School board celebrates new signage, approves assessment days

Jordan Gerard/SGH Second-grader Natali Walsh explains a typical day of personalized learning to School Board Chair Aaron Solum.

The Spring Grove School Board celebrated several items at their monthly meeting on Monday, April 16.

Several new signs greet students, staff, faculty and visitors around the school. Administrative assistant Rachel Bjerke and fifth grade teacher Kelsey Morken wrote a grant to place new signs in the school. They were awarded a $10,000 grant from PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support), which is a division of the U.S. Office for Special Education Programs.

The signs give a new look of expectations that are universal for the K-12 building, such as the four pillars of behavior. Those are “Respect Others,” “Respect Yourself,” “Respect Property” and “Respect Community.”

Classrooms received smaller signs that lists above the line, below the line and bottom line behavior, which echoes the school’s behavior policy.

A large sign with a lion on it shows the definition of lionhearted, which on the signs says “brave and determined.” Synonyms for lionhearted are listed as “courageous, valiant, gallant, valorous, fearless and bold.”

Another sign hangs outside the choir room with the phrase, “to learn music is to learn a whole new language.”

Robin Bartell created the signs. Rack cards for new students will also be made and put into a folder for them with other materials they need to start at Spring Grove. The office will also get new nameplates and signs.

Assessment days

In the general report, Udstuen brought the 2018-19 calendar and a draft of the 2019-20 calendar. Elementary teachers Kelsey Morken and Matt Rosaaen talked to fellow teachers and then presented to the board the idea of having assessment days in September.

The idea is to have Sept. 4 and 5 as K-6 assessment days. Sept. 6 would be the first day of school for those students. Grades seven -12 would attend classes as normal (with school starting Sept. 4).

Assessment days allow teachers, students and parents to get to know each other. It’s especially helpful for teachers to see where students are academically. Caledonia and Mabel-Canton districts have had success with their assessment days.

Spring Grove currently hosts “Back to School” night, however, Morken pointed out students and parents often drop off their school items and leave.

“For me as a teacher, sometimes I don’t even see some of the students because I’m too busy talking to others,” she said. 

Rosaaen agreed and said it takes him about three weeks to finish getting through assessments, looking up records and getting into reading groups.

“Using the assessment days, we’ll be able to get into guided groups faster,” he said. 

Teachers plan to allot 30 minutes for each student and their parents or guardians. During that time, students will complete schoolwork that will allow the teachers to see how much information was retained over the summer. It’s also beneficial for parents to see where their student is at academically.

This also allows teachers to create a plan of action before school starts.

Before or after the 30-minute time slot with the teacher, parents and students can fill out forms for medical, emergency contact, religion release time, lunch money accounts and bus information.

The teachers also hope to complete vision and hearing screening on the assessment days, versus holding them during the school year.

Superintendent Rachel Udstuen liked the idea of that process and said Back to School Night is often done within 70 minutes, leaving little time to ask questions or connect with parents.

To accommodate the change in the schedule, the school is considering a partnership program with Nisse Treehouse Daycare for school age childcare. 

The two days would have different starting times to accommodate parents who work later in the day. Families can expect to spend about an hour at the school.

“I think this is an awesome way to bridge the gap in communication, especially for new parents, or transitioning grades parents,” Bjerke said. “Back to school is fun and exciting but it’s a time crunch.”

The board approved assessment days and the calendars. There will not be a Back to School Night this year.

Personalized learning

Principal Nancy Gulbranson invited second grade ambassadors Tyler Turner, Max Thorson, Josephina Jaster, Natali Walsh and Roland Bjerke (who was not present) to tell the board about their personalized learning.

Board members, staff and parents traveled to their second grade classroom, where each student explained how the process worked.

Students start their day by choosing 30-minute stations they want to do, such as reading, math, social studies, science and other subjects. 

Five students are allowed to be in one station at a time. Students can choose different subjects or stay with the same subject for each 30-minute station.

Students use worksheets and other materials to complete lessons. If they don’t understand a topic, they go to a “Coaches Corner” with teacher Matt Rosaaen. That session also helps the teacher assess what the student already knows.

The students are also discouraged from signing up for the same sessions with a friend (to ensure studying is done).

Rosaaen has a computer system that keeps track of students’ progress. Students put completed assignments in their mailboxes at the end of the day. It’s not a competition, and students can go at their pace, but the students do like to compete among themselves, he said.

“There’s an advantage to it. I’ve seen students struggle throughout the years,” he said. “When they can choose what to do, they like learning a lot better.”

Rosaaen also gives seminar lectures to students so they have a sense of traditional learning. 

Gulbranson said the learning style is an “incredible amount of work” for Rosaaen, but there’s busy learning going on.

“It looks a lot different,” she said. “The kids are proud of telling you what they’re working on. They own their learning.”

Principal’s report

Also in her principal report, Gulbranson reported online testing for students was going well. She thanked Chris Deck, Jeff Thompson and Scott Solberg for working with her to get all of the students tested.

She has also challenged the students to raise their scores in reading or math. If that happens, she will throw the students a sundae party outside in warm weather.

If they raise scores in math and reading, students will have the opportunity to decorate their K-12 principal as a giant sundae, with all the toppings.

Gulbranson announced the Academic Excellence ceremony would be held May 8, at 10:30 a.m. at the cinema, followed by a catered meal at Doc’s Blue Moose, courtesy of the Bingham Foundation.

Students in ninth grade who earn a 3.9 GPA, tenth grade who earn a 3.8 GPA, eleventh grade who earn a 3.7 GPA and twelfth grade who earn a 3.6 GPA (based on third quarter cumulative grades) earn academic excellence.

Gulbranson said she is also bringing back Grandparents Day at school during the week of Syttende Mai. 

Students in grades K-3 can invite their grandparents or significant adults in their life to attend school with them.

There will be vocal performances under the direction of Bethany Engen, and artwork by the students showcased by Renee Eiken. Students and their guests will eat a sit-down meal, and then tour their grandparents through the school.

“It provides good conversation with grandparents or significant adults in their life,” Gulbranson said. “They show them where they live during the day.”

Finally, Gulbranson announced a color run for grades K-6. A few of the elementary teachers are interested in running, and from that, a conversation developed to hosting a color run on the students’ track and field day, May 30.

Students will wear a white t-shirt and as they run, they’ll get splattered with color.

Superintendent’s report

In her superintendent’s report, Udstuen attended Southeast Minnesota Superintendent Day at the capitol building in St. Paul.

There she talked to Minnesota Rural Education Association Executive Director Fred Nolad and Legislative Affairs Director Sam Walsef about what education advocators, legislators and superintendents should be pushing through the state government.

“It’s a short legislative session this time around, but there’s a lot of talk about money for safe schools,” she told the board. 

Fiscal report

In the fiscal report, the board approved non-certified staff negotiations, which gives the same salary increase to staff who do not have a teaching license. That would include janitors, cooks, custodians and similar positions.

The salary increases will be 1.3 percent in the first year and 2.7 percent in the second year. It will be the same match as the 403B match, which matches Spring Grove Education Association.

Personnel report

Udstuen reported newly hire special education teacher Morgan Ihde turned in a letter of resignation because of relocating to Rochester.

Teacher Lindsay Mackie was placed on unrequested leave due to scheduling decreases. She is the on the schedule for one block next year, so her contract decreased from .333 FTE to 1.67 FTE.

Udstuen also received a letter of resignation from math teacher Wes Kimball because of relocating back to the cities.

Other news

The board swore in Jenny Stender as the new school board member. Monday night was Stender’s first night as an official school board member.

The board approved no changes to numerous policies. The board reviews  a set of policies every three years.

Next meeting

The next meeting of the Spring Grove School Board will be May 21, at 7 p.m. in the Media Center.