The Houston Public School Board met at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 6, 2017 in the library of Houston Public High School. In attendance were Superintendent Abraham, along with Board Members Bonner, Wilson, Stillin, Krage, Evenson, and Carlson. Board Member Norlien arrived later in the meeting. Following the pledge, the board approved the agenda and opened the meeting for public comment. Upon hearing none, the board moved on to approve all five consent items, including the previous meeting’s minutes, one contract, two hiring memos for boys and girls golf coaches, and one resignation for a c-team volleyball coach.
The board then moved on to discussion items. Superintendent Abraham presented the five Cohort Dates for the Minnesota Virtual Academy, setting dates for students to start enrollment in the online school. “It is also necessary,” Abraham said, “because as kids leave us during the year, we have these cohorts to make sure that we have as consistent enrollment as possible.” Without the cohorts, she continued, it would be difficult to build a budget. Abraham noted changes for this year, including the removal of a set deadline for paperwork in the hopes of removing confusion between separate deadlines for both paperwork and approval. Any student not approved before August 29 will not be starting the school year at MNVA on time. Abraham also noted a change in part-time enrollments, allowing them only during the first week of the semester. The superintendent noted that most part-time enrollments are coming from other schools, realizing they need another class at the last minute, so the part-time enrollments will be open for that first week. Board Member Carlson mentioned that cohorts have been difficult to do at the elementary level, with students coming later in the year that may need extra help, but “it is what it is at this point.”
Next, the board considered a Strategic Planning focus group report from the Online Schools Committee regarding the marketing of the district. Board Member Carlson reported from the meeting regarding the financials discussed at the meeting, asking what the trend has been for money spent on marketing by the district in the past. Superintendent Abraham replied that there is both a national and state push for marketing, including both web-based, TV and radio ads. Abraham continued that the district’s enrollment began earlier this year, on March 2, and the marketing push will focus on that. MNVA, she said, is a top Minnesota K-12 school, which will give them additional marketing opportunities. Board Member Bonner asked if brochures were being distributed, to which Superintendent Abraham responded, “I was told to wait.” Board Member Carlson expressed a desire to finish the Marketing Plan before brochures were made to determine the proper focus on print marketing. Bonner asked why the material wasn’t being distributed if it was already done and current, and Board Members Stillin, Krage and Evenson also expressed a willingness to send the information out as soon as possible. The board asked Abraham to print a small amount of the already-prepared paper marketing material, around 50-100 copies, and distribute them in the community.
Next, Houston High School Principal Todd Lundberg spoke to the board regarding a Continuous Math Program for seventh and eight grade students. Lundberg noted that the program was computerized and customized to each student, stressing mastery and advancement at the student’s own pace. Lundberg gave a detailed explanation of the system, saying the idea was to give the students 48 minutes a day in this program that can help struggling students catch up and exceptional students get ahead. The long term goal, Lundberg said, is to eventually implement this system up to the Algebra 3 and Calculus classes in high school, where the traditional classroom model would kick in. Until then, the principal said, it could be beneficial to have 25 students in a classroom at 25 different stages in their math education. Board Member Carlson clarified with Lundberg and Abraham that an eighth grader advancing into ninth grade geometry would not only be earning high school credit and a grade that goes toward their overall GPA. Lundberg mentiond that a student can take the final as many times as they want until the end of the year, at which point the grade becomes final, motivating students to work harder to get at a high level in the class before advancing. Lundberg is planning to start the program in the fall at the price of $35 per student for a nine month subscription. The board will vote on the program at the April 20, 2017 meeting.
After a short discussion, the board went on to approve the planned 2018 band & choir trip to Minneapolis, along with approving the district Health & Safety Policy and the first quarter board pay. Superintendent Abraham detailed contradictory meetings with State Representative Davids and State Senator Miller, where Davids said not to count on any increases and Miller thought increases would be possible. Board Member Stillin commented that this was “standard operating procedure.” The superintendent went on to thank Kevin Kelleher for donations to the gold program and announced that the school has been awarded 40 gallons of paint from a True Value Paint Grant, allowing the ceilings of the elementary school to be painted.