Hands-on education, Focus activities and the superintendent evaluation accompanied regular business on the agenda for the Dupree January school board meeting on Monday, Jan. 11.
Board Vice President Nate Grueb shared his report concerning the Northwest Area Schools (NWAS) meeting he attends monthly with board members, expressing concern on the way in which NWAS plans to address the teacher shortage for classes such as the Computer Assisted Drafting/Computer Assisted Machine (CADCAM) course Dupree high school offers its students.
The problem is that there are not enough teachers to address the need
“Northwest Area Schools Educational Cooperative provides special education services to member school districts,” according to the NWAS website.
NWAS offers services to member schools in the following areas: Speech Language Pathology, Birth to Kindergarten Age Screening, Early Childhood Services, Psychological Services, Birth to Three Program and Special Education Services.
For schools who cannot afford to fully fund one or more of these services for students and parents in their district, they join the co-op and access those areas of need on a need basis, saving the district money in the process.
Member schools can also tap into different programs offered by NWAS which include Introduction to Building Traces, Introduction to Drafting and Design, Commercial Graphic Design, Health and Science Careers II, Medical Terminology, Restaurant Management/Culinary Arts 1, Food Technology, Cabling, Welding Technology, ATV Small Engine Mechanics.
Whichever of these programs the school buys into, NWAS sends a teacher to teach the class at the school for a semester in a mobile classroom.
Dupree has a mobile classroom equipped for a teacher to teach a drafting course, the CAMCAD course, but NWAS has not been able to find a teacher to fill that position, and other positions in the areas for which they are supposed to be able to offer schools access to.
To address this shortage, Grueb reported that NWAS has said that the state has allowed applicants to have more time in the field, such as in the medical field, to meet the qualifications for teaching these courses, theoretically opening up the positions to a greater number of possible applicants, and subsequently having more success at hiring people who will be willing and qualified to teach in the mobile classroom setting at different schools.
Grueb also shared with the board that NWAS wants to open up the choice of courses taught within each program to the discretion or preference of new hires.
Neither Grueb nor Superintendent Brian Shanks agrees with the flexibility.
“I think that we have put a lot of money into those units, and if we allow someone to come in and do what they want, they might only stay a year, and then we made all of those changes and will then have to change it again when a new teacher comes in,” Shanks said.
Shanks said, and Grueb agreed that NWAS needs to look for teachers who can teach with the materials and curriculum available, and not change what they have in order to meet what a new, and potentially temporary teacher wants to teach.
The lack of a CADCAM teacher does the students a disservice said Middle School/High School Principal Pandi Pittman, because they do not get that hands-on educational opportunity they were promised. The school cannot offer the class because there is no teacher to teach it.
In addition, Dupree contributes what is called an assessment of $82,000 to garner services through NWAS, and may be looking at an increase in $2500 to $3000 with the efforts being made to hire much needed teachers and special education service providers, such as a psychologist.
Grueb also reported the NWAS will not be able to provide the autism evaluation, but NWAS hope to get two psychologists for next year because of the number of evaluations they do for co-op schools each year. There was no further discussion concerning NWAS.
Dupree School District is a Focus School based on the South Dakota Department of Education (SDDE) school evaluation system.
According to a 2012 SDDE Focus School Guide, a Focus School is identified for one or more of the following:
- Title I schools that are contributing to the achievement gap in the state (GAP Group AMO)
- Title I high schools with a graduation rate below 60% for two consecutive years and are not deemed a Priority School (Graduation Rate)
- Title I schools with any subgroup whose combined reading and math proficiency rate is 75% lower than the GAP Group (Safeguard)
To earn its way off Focus status, the school has to show progress, which Shanks says is not specifically spelled out by the state.
“It’s a matter of showing improvement and effort, but the school needs to show the data to show that improvement and effort,” Shanks said.
However, Shanks and Pittman both are unclear on how to calculate the new attendance percentages, which is one of the areas that classified Dupree as a Focus school.
“It sounds simple, but there are idiosyncrasies that make it unclear how to calculate,” Shanks said.
At the high school, they calculate attendance each class hour, but in the elementary school, the calculation is different because students do not move from class to class, so attendance is not taken each hour.
The new attendance requirement is that 94% of students attend schools 94% of the time. So the question revolves primarily around the time frame calculated. If a student attends school for two hours, is that student considered present for the day, or does the student have to be present all day to count as present?
Shanks said this is just one of the issues the school has to figure out how to one, calculate, and two, meet the expectation.
If the school tightens policies on attendance, such as adding to the current policy that If a student has 10 consecutive absences he or she is dropped by adding that if there are 30 absences in a semester, the school runs the risk of losing the student who may not see any point in trying, after learning he or she will not get credit anyway.
“If we say 30 absences and you can’t pass, then there is no way to get the kids to school,” Shanks said.
“We need to be working with parents, getting them to see the importance of coming to school, and making school more enjoyable so that kids want to come to school,” Shanks said about what the school needs to do to try to address the attendance issue.
Pre-K and Elementary Principal Cindy Lindskov explained that the school is in a planning stage this year, trying to determine of the four “turn-around” principles the school must address as a Focus school, which nine indicators the school will address under each principle, and how they will address and show progress on those indicators.
“We are in the planning stage now, and next year will be full implementation,” Lindskov said.
The concern is the amount of time the Focus requirements take teachers and administrators to understand and implement.
“It’s doable, but developing the implementation takes teachers away from working with students,” Pittman said and Lindskov agreed.
Ultimately, improvement rests in expectations Shanks said.
“There needs to be higher expectations, and [we need to avid] getting caught up in just getting out of here,” Shanks said.
Shanks said that it’s a cultural issue within the school and the community’s perspective of what the school should be and what the school is expected to do.
“When you teach, it has to be less about the subject area, and more about understanding why it [what is being taught] is important and how it is connected to the bigger picture,” Shanks said.
In the superintendent’s report, Shanks also mentioned in the meeting that the school should purchase a generator that would help prevent issues with the freezer in the kitchen when there are power outages.
If there is a surge protector or generator, the school can prevent issues that occur when the power kicks on and off, and avoid the loss of food as a result of the minor mechanical issues.
Shanks also mentioned that the number of students being transported from Iron Lightning and Thunder Butte may not justify the transportation expense and will be something the board will need to discuss in the coming months when planning for next school year.
Shanks also mentioned that the school currently has five days to make up, and the staff is leaning toward wanting to add those days to the end of the school year.
Finally, Shanks reported that the calendar for the next school year is being drafted for input, and expressed a concern that teachers will need collaboration time to address the professional development requirements for next year under the Focus school identification.