Halverson principal highlights gains at school

Published 9:45 pm Monday, October 3, 2022

It was a busy night Monday during October’s studying session as Albert Lea school board members listened to district goals. 

Halverson Elementary School Principal Tonya Franks gave a presentation related to the district’s goal of ensuring high quality core instruction with a focus on Tier 1 of the Minnesota Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, which is an improvement framework focused on positive social, emotional, behavioral, developmental and academic outcomes for students. 

“If you look at our Minnesota Report Card demographics, you’ll notice that we are greater than 50% non-white students, which is a huge thing for us to celebrate,” Franks said.

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According to Franks, the school also represented nine languages, something she said was not reported in the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment test results. 

In addition to race and ethnicity, 17.3% of students are English Language Learners, 17.8% are special education students and over 62% qualify for free/reduced-priced meals. According to Franks, the number of students who qualified for meals was down from last year.

In terms of staff, the school has 35 licensed staff, 23 support staff, two success coaches and math and reading tutors from Ampact (formerly called AmeriCorps).

Based on Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment tests, math, reading and science scores improved from last year to this. Math improved from 39% to 57%, reading from 41% to 44% and science from 50% to nearly 76%.

As a school, Halverson scored higher than the district average for the reading achievement rate and slightly less than the statewide average. On the flip side, Halverson scored over 56% in math achievement rate compared to the state average of below 42%.

“Halverson’s collaborative teams have focused our unit planning and cycle-work on math,” she said. “So we really, really dug into our curricular resources and our standards and focused on ‘How do we improve effective instruction in Tier 1 math?’

“We really dug into that. We’ve also started building-wide intervention and focusing on Tier 2.”

But she was particularly proud of the school’s almost 76% science proficiency.

Franks also talked about attendance with board members, where attendance has stayed above 90% for the last four years, which she described as a “healthy” attendance.

She ended her presentation talking about school celebrations, including growth in math across all grade levels, what she described as a strength in the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support in reading and math and the school’s consistent attendance.

Chris Dibble, the high school principal, talked to the board about the district goal of ensuring systems were in place to provide a safe environment for students and staff both physically and emotionally.

“The first big item that was added over the summer is the FLeX Advisory Program,” he said. 

According to Dibble, FLeX is an acronym for Family, Learning and Extra, and was added as a 20-minute daily session where students and staff “could get things done.”

“We did the Homecoming pep fest, we did the coronation and last Friday we did our evacuation drill as part of that FLeX schedule so we’re not borrowing from certain classes,” he said. “All classes give up a few minutes to focus on our student safety.” 

“One of the things we’re focusing on is to continue the education that our students are getting in the eighth grade with their Tiger Pride class,” said Jen Henschel, a staff curriculum writer. “We are doing their top 20 vocabulary, so one of the first weeks we were working on kindness, obviously a star quality and something that we all need to be reminded of is to treat each other with kindness.”

Mondays are check-in days where students and staff go over their weekends and look ahead to what’s happening. Tuesdays are learning days where students pull up their grades and talk with a FLeX leader about how to pass classes and check to see if there’s missing work. Wednesdays are about words of wisdom.

Thursdays are game days designed for students to spend time with each other, and Fridays are check-out days where students ask each other what their plans are for the weekends and review how the week went. 

Marissa Hanson, one of the student representatives on the board, described reception for the program as “mixed.”

“I think it definitely has to do with how your FLeX teacher does it, and also probably has to do with grade level and honestly who’s in your FLeX,” she said. “… I feel like that there’s been a lot of kickback from the seniors because of the fact that we were told we were not supposed to do homework in it if it’s our time to relax.”

She also felt students wanted to use the time for homework, something they aren’t allowed to do.

Fellow student representative Rachel Doppelhammer saw it as a good experience.

“Now that it’s been going on for awhile I actually have learned to really enjoy that time to just take a break and to build those relationships,” she said. “Now I feel like I’m pretty good friends with a lot of people in my FLeX that I’d never met before, and [I] never met my FLeX teacher before. And now I have a good relationship with her. I think it could be really beneficial.”

Dibble also talked about the REACH program, something designed to help students in need of support beyond FLeX. He plans to start the new program later this month.

Superintendent Ron Wagner updated the board on district enrollment, which sits at 3,507 students. According to Wagner, the district is essentially at the same number of students as last year in May, a fact he called “good news.”

He said there was about a 9% increase in kindergarteners, but a falloff of students in high school.

And Steve Lund, the district’s energy manager, updated the board on the district’s energy consumption.

Since 2004 the employee-based Energy Conservation Program has saved the district $5.99 million, with over $514,000 being saved last school year alone. The cost of electricity increased over 10% from last year, while the cost of sewer and water increased over 30%. But it was the cost of natural gas that increased the most, with an almost 104% increase over last year.