by Jim Boyle
Elk River Star News
There wasn’t an open forum to hear it, but resistance to a select few of the Elk River Area School District’s proposed changes for the school system could certainly be felt Dec. 30 in the board room of the Dist. 728 Offices.
Teachers who could be affected by the changes filled in around the board room table and spilled out into the hallways as the Elk River Area School Board took time to go over the proposals that were presented at a Dec. 18 work session at Elk River High School.
Board members talked about the financial impact of the proposed changes and upcoming budgetary decisions. Being that it was the holiday season and several administrators were out of town, not all of their questions could be answered.
It was also clear board members took time throughout the discussions to speak to the educators in the room about the rationale for the proposed changes that are an offshoot of the district’s strategic planning process and the actual plan.
The Elk River Area School District’s Collaborative Leadership Team delivered a wide array of proposals to overhaul the district’s delivery of education. They want to create competitive advantages over other student choices, they said.
“There are 2,700 students that live here (in the district) that don’t go here,” Superintendent Mark Bezek said at the Dec. 30 work session.
Teachers in the board room were gym teachers, social studies teachers and health teachers, primarily. Requirements to take some of these courses are proposed to be eliminated, turning them into elective credits students can choose to take or take something else instead.
Student choice will drive change in the high schools. The plan is to back off on some local social studies and physical education requirements to create that choice. Administrators also want to investigate new schedules to provide more student opportunity.
Administrators want to create a competitive edge and student choice.
Jane Bunting, the chairwoman of the Elk River Area School Board, said Dec. 30 that one of the big reasons for change is board members and school officials keep hearing that students are not able to get into the colleges they want.
“Some of what the CLT has brought back is removal of constraints that prevent foreign languages needed for college,” Bunting said.
Some the proposed changes at the high school are:
•Reduction of social requirement from eight credits to seven.
•Reduction of requirement of physical education from two credits to one.
•Drop Chinese offerings.
•Investigate other schedules to provide more student opportunity (15-16).
•Redesign of ALC Program.
•Online hybrid delivery system.
•Competitive Advantage/Potential Financial Impact.
•Add systemic enrichment opportunity in northern cluster.
•Biomedical at ZHS.
•Attract students from outside of the system.
At the elementary level, some of the ways to transition and transform the district’s school system, called delimeters, have been crafted to place more emphasis on 21st century skills in technological and informational literacy. To help, allocated specialist time will be altered to create a time for media specialists to teach these skills. Later, world languages and science options could be added.
This could be accomplished with a six-day specialist rotation that would build in more flexibility and increase student opportunities in technology next year as well as world language and science the following year.
Students would still receive course offerings in physical education, music and art in 2014-15; however, they would not have them as often. There would be a reduction in time for those classes.
Kindergarten students will have opportunity to participate in specialist courses by attending school all day, every day. This option will be bumped up from a 5.5-hour model being used this year to a 6.5-hour model this year.
World languages will be taught at the middle school level as early as next year. And instead of computer keyboarding in middle school, administrators propose changing to a computer coding course to help students develop a greater working knowledge of apps to help them use and create them.
Bezek said the influx of technology instruction is just the beginning. The long-term goal is to embed technology throughout the curriculum.
Administrators say they are committed to offering different choices to be competitive and relevant in an ever-changing world and to giving more choices to students in the second year.
Family and Consumer Sciences is proposed to be changed to only grades six and eight.
Spanish would be offered in seventh and eighth while art and industrial technology would continue to be offered sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Health is proposed to only be taught in seventh grade, but some of the required curriculum would be covered in other classes.
School Board Member Sue Farber said during the meeting that as they hear from health, social studies and physical education teachers, she is reminded of the band and music parents who have been passionately fighting for more student choice to get the courses they want and need. She said the district doesn’t want to require course that students don’t need.
“We’re trying to fit the needs of 13,000 kids,” Farber said, “to get them what they all need to be successful in their chosen path and get into the colleges they want because they were able to take the classes they needed to take.”
Bezek said no one is proclaiming physical education or health are not important.
“They’re extremely important,” he said. “They’re teaching a lifestyle and survival rather than dodgeball.”
Bezek and the board noted several times that physical education and health are not being eliminated. They are being transitioned to electives. He reminded board members the Elk River Area School Board took steps to strengthen band and music program with a $350,000 investment a few years ago with the realization that changes would be needed at the high school to increase flexibility if the arts were going to expand.
“This train already left the station,” he said.
Making more classes into electives will give students more freedom to choose.
“We’re not cutting these classes, but we’re taking them from required to electives,” Bezek said. “We may not see a change, but now we will be giving students the choice.
“If the numbers change, you could see the arts strengthened. If there’s no change then you’ll have to assess your investment. Was it worth it?”
A next step in examining student choice will be to look at different schedules. A seven-period day is out of the question because it’s expensive, Bezek said, noting there are others that could help the district be more competitive and increase online learning options for students.
Discussions of the proposed changes to the schools and in other facets of the district will continue at work sessions on Jan. 6 and 20, with decisions expected at the Jan. 27 regular meeting of the Elk River Area School Board at Elk River City Hall. The next regular meeting with an open forum is at 7 p.m. Jan. 13 at Elk River City Hall.