Superintendent: Student enrollment is up

Published 10:05 pm Monday, August 20, 2018

Teachers welcoming students to school Tuesday will see more new backpacks walk through the door than after last summer, the Albert Lea Area Schools superintendent said.

“This is the highest student enrollment we’ve started with since the past decade,” Superintendent Mike Funk said in front of the Albert Lea School Board Monday evening.

Since July 8, 137 students enrolled for this school year. This is almost double last summer’s enrollment, Funk said.

Mike Funk

“If we’re looking for a positive sign of growth in our community, the school district is certainly one of those positive things that is going on,” he said.

Not including Area Learning Center and early childhood programing, enrollment for kindergarten through twelfth-graders was 3,380.

Those students will start the year with updates to the district’s violent behavior policy, its harassment and violence policy and its student discipline policy. The board also heard updates made to the activity code by Activities Director Afton Wacholz in collaboration with coaches and administration.

Wacholz said decisions on consequences were made with the intention to retain children in the programs “because we know that the lifelong experiences and lessons that they’re learning from being a part of this are obviously our most important concerns.”

Coaches and Wacholz specifically looked at the educational components of consequences outlined in the chemical violation code. After the first violation, students have a one-on-one hour-long chemical education meeting with a Freeborn County Court System representative in the school building, which should be scheduled within two weeks of the violation. Students are also required to complete eight hours of community service, which Wacholz said was a lower number than what children were previously required to meet. These hours are not in addition to court-mandated hours, but Wacholz said not all violations come to the school through the court system. The first violation also means students will miss two weeks or two events, in line with recommendations from the Minnesota State High School League.

The second violation penalty means students will miss 50 percent of the scheduled contests for the calendar of their respective sports. This was originally the punishment for the first violation, Wacholz said. After the third penalty, students lose eligibility for six months.

“At that point, we really feel that there’s something that needs to be addressed,” Wacholz said. To return, students are required to enter and complete a chemical dependency program or treatment program of their choosing.

School board member Mark Ciota expressed concerns regarding the severity of punishment for offenders of the policy.

“These are all young adults that have signed, with their parents, an attestation that they’re not going to violate, and it just seems like a road to mediocrity to me,” he said. “… To me, sporting is a privilege, not a right that any of them have.”

Funk said the policy is a handbook issue and was brought before the board for community feedback. Albert Lea High School Principal Mark Grossklaus also said Wacholz and the district’s coaches are also looking for leadership opportunities to work with children ahead of chemical violations.

The board did weigh in on and approve three district policies at its Monday meeting. A July edit to the district’s violent behavior policy changed wording regarding when teachers and appropriate staff are notified of a student’s history of violent behavior, adding a district employee to the list of those whose behavior against requires notification to the student’s teacher. Monday’s policy update added a two-year time cap to how long teachers must be notified of a student’s history of violent behavior before it is no longer deemed relevant. Executive Director of Administrative Services Jim Quiram said this time frame is consistent with other districts’ policies he reviewed.

The district’s harassment and violence policy included added harassment and violence based on gender identity and expression to its list of prohibited behavior, which already included race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, familial status, status with regard to public assistance, sexual orientation and disability. Quiram said this change was recommended by the Minnesota School Board Association’s model policy.

Another change means the school district can now implement sexual abuse prevention programs to prevent and reduce policy violations.

Finally, the school board approved changes to the district’s student discipline policy, which Quiram said was “long overdue.” While several changes were made, he said there were no significant changes to the intent of the policy. Some changes were in line with MSBA’s model policy and some were changes recommended by the district’s policy committee.

In other action, the school board recognized AP scholar students, who Grossklaus said took at least three Advanced Placement tests and scored a minimum of a 3 out of 5 or higher. Thirteen students qualified, including Andrew Huerta-Ortiz, Jacob Johnsrud, William Kreun, Alex Romer, Aliya Verness, Noah Wiese, Theresa Wolfe, Ella Zelenak, Dayna Edwards, Jens Lange, Luz Ruiz, Logan Alfson and Jill Peterson.

“They’re just great role models for the rest of our students,” Grossklaus said.

About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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