, “The goal is to allow students to play, but it’s dependent on actions taken by students and fans.”
While numbers continue to rise, Houston schools are still good in the selected learning model. The county numbers were at 15; in order to necessitate a change to distance learning the numbers would need to increase to 30. MDH will be announcing the names of schools experiencing five or more positive cases in their buildings. The district would get a call before the school is announced and then the school would remain on the list for 28 days. Abraham assured the board that Houston was not one of them.
Abraham encouraged families who qualify for free and reduced lunch to apply. Right now, all students receive free meals, but the funding for that will run out by or before December 31.
If a family wants to change from hybrid learning to distance learning, they can do that at any time; however, if distance learning students want to come back to hybrid learning, they would need permission from the school. This is done to keep classes balanced and in compliance with the COVID regulations.
In other business the board approved:
• The purchases of a 77 passenger bus, a 10 passenger van, and two tents to be used for outdoor lunch and classroom facilities;
• Replaced the leaving board negotiator Ron Evenson by appointing Mimi Carlson;
• Discussed setting the date of the World’s Best Workforce Public Hearing for November 19 at 6:30 p.m. – the meeting will be set at the next scheduled board meeting.
The next Houston Schools Board meeting will be on October 15, 2020, at 6 p.m. The public is welcome to attend or to submit questions and concerns on the school’s website.
Photo: Superintendent Krin Abraham, Josh Norlien, Mimi Carlson, and Chairman Tom Stilin.
Photo by Wanda Hanson