The board began a new year with new board positions at their January meeting.

The first meeting of the year was the board organizational meeting, in which members decide who is the chair, vice chair and so on.

Current board chair Aaron Solum was re-elected to his position, Stephanie Jaster was elected vice chair, Brad Hernandez was elected board clerk and District Accountant Tanya Elton was elected board treasurer.

Erin Benson from Ratwig, Roszak and Maloney, P.A. was designated as the school attorney. Elton was also designated as the authority for electronic fund transfers.

School board vacancy

The school board approved a special meeting before the regular Feb. 26 meeting to discuss and interview potential school board members for Shannon Schuttemeier’s vacancy. The Jan. 23 meeting was her last school board meeting.

Two parents showed interest in joining the board. One of those parents will be selected for the seat and their term will start in April. The board must wait 30 days after the new member is selected before he or she can begin their term. The time of that special meeting is to be announced, which is also dependent upon if more applicants show interest.

Principal’s report

Principal Nancy Gulbranson said she and teachers will be attending a conference for personalized learning, which has been the topic of many board meetings.

“We’re excited about going and continuing to learn about personalized learning,” she said. “A van of high school teachers and two vans of elementary school teachers will be going.”

The board has learned more about personalized learning (sometimes known as individualized learning) in recent months as teaching trends turn away from traditional lecture methods, which do not always fit different types of learners.

Gulbranson reported on eduClimber, a data cloud that keeps track of data for teachers.

Hiawatha Valley Education District Data Coordinator Meredith Johnson showed Gulbranson and teachers how to use the mobile app on their phone, which helps teachers to enter data in real time. The app is also available on laptops.

eduClimber can also keep track of behaviors for students or classes. Grade level, type of behavior, time of day and where the incidents happen can all be recorded. The data can also be shared among teachers who have the same students in different classes.

Once teachers review the data, they can re-teach the student the proper behaviors.

Gulbranson also announced the staff was trained on Individualized Education Programs, which is a written education plan for students in special education or other specialized educational needs.

“These are necessary for some students,” Gulbranson said. “For example, I have a seating chart for my class tomorrow because it helps one of my students succeed.”

Gulbranson also lauded the sixth grade musical, “The Aristocats” and said the production was “tremendous.”

“The kids do a wonderful job every year, for the past 22 years,” she said. “I’ve found that students stick out with particular lines.”

New this year was student director Vivian Kampschroer, who took a program directing internship under the guidance of English/drama teacher Megan Miller.

The young director had to select the show, purchase it, cast it, design, and develop relationships with the cast members. She also had to plan choreography, coordinate the gym and stage schedule and plan rehearsals.

“I commend Vivian for a wonderful show, and the kids did a great job,” Gulbranson said. “It was a win-win. Vivian had an interesting perspective on how hard it can be to direct a play, but the kids still loved it.”

Board member Shannon Schuttemeier said Spring Grove is fortunate to have kindergarten through twelfth grade in one building.

“They have that contact with our high schoolers, and little kids look up to big kids,” she said.

Gulbranson agreed and said, “The K-12 concept is the best kept secret in the world.”

Superintendent’s report

Superintendent Rachel Udstuen discussed moving the math lab into the current school office space and the school office moving to the computer labs on the basement floor.

The project falls under the school’s Long-Term Facilities Maintenance plan. The state is also willing to fund most of the project as it would fall under accessibility, Udstuen said.

Currently, people who use the handicap entrance to get to the office must enter through the old lobby, travel down to the basement hallway to the elevators, take the elevator to the media center and finally reach the office by travelling through the second floor hallway.

Though the route is feasible, Udstuen said there’s a more logical way for the school to be accessible.

The school’s Bush Foundation grant team told Udstuen they’re willing to pay for a Minneapolis-based architect to look at the school’s space and see what could be done to improve accessibility.

Fielding Nair International is an architectural firm that has designed and re-designed schools all over the world based on culture and geography.

Board members Stephanie Jaster and Thomas Trehus, along with Udstuen, talked to the architects about the process.

“They would meet with everyone, look at our space and figure out how to make our space better,” Jaster said. “They’d also talk to teachers about what they want and don’t want. We’re not looking at building a new school, and it’s not about a higher dollar value that they are looking at.”

Several other schools in Minnesota have worked with the firm. On their website, innovative ideas like movable glass doors and windows allow a common space to be created, but also closed off when testing areas are needed.

The cost for the firm to evaluate the school is $9,000, but the recently received Bush Foundation grant for $150,000 would take care of that cost.

“If we don’t like the plan they come up with, we don’t have to act on it,” Udstuen added. “We can keep working down that path knowing we can halt it when we want to.”

The firm would spend about two days at the school, learning about the geography of the area, getting to know the students, teachers and staff.

“We want to envision beyond something beyond the traditional way of learning,” Trehus said. “We want to transition from kids in desks force fed information to personalized learning. For some kids that works, but for others it does not.”

Udstuen added two big “Ah-ha!” moments were opening up spaces and having a common space for students. It would also help utilize space more efficently.

“I found them very easy to visit with. They wanted to hear about our learning experiences and vision for down the road,” she said. “They know what they’re doing and they’re not pushing us.”

Schuttemeier added the firm knows what options are out there, and “you wouldn’t think of a glass door for a classroom.”

Board members agreed seeing the firm’s ideas would be beneficial.

The board did not take any action on the matter.

Ad-hoc committee

The board agreed to create an ad-hoc committee to research the homework/school balance along with extracurricular activities offered by the school.

Results of a survey sent out by the school revealed that parents would prefer not having after-school activities on Wednesdays and Sundays. Wednesday activities usually include a religious education session for many families, such as confirmation or Bible study.

Sundays are most likely days that families spend together, uninterrupted. The school had a good return rate on the number of surveys taken, of which students also participated in.

The committee will have representatives from parents, teachers, coaches, school board and fine arts advisors/teachers.

The committee’s goal is to talk about the amount of time students spend with homework and extracurricular activities outside of the school day and bring a recommendation to the board.

Board member Brad Hernandez agreed the committee was a good idea and volunteered for the committee.

“It sounds like a seven year process, but let’s start it now,” he said. “We can’t change everything for one comment, but people are tired of showing up late for confirmation or what-have-you because of an activity.”

Udstuen added she was told the cutoff time for school activities was 6 p.m., but she has also heard 6:30 or 7 p.m. There is currently no clear policy on a cutoff time for school activities.

World’s Best Workforce

The World’s Best Workforce committee defined its fourth goal – All Students Career- and College-Ready by Graduation – as “Using the Redefining Ready criteria for Career Ready, the Spring Grove School District will increase the number of students who are “career ready” from 63.3 percent in 2017 to 75.0 percent in 2018.

Guidance Counselor Scott Solberg and Gulbranson worked on the goal and plan for getting students ready.

Udstuen said the plan includes more than just attendance and extracurricular activities. It also includes setting up a program for career-ready skills training and internships.

“We want to build that base for anyone who wants to give it a shot,” she said.

Other news

The board agreed to move $109,000 from the special education revenue to the assigned fund balance. The money will still be used for special education, but now has a name for the fund.

Udstuen recognized paraprofessionals who work at the school, as Jan. 22 to 26 is Paraprofessional Recognition Week. Those people are: Susie Jahnke, Toby Leahy, Aly Meyer, Trisha Myrah, Kasey Thompson, Lynn Solum and Blaine Storlie.

Next meeting

The next regular meeting of the Spring Grove School Board will be Monday, Feb. 26, 2018 at 7 p.m. in the school Media Center.