School board focuses on multiple areas

Published 10:20 pm Wednesday, September 5, 2018

With the help of some experts, the Albert Lea school board studied up on district programs and progress Wednesday afternoon.

Albert Lea Area Schools administration covered successes and areas of improvement for the district as a whole as well as within athletic programs, the budget, staffing, technology in the schools, the elementary school programs, secondary programs, curriculum, school safety and special education.



Executive Director of Administrative Services Jim Quiram said a continuing focus for district staffing is recruitment and retention. Although the district’s positions are filled, he noted state and national teacher shortages and efforts to continue staffing the district. Specifically within the district, Quiram said specific shortage areas include special education and speech-language pathology staff. For Albert Lea, he said the top three limitations for new teachers are location, social life and housing.

“It’s about attracting and keeping people that want to be here,” Quiram said.

According to Quiram, the district issued 942 W-2 forms in 2017. Of those, 550 were for regular employees and 305 were licensed teaching staff. This year, the district has 40 new teacher hires. School board chairman Ken Petersen asked whether that number was normal for the district. Quiram said the usual new hire count sits between the high-20s to mid- to high-30s, and therefore counted this number in the normal range for the district.


Schools and curriculum

District schools continue to move forward in implementing ALICE — alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate — training for active shooter response situations. According to Director of Elementary Services Mary Jo Dorman, elementary schools will be working with a children’s book that uses animals to give strategies for emergency situations. “I’m not scared… I’m prepared!” is an ALICE read-aloud material accompanied by activities. Dorman said elementary schools will begin working with the book and activities within the next few weeks. Superintendent Mike Funk said buildings throughout the district will be doing drills of different levels beginning this month.

Also at the elementary level, Dorman said she has received positive post-data from social-emotional curriculum classroom lessons led by the elementary counselors placed at all four district elementaries for the first time last school year.

Additionally, a group of teachers spent the summer working on the district’s elementary science curriculum. Dorman said the project has been enlightening to figure out where students are doing well, where they need to see more growth and to figure out how to make that growth happen.

“One of the things we really looked hard at was, ‘What standards in science do we really excel at by grade level, and what standards do we need to work on?’” Dorman said.

Director of Special Services Tami Alphs is looking for growth in a different place: the 18-21 Transitions program, which operates out of Brookside Education Center and focuses specifically on life skills for students with disabilities. She said this year’s program has five participants. Alphs said she is encouraging high school staff to speak about the program with high school parents whose children would potentially benefit from it.

“That’s a program we really need to grow in,” she said.

The biggest success for special education programs has been the Austin and Albert Lea Area Special Education Co-op, which has close to 40 students between the two cities, Alphs said.



The noted change for district technology uses is a ration moving more in favor of one-to-one devices throughout the district. According to Quiram, between staff and kindergarten through 12th-graders, there are 3,254 devices in use in the district — 1,300 of which are used by high school students. Funk said Quiram has spearheaded the increase in devices.

“His new challenge will be, ‘How are we managing them as we move forward?’” Funk said.

According to Quiram, student devices need to be replaced every three to four years. Desktops last longer. As the device count increases, the challenge becomes how to support that technology, Quiram said. This includes ageing technology like the district’s SmartBoards.



This year marked the first of an activities fair for incoming eighth-graders. District Activities Director Afton Wacholz said coaches and advisers appreciated the chance to market their respective activities, and the high school is looking at offering the fair for ninth- through 12th-graders on their orientation day.

According to Wacholz, around 450 students registered to participate in athletics this fall. She said this number is similar to last year, and has held relatively steady for the last three years. Total unduplicated registration for athletic participation in 207-18 was 1,079 students. Fine art registration for the same year was 210 unduplicated participants. Wacholz said this number is somewhat lower than total non-athletic activities participation because this number only tracks activities that require a fee and not those, like clubs, which are not fee-based and have had good numbers.

The district is also looking to develop both its student and employee leadership, Wacholz said. For students, that means Tiger Pride, a five-area approach about expectations in the classroom, at practice, in games, in the community and on social media. While the district-wide guidelines are broad, Wacholz said, the intention is for coaches to work with students in their individual programs to finesse expectations while still maintaining consistency across programs.

For coaches, of which the majority have worked for less than 10 years in the district, there is also the opportunity for leadership development, Wacholz said.

Overall, “We know that there’s potential for a lot of growth, but there are great things that are happening, too, that we want to make sure we’re not forgetting to celebrate,” Wacholz said.

About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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