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Chisago Lakes Schools

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February 26, 2021

2/5/2021 11:03:00 AM
North Branch High School goes public with redesign; upcoming class of students to kick off new offerings, credits

North Branch High School already is home to course offerings that push the boundary of most standard high schools, for example, a culinary course and modern kitchen classroom for students to get started down a professional food service path.  And, the Junior ROTC program for those who want a taste of a military career.  

Yet, North Branch officials were hearing, as far back as 2018, about the need for more options that could provide a direct pathway into career fields.  Or in the case of students expecting to  attend a prestigious university, the need would be addressed to customize learning useful in the hunt for a four year-plus degree.

High School Principal Coleman McDonough and Curriculum Director David Treichel, over the past couple years, have been meeting with officials from a number of area colleges and tech schools, while also soliciting suggestions from families in the district.  Area manufacturers have also been adding their voice for this complicated process of re-aligning high school offerings.

North Branch staff eligible to teach college level courses were brought into the mix, and specific educational needs for high school kids to achieve trades certificates in some cases, and/or college credit in other skill areas were worked into the Minnesota curriculum mandates.  
Superintendent Sara Paul commented on how the stars had to align to make all this become reality.  “This speaks to the quality of our teaching staff,” she noted.  Supt. Paul added she would challenge the Board to find another district “able and willing’ to bring this all together.

Principal McDonough shared that the post secondary schools— Century, Anoka Ramsey, Pine Tech, etc. “...have been supportive of us to do this.”  Their willingness to get involved has been key.  

And, McDonough stressed that the experience of high school, the social and extra curricular, won’t be lost in this culture shift.  The importance of spontaneous non-classroom memories hasn’t changed from when he was in school he stated.  He remembers the high school homecoming bonfire every bit as clearly as any math problems he tackled.
The notable part of achieving college credits while still in high school is the support the high school community provides to a student.  If you go full out PSEO (education off-campus),  personal task reminders or bringing a parent into the assignment follow-up simply aren’t part of the experience.

As McDonough and Treichel presented the high school “redesign” to the North Branch School Board last week, Treichel said registration for courses in school year 2021-2022, get underway as soon as this week, and it is going to look different.  There will be assistive  registration videos featuring teachers describing and promoting courses, explaining how classes have connections to real life careers.  For example, Treichel explained Pine Technical College helped in development of an 11th grade algebra course to  erase any need for remedial work after high school. The course plan will also “prioritize their needs” (colleges) while the high schooler is fulfilling credit requirements.

Board member Tanya Giese remarked that she’s pleased to hear this presentation.  Expanding high school course selection is one of the reasons she applied to be appointed to a vacancy on the School Board in the first place, she stated. (She was subsequently elected in November 2020.)

There will be two in-person informational nights for North Branch families for class registration during mid-February.  High school instructors are also slated to meet with incoming eighth graders,  to engage incoming high school pupils early on.  This in person communication might wait until later in spring, due to covid-19 virus restrictions right now, Treichel added.

Meanwhile— North Branch is working towards five days a week in school for high schoolers.  

The building has lots of large spaces, where social distance and work areas can be maintained, the Board heard.  Right now the district. has “red and white” days but it is a goal to get the five-day week back, especially to bring elective-class teachers back in contact with their pupils directly.

North Branch District staff are being vaccinated for covid-19 as shots become available. Supt. Paul said the district has been notified periodically when there’s a few doses that can be administered.  About 100 staff members qualify for priority levels of vaccine (age, health etc.) and as of the Board meeting last week about 35 or 40 doses have been completed.  On the day of the meeting (Thursday Jan 28) the district. had just gotten word of 15 slots that were open and these filled by suppertime.  

“That’s the way it’s going to be for awhile,” the superintendent commented.  Shots are voluntary, the district is simply making every available opportunity known as it opens up.

The vacancy left from Kirby Ekstrom stepping down is being filled quickly. Interviews will be conducted February 11, starting at 4:30 p.m.  Appointment action is on the meeting agenda for that night.    Deadline to apply for the Board seat, at the district office, is Feb. 10.

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