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R-P races to the top

Thu, Dec 24th, 2009
Posted in Education

Both the board and the administration were in a light-hearted, jolly mood at the Monday, December 21 meeting. No doubt it had just as much to do with the rapid forward paces the district has been making as it does the holiday season. The short meeting highlighted several positive awards received by the district and a grant for which the district is applying.

US News & World Report recently ranked R-P as one of America's top high schools for 2010. The district was one of three local schools to be awarded a bronze medal honor. The report looked at 21,786 public high schools in 48 states and the District of Columbia. Of the schools reviewed, less than 10 percent (1,787) received the notable award.

According to US News & World Report, "The methodology, developed by School Evaluation Services, a K-12 education data research business run by Standard & Poor's, is based on the key principles that a great high school must serve all its students well, not just those who are collegebound, and that it must be able to produce measurable academic outcomes to show the school is successfully educating its student body across a range of performance indicators."

A three-step process was used to determine the best schools. The steps ensured schools serve all students well, using state proficiency standards as the benchmarks. For schools that met the initial criteria, a third step evaluated to what degree schools prepared students for college-level work based upon Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate participation rates.

In a recent statement, Superintendent Chuck Ehler said, "This recognition is reinforcement that we continue to serve all of our students in a very productive manner. It is just one indication that all of the hard work by our teachers, students, and parents is paying off."

Race to the Top grant

R-P schools are putting their name in the hat Race to the Top, a federal, competitive grant that will award to 10 states. The grant is part of stimulus funds that will last for four years, beginning July 1, 2010. Although each state will have its own details, the general purpose of the grant is for school reform. The district is already ahead of the competition having recently implemented the Quality Compensation for Teachers program, as the state will make participation in the program a required part of the grant.

If selected, Minnesota predicts it will receive $175 million and intends to distribute 85 percent of that amount directly to schools. While the amount received per school depends largely on the number of participating districts, the revenue would be a welcome addition to the district. Having recently passed an operating levy referendum, Superintendent Ehler noted, "We can't afford to be on the sidelines." The district estimates that if 50 percent of schools participate, the revenue would amount to roughly $60 per pupil per year. Over the four year duration, this could bring $160,000 to the district.

The revenue from the grant, if approved, must go toward new programs. The district also cautioned the board to remember that the federal dollars from the grant will end in four years. Funds for Q-Comp program will last as long as the legislature does not take contrary action. Schools must provide an initial response to the grant by January 13, 2010.

RUS Grant

(Rural Utility Services)

Participating in the Southeastern Minnesota Generation NOW Learning Project has garnered the district $373,123 in federal funding from the US Department of Agriculture. According to the district, R-P schools participated in the Learning Project proposal, led by Southeast Service Cooperative and Southland Public Schools on behalf of the twenty schools. The proposal was one of 191 eligible applications that competed nationally in the 2009 USDA Rural Development Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Program.

One of 20 schools in southeast Minnesota, the district is to receive mobile videoconferencing units, with plasma displays and wireless capability to further learning opportunities for students. The aim of the technology is to assist districts in "bridging the digital divide." Not only will the units integrate with existing technology infrastructure, but it will introduce more distance learning course opportunities and will further the professional development of teachers.

Superintendent Ehler anticipates Riverland Community College and Minnesota State College Southeast Technical will likely play a role in the project, offering concurrent courses that provide both high school and college credits for some courses.

Furthering Education

In response to the special education population of the district not meeting Adequate Yearly Progress, as defined by No Child Left Behind, the district is preparing to hire a high school Math Interventionist. Probability and Statistics was one area of the MCAII testing in which the district's special education students particularly struggled. The proposed Math Interventionist would teach Intro to Probability and Statistics as well as serve as a para instructor and possible Applied Math instructor. The district would like to have the program begin as early as January 4th.

A significant portion of funding for the program would be supported by stimulus dollars. 68 percent of the cost is eligible through special education funding. The $6,000 cost would also be offset by a shifting of other stimlulus funds. Administration hopes to have the program in place by January 4th.

The district has hired Gina Ommen-Flaby as the Horizons Program Leader. A program that is directed through Fillmore County, Horizons is a community education program for adults with disabilities. Community Education Director Beth Theede acknowledged that the program has been fairly stagnant for a period of time. The district is eager to see the program succeed.

Other Notables

• The annual independent audit revealed in October that the district had been shorted $42,000 by the State Department of Revenue. The funds will be turned over to the district before the end of the year.

• Seniors Mariah Mierau and Levi Brown have been selected as recipients for Minnesota State High School League's Triple A Award. Both students exhibit outstanding accomplishments in the areas of academics, arts, and athletics.

• Councilor Roger Metz brought forth an idea to host a program at the school similar to that of the television game, Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? While the council chuckled at the possibility of having the students know more than the board, as is sometimes the case in the game, Metz countered that it could be fun. "It would be a way to show the public what it's all about in education these days."

Get Involved

The next regularly scheduled school board meeting has been moved to January 25th, in the high school biology room, at 6:30. The public is encouraged to attend.

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