By Jim Boyle
Parents and teachers opposed to a broad range of proposals to infuse more technology and foreign languages into District 728 curriculum have decided to fight fire with fire.
One parent set up a group on Facebook that, as of Wednesday, Jan. 15, had 3,044 members. Another started a petition on the social media site seeking to table the proposed changes. And one physical education teacher crafted a five-minute video infused with a slideshow to bring home his point that intensifying the use of technology in the school district should not come at the expense of physical education or health classes.
With the help of Facebook, the group has mobilized its efforts and they packed Elk River City Hall Jan. 13. That was the first open forum session since the Dec. 18, 2013, meeting at Elk River High School when proposals to change the way education is delivered in the Elk River Area School District were publicly announced.
The Elk River Area School District’s Collaborative Leadership Team wants to create competitive advantages over other student choices, members said.
There are 2,811 students who live in the school district but do not attend District 728 schools.
Teachers in the board room Jan. 13 were gym, social studies 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 they can take something else instead. Meanwhile, the amount of art, music and physical education is proposed to be scaled back at the elementary school level to allow for a course in technology literacy.
At the middle school level, family and consumer science 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.
Ever since these proposals surfaced, members of the Elk River Area School Board have been flooded with emails, phone calls and questions about proposed delimeters that were crafted to avoid a piling on of assignments to teachers and other District 728 personnel while advancing the district’s strategic plan. Teachers and their union, the Elk River Area Education Association, say they were caught off guard and have questioned plans to scale back music, art, physical education and health in favor of adding a standalone technology course and foreign language.
Jen Moreau, of Rogers, started the Facebook page on Jan. 6, after she became aware of the proposals and talked other parents who were not aware of them. She decided to get more involved and create the Facebook page to start a dialogue with parents. Teachers and others have joined the conversation, and the Elk River Area School District has even started a Facebook page and Twitter account to disseminate information.
As of Jan. 12, there were 2,914 members engaged in conversation and it has continued each day since.
Katie Shatusky, a lifelong resident and mother of an elementary school-aged child, worries the changes to the school schedule will steal away subject matter and topics that her daughter excels in and make it tough for her to enjoy school. She started the online petition on Jan. 7, calling for the Elk River Area School Board to table its delimiters discussion.
As of the meeting on Jan. 13, there were 679 signatures and 54 comments from parents and other concerned citizens in District 728. She printed them off and provided each board member a copy.
“There may not be 700 people in this room agreeing with me, but I feel that it’s important to show you that through 21st century technology, communication is possible and it does work,” she stated. “It may not be a café discussion, or a vague article in the newspaper, but people will tell you how they feel and to me, allowing that should have been considered, not assumed.”
Shatusky asked the board to consider if changes it’s considering could lead to an exodus of students in the district.
“I know one of the main focuses of this change was to attract new people into our city and school systems, but my questions to you is this: How will you retain the current residents, parents and students who disagree with these changes? … If it is your intention to entice more students with the proposed changes, you might consider the current over-capacity classrooms across our district first,” she said.