Albert Lea schools to focus on streamlined improvement

Published 9:31 pm Monday, August 19, 2019

Input from teachers, students, parents and other staff will come together to form a baseline from which Albert Lea Area Schools will aim to grow as schools implement a framework to become more effective in promoting student learning.

High Reliability Schools is a long-term school improvement plan with short-term specific areas of focus, said Sibley Instructional Coach Jill Petersen.

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“Historically, in education, we’re really well researched … but it sometimes is detrimental,” Petersen said. “There’s a lot of things that come on the plate. We try a lot of things, and sometimes we just, we have too many things going on.”

She said high-reliability schools will focus the staff by making them start in one area and then move on.

Those areas manifest themselves in five levels. Each level is intended to gauge performance by the schools in their work toward reliability: safe, supportive and collaborative culture; effective teaching in every classroom; guaranteed and viable curriculum, standards-referenced reporting and competency-based education. The fourth and fifth levels are optional — and require big-system and philosophical changes that a lot of schools aren’t ready for, said Albert Lea High School English teacher Therese Netzer.

The model can be applied to grade three and up.

Stakeholders in the district — staff members, students and parents — will be surveyed in the fall to establish what the district is already doing well and to identify areas in which it needs to improve, said Albert Lea High School Principal Mark Grossklaus. Staff members will be surveyed Sept. 4, while parents may be surveyed at the first set of conferences and students surveyed somewhere in between. The goal is to determine how to take what the schools are already doing and focus on how to keep improving, Grossklaus said.

That survey results will be compiled by data experts at Marzano Resources, the company that developed High Reliability Schools, Grossklaus said. Then, schools work toward proving to the company, through work they’ve done, that they are achieving levels. For instance, Grossklaus said, the district’s ALICE training and providing an app to help those with computer and phone access deal with crisis situations could serve as some of that proof toward level one.

Each school is evaluated individually and could move at different paces, Grossklaus said.

A group of administrators and teachers went to Colorado to attend a conference about High Reliability Schools in July. School board member Jill Marin asked what that cost, and said after the meeting that she had received questions on the cost from community members.

Grossklaus said the money used was set aside for staff development, and that administrators’ costs were covered by the travel allowance and an agreement to use two years-worth of money and not go anywhere else.

After the meeting, school board chairman Ken Petersen said he hears the passion of the staff and sees their continual desire to improve.

“They’re not satisfied with where they’re at, so that’s been great to see,” he said.

In other action:

• The board recognized several students for their performances on AP tests.

• The board also recognized Mark Jensen for his several years of service to the district. Jensen is the district’s network administrator and helps ensure all its technology is working.

“He will troubleshoot to the nth degree until it’s fixed,” said Executive Director of Administrative Services Kathy Niebuhr.

• The Albert Lea Area Schools board passed its immunization requirements policy after its final reading. The board also passed four other policies: family and medical leave, harassment and violence, bullying prohibition and student sex non-discrimination — which Niebuhr said had no changes.

• The school board entered a closed session, which Niebuhr said afterward was part of the process for preparing for the next superintendent evaluation. The superintendent is evaluated annually. This year’s evaluation was a three-hour session in March.


About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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