The Houston School Board met for its regular meeting at 6 p.m. on Thursday, February 1 in the library of Houston Public High School. In attendance were Superintendent Abraham and Board members Norlien, Bonner, Stillin, Evenson, Lundak and Carlson. Following the Pledge of Allegiance, the board unanimously approved the evening’s agenda along with a resolution for a closed meeting for negotiations strategy. The board then opened the meeting up to a period of public comment, of which there was none. Next, the board unanimously approved the consent items, which included two increased contracts at the Minnesota Virtual Academy, two hiring memos at the Early Childhood Family Education and Preschool, and one hiring memo for a varsity softball coach at Houston High School.
The board then moved on to discussion items, first taking a look at the calendar for the 2019-2020 school year. Superintendent Abraham presented both a tight and loose calendar, and noted that both the board and the district’s educators could weigh in to “tweak” the presented schedules. Board member Carlson said she had received “grief” at home from her children regarding the shortness of breaks, suggesting that the board also involve the students or student council in the calendar discussion. Under the proposed 19-20 “loose” schedule the winter holiday break is about two weeks long, while the “tight” schedule is closer to a week and a half. With winter holidays falling where they did during the week in 2017, students saw a shorter winter break this school year. Abraham explained that once the board approves the initial calendar, the school staff determines the position of their necessary items like half days and class trips, and then the calendar comes back to the board for final approval.
The board continued to debate the calendar on three main points: the date for the end of the school year, the length of winter break, and the length of spring break. Board member Bonner wanted to seek input from the families of the district along those broad lines, suggesting a survey out in the parent announcements. Board member Carlson offered having a table present during parent teacher conferences to explain the situation and gather information from district families and students, and Abraham agreed that if the board wanted district participation in the ‘19-’20 calendar it would be easy to get the information out. Board member Norlien also expressed interest in getting some feedback from the community on the issue, and the board asked Abraham to send questions out.
The board then heard a report from its Technology Committee. Abraham reported to the council that the committee discussed the two goals presented to the committee, but the committee decided to focus on the one goal of implementing the Schoology learning management system most effectively in the district. The committee also discussed school devices, including what to do with the school’s Chromebooks and Apple devices once their lifespans and leases come to an end. Abraham noted that the school would be able to buy some products at the end of their leases, but those devices would not have service or support. Carlson asked if there was a strict policy in the district’s technology plan, and Abraham responded that the district will need to do an overhaul of its tech plan this summer. Bonner reported that the community also discussed when best to introduce keyboarding in the elementary school after starting students with tablets. Abraham said there would be a survey in the spring regarding devices used and the results will be used for the district tech committee meeting. Board Chair Stillin pressed the need to hear from what is being used by those “in the trenches” to make sure any decisions made by the tech committee serve the district best.
The board also discussed the teacher’s master agreement, with Abraham reporting that the teachers did vote to ratify the contract, along with the union. Abraham then presented the contract with the approved changes, and the board approved the contract unanimously. The board went on to give four policies a first reading, including a policy on discipline, veterans preference during hiring, employee right to know on hazardous substances, and a policy regarding sexually transmitted infections and other communicable conditions. The Houston School Board will meet for its next regular meeting at 6 p.m. in the library of Houston Public High School on Thursday, February 15.