At the Monday, January 28 R-P School Board meeting, Middle School/High School Principal Jake Timm conducted a presentation regarding the current school schedule and feedback regarding how well its worked for the district. According to Timm, the majority of schools within the state utilize a 7-8 period day schedule. Overwhelmingly, however, the majority of teachers in the state do not favor this schedule. R-P previously used a 6 period, 50-minute class, plus one 30-minute study hall, schedule for the middle school. The high school previously utilized a five period modified block schedule with three, 78-minute classes that lasted one semester and two, 44-minute classes that remained the same all year. Both of these presented problems of students finding opportunity to engage in elective classes of interest and created issues for sharing art, agriculture, foreign language, and technical education teachers between the grades.
Beginning in January of 2016, interested middle and high school staff met six times to work on the schedule. In October 2016, the board gave Timm authority to mold the district’s schedule to a trimester format, allowing the middle and high school to be on similar tracks. This allowed for the contracted 280 minutes of teaching time, student contact time of up to 310 minutes, including supervisory roles, 50 minutes of uninterrupted prep time for teachers, and maintenance of separate lunch times for various ages.
According to Timm, 35% of staff responses, largely high school teachers, favored the trimester schedule. Another 30% favored the 7-8 period schedule, while 20% (two responses) favored the 90-minute block schedule. Responses did affirm that the number of courses allowed in the trimester is reasonable for students to manage and more than half felt 65-70 minutes is the optimal class time, which is met in the trimester schedule. Additionally, responses indicated it allows for college/career preparedness and gives students more choices and opportunities to try new electives.
The biggest concern for the trimester schedule are gaps in the schedule, where a student may have a class first and third trimester or second and third, putting them into a different spot. Timm acknowledged that the gaps existed before trimesters as well, but remains an issue that he has concerns with. Timm also admitted trimesters are harder to schedule, but stated they give a wider variety of offerings to students, including elective and 18 college credit Advanced Placement classes, the second most of any district in the region.
“Is what we’re doing the best? I don’t know. Is there a best schedule? No,” added Timm. “The biggest thing I like about this is that kids can dabble in different areas; ag classes, shop classes, art classes, FACS (Family and Consumer Science) classes, business classes. Kids can dabble in different elective areas, while at the same time take their higher level classes. This is the schedule that brings it together for kids going to technical school, kids going right out to get a job, and our four-year college kids.”
It was noted by Board Director Bonnie Prinsen that there was an assumption that the trimester schedule was a one-year trial. Timm noted that the schedule was formulated a year and a half prior to the new facility opening and that it takes a few years to see the results. Additionally, considerable time, effort, finances, and resources were devoted to planning. Had the school made the decision to change back to a semester schedule, the decision would have needed to be made in September, only a month into the trimester schedule. “We at least have to go three years with it,” stated Timm. “We’re already in the thick of scheduling. Next year, we have time to research and put together the best schedule.”
“There are flaws and I get there are flaws,” added Timm. “Parents and teachers: sometimes they’re looking in the lens of, ‘What’s best for my kid…..what’s best for my subject?’ My job is to do what’s best for 200 plus high school kids; 350 middle and high school kids. It’s not perfect by any means. We’re trying to tweak it as we go.”
In other news, the board considered a recommendation to approve the 2019-2020 Early Retirement guidelines for teachers. More information was called for before deciding on either extending the current two-year incentive package or possibly extending it to a three-year package. The effort provides considerable cost savings to the district. The board was expected to make a decision at the special meeting scheduled for January 31.
A cooperative agreement application to Minnesota State High School League between R-P and Lewiston-Altura School District for boys and girls golf was unanimously approved by the board. Two girls and seven boys golfed for R-P last year, while 10 girls and 12 boys participated for L-A. The advantages of the partnership include added participants for full varsity and junior varsity teams, an indoor golf facility and simulator, currently used by L-A, and usage of the golf course in Rushford. The districts already have cooperative agreements for wrestling and cross country.
Board Director Chris Grindland requested discussion of the former elementary/high school facilities be added to the meeting agenda. Grindland’s concerns included further neglect of the vacant buildings, a burden to the school district, as well as further pressure to redevelop the site. Grindland suggested the district sell the buildings to the City of Rushford for $100.
Superintendent Chuck Ehler noted the district has worked with the city to come up with options. “We have ongoing discussions and our Facilities Committee is working with the city, so I would invite or encourage to continue those conversations. Other board members have concerns about the city’s intention of what their plan is with the building. It would be advisable for the district to allow the Facilities Committee to work through that process,” said Ehler. “The pressure is increasing to do something with the building.”
Ehler apprised the board of an inquiry for an interested individual to walk through the building January 29. He further indicated the only monthly costs for maintenance of the former buildings are minimal electric and liability insurance, as water and heating have been turned off. The building has been vacant since August 2017.
“I don’t think there’s any urgency. This school district encompasses more than just the City of Rushford and we need to take that into consideration,” noted Board Chairman John Linder. “The other point is, it may have some value. I would certainly like to consider that if there is interest. The other factor is, the city, they want to knock the building down. That may be what has to happen, but I suspect there may be some issue with that out of the gate; some people that may not be happy with that.” The board made no official action, but will wait for further information from the Facilities Committee. Plan A remains for the district to market the building for redevelopment, while Plan B would be to sell to the city for demolition and new housing.
Regarding a statement at last month’s meeting, Ehler issued a retraction to a statement he made regarding sidewalks installed by the school district and assistance from the city. Ehler clarified that the city did offer financial help with the project on Pine Meadows Lane. “The city did help with construction that took place along Highway 43. City workers were instrumental in providing the leadership in getting the lights moved down and in working with us.” Ehler maintained he intended no offense to the city and has issued an apology.
In ongoing board information, the field of 11 candidates for new superintendent was previously narrowed to five by the board. The final candidates were interviewed Thursday, January 31 and Friday, February 1. The finalists are Shawn Yates (Superintendent, Ada-Borup Schools, Ada, Minn.), Joel Timmerman (Elementary Principal, Riverside Elementary, Jackson, Minn.), Jon Thompson (Superintendent, Aplington-Parkersburg Community Schools, Aplington, Iowa), Todd Lee (Superintendent and 7-12 Principal, Howard School District, Howard, S. Dak.), and Scott Loeslie (Superintendent, Barnesville Public Schools, Barnesville, Minn.). The interview committee is expected to make a recommendation to the board at a special meeting February 19.
The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Monday, February 25, at 5:30 p.m., in the forum room. A special meeting is slated for Tuesday, February 19, at 5:30 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend.