1/20/2023 3:16:00 PM North Branch School Districts retain some lessons learned
by DENISE MARTIN
If school district officials learned anything from the pandemic it was to be prepared.
Districts in Minnesota developed and adopted their “safe learning continuum” a sliding scale consisting of five levels of providing learning, based on the prevalence of covid-19 in the community. The levels allowed education plans to be tinkered with or fully switched to distance-learning in a quick turnaround time.
North Branch School Board members heard last week, some of these procedures have proved to be valuable beyond covid-19, however.
According to North Branch Superintendent Sara Paul, the district is still applying what was working during covid. Evident already in this winter season is the potential for Mother Nature to throw weather related hurdles. North Branch is already at the cusp of draining its scheduled “snow days” at certain grade levels— but the School Board members heard last week how learning can comfortably continue outside of buildings when necessary.
Minnesota schools are mandated to provide 165 instructional days, which is actually broken down to total instructional minutes per grade level. Supt. Paul assured the Board that if the district is faced with not opening buildings, for whatever reason, staff and program aides are ready for distance learning. The district implemented similar practices for 28 days at one point in the pandemic, so she and the “safety team” are confident that quality education can still be provided even at the most restrictive end on the continuum.
Board Chair Tim MacMillan was heard to comment the district could be dealing with weather challenges beyond what wintertime throws at Minnesotans. Weather is becoming more severe and unpredictable and there may be times in spring or down the road in other seasons that school is cancelled, he added.
Supt. Paul said there are still many families who have Internet access problems and the district is working on how learning can happen in those locations.
Students on Individual Education Plans (special ed) will get contacted directly in time of distance learning and a case manager will be available. All instructors are in the e learning loop as well.
Paul said these discussions started in response to seasonal waves of illness but there’s also the possibility of power outages or a watermain break, or any number of disasters befalling the system and distance learning will be needed.
She added that there is still value in scheduling snow days and she has good memories of getting time-off when she was school-aged. But if need-be, North Branch is prepared for shifting to all distance learning.
As for the rest of 2022-2023 she also assured the Board North Branch will not simply tack-on days in June if the next few months’ worth of snow days get used up. There is no productive learning on those days, she stated.
Results of the family engagement survey show support for the motto: Choice not Chance.” This means students and families want to own their experience in school—including getting in the right lane for career prep.
Board member Heather Neagele said her high school student is noticing opportunities to position himself to pursue desired outcomes after he graduates. Chair MacMillan also said college presentations and career guidance in general seem to be more accessible to the student body and “intentional”. This week Jan 19-20, was when transcripts are being provided to high schoolers. Students will be shown course selection tips during their flex time, preparing for a February 6 and 7 registration event.
In other business the School Board adopted a revised 2023-2024 calendar from the draft version presented last month. The “Welcome Days” next fall will be right before and after Labor Day, so there will be three days of the first week of school.
Staff gets a development day on Jan 2, freeing up one more day for return from family holiday break. Staff development day in March was shifted to May.
Parent-Teacher Conference dates were aligned for all buildings.
The attendance policy was also adopted on the second reading— and now accomodates as an excused absence, visits to college and vocational-tech school campuses. Board member Adam Trampe thanked staff for re-writing this so it “reflects reality” and eliminates some rigidity in the policy. (Press school board report Sept 15.)
In substantial donations accepted recently, the Board acknowledged Stacy-Lent Fire Relief Association for a $10,000 donation to scholarships. The association also gave the clay targets program $2,500 and boys basketball $1,000. The VFW donated $1,000 to the JROTC program.