11/21/2013 3:13:00 PM North Branch; should four-day week stay another year?
by DENISE MARTIN
Superintendent Dr. Deb Henton gave her “state of the district” talk to area businesspersons gathered at the North Branch Chamber of Commerce luncheon last week. Henton said she has been a little surprised at the community’s reaction to her recommendation to the School Board that North Branch return to five day school weeks.
North Branch eliminated Monday a few years ago under a special exemption granted by the state Commissioner of Education. The move has successfully cut expenses by several hundred thousand dollars. Recent legislative actions increasing state aid to schools will make it financially viable next year for North Branch to add Mondays back onto the schedule. The Press reported Supt. Henton advised the School Board that Mondays should be reinstated in the 2014-2015 school year; but, she said last week, “We have been hearing four-day should stay.” The decision is up to the North Branch School Board whose calendar planning requires a certainty on the upcoming schedule by about March 2014.
There has never been a “clear mandate” for the Board either way, Henton commented. Polls show parents and teachers and students divided on the four-day issue and the public has a divided take on it. She asked chamber lunch attendees to try and contact a school board member in the coming weeks and let them know a preference as far as the schedule for next year’s school calendar. Dr. Henton also asked the public to let the Board know what educational opportunities should be added back with the increased state funding. She said the School Board does listen and considers public input. What’s New As far as “news” in the district, there is an entryway under construction at North Branch Middle School.
A glass vestibule will separate visitors from accessing the open area of the school, and the project should be complete in several weeks. There is a general facilities needs study the School Board expects to receive, for a December or January board work session. Capital expenditures will need to be prioritized. The Sunrise River Elementary School is full, Henton continued, and there needs to be some discussion about accommodating populations of elementary students. Henton also reviewed earlier news about state testing and measurements of school factors called the MMR.
Sunrise River Elementary rebounded from not making “adequate yearly progress” a few years ago, to currently being a “Reward School” at the top of the measurements rankings. She said this was no easy feat considering North Branch is one of the very few districts in Minnesota that does not have an excess operating levy approved by local taxpayers. Supt. Henton took the helm at the North Branch district seven years ago. She said the district’s first strategic plan was implemented over her first five years and many goals were achieved. The district’s strategic focus for 2013-2018 is “Building on Success.” This plan calls for electronic devices to be readily available and now, she said, most contain electronic textbooks.
Teacher and principal evaluation systems are being revamped. Security and student safety is a focus in the plan. Professional development dubbed “What I Need” or WIN is being implemented for staff. The next North Branch Chamber of Commerce lunch is December 10. The events are the second Tuesdays, at the North Branch Legion Post.