ALC experiencing some of same challenges as other learning centers

Published 5:02 pm Tuesday, November 22, 2022

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Student graduation rates were inconsistent between students who graduated in different time periods at Albert Lea Learning Center, according to Principal Johanna Thomas, and Thomas couldn’t explain why. 

For example, over 52% of students in a four-year cohort graduated in the 2017-18 school year, but only 38% of a new cohort of students graduated in 2018-19 in the same time frame, while almost 64% of students of the 2019-20 cohort graduated, but under 31% of the 2020-21 cohort graduated.

White students make up over 50% of the student body of 97 students, while over 34% are Hispanic or Latino. Over 52% qualified for free or reduced-priced meals, and almost 18% are in special education. Thomas estimated a handful of students were from other districts.

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The school has six staff, as well as a part-time social worker and a work-based learning worker who goes to the learning center “a couple afternoons a week.” There’s also an administrative assistant and paraeducator.

Every content teacher has an innovative program license that allows them to teach outside of their specialty if needed.

Attendance was an issue, as less than 25% went to the Learning Center at least 90% of the time.

“If you look at the history of attendance with our students, if you look student by student, attendance has been a struggle for years for a lot of students,” Thomas said.

According to Thomas, the Learning Center is in line with attendance at other learning centers.

Thomas said the Learning Center continued to grow its targeted services summer programming, rebranded to “Tiger Tails” this year. The program is for students preparing to enter first grade through ninth grade.

“We had 328 students last summer consistently participate,” she said.

The program is available at Lakeview, Halverson and Hawthorne and is four days per week.

Credit recovery programs started Oct. 3 and will run through May 9 at the high school for math, science, English and social studies. Over the summer, 190 students participated in credit recovery.

Thomas said the center could still expand elective credit opportunities, grow their Early Middle College program and are looking to expand opportunities and partnerships with the Career Force Center. 

Kathy Niebuhr, executive director of administrative services, updated the board on policies for review, including 401, which discusses equal employment opportunities for all applicants for school district employment and for all school district employees. A legal reference was added.

The board approved an update to Policy 402, which is to provide a fair employment setting for all people and to comply with Minnesota and federal law. There was no change to the policy, but there were legal reference additions.

Policy 520, which pertains to student surveys, was updated to include wording that the district can’t impose academic or other penalties on students who decide not to participate in the survey. The school district also won’t impose a penalty for students opting out of surveys. The district has to give parents “direct, timely notice” when their students are scheduled to participate in a survey by United States mail, email or other direct forms of communication. Parents must also have an opportunity to review the survey.

“We take this to mean that we simply can’t put in a newsletter that we’re conducting a survey, we can’t simply put on our website, but we really need to provide direct notice,” she said.

Policy 413, which relates to harassment and violence, was updated to include the term “protected class.” The word “discrimination” was added alongside “harassment.” Targets or victims and alleged perpetrators of harassment or violence will also be notified from now on, not just parents.

Policy 514 was reviewed and approved as well. The policy pertains to the bullying prohibition act, specifically “to assist the school district in its goal of preventing and responding to acts of bullying, intimidation, violence, reprisal, retaliation and other similar disruptive and detrimental behavior.”

The board also reviewed and approved Policy 522, Title IX, prohibiting sexual harassment and discrimination on the basis of sex.

Niebuhr said the process for investigating alleged harassment and discrimination starts with providing supportive measures and providing information to the alleged victim, whether employee, student or family. They will then have the opportunity to file a formal complaint to the district.

“If the individual wants to do that, then we take that complaint, it comes to my office, we meet with the superintendent and we talk to the individual about that complaint,” she said.

At that point, the individual could either decide not to go through with a full investigation or file a formal complaint and request a full investigation.

“Again, in that case we work with the superintendent and we look at taking that complaint, and then it is signed by the parent or guardian,” she said.

Niebuhr said if the alleged victim declined filing a formal complaint, the school would still help as best as possible “within limits and provide those supportive measures.”

If, after review, the district files the complaint they will inform the alleged victim. But if a complaint is filed by a student or employee, the district is required to inform the alleged perpetrator who filed and what the complaint was about.

At that point, Superintendent Ron Wagner would decide who would investigate it, and an investigation would occur.

At any time an accuser can withdraw their complaint and the investigation would end. It would also end if the victim left the district. 

An informal resolution could occur if the problem were between two students or staff members, but not if a teacher was being accused by a student.

After the investigation, a report would go back to Niebuhr, and Wagner would appoint someone else to examine the report to make a decision and additional action would occur if needed. Either the alleged victim or alleged perpetrator could appeal the decision.

“It is a very transparent process,” she said.

“This is a very thorough and … transparent process that takes several days,” Wagner said. 

In other news, Julie Sager, Krista Ahnemann and Barb Beseman were honored as employees of the month for August, September and October. Sager works in Adult Basic Education, Ahnemann  is a sixth-grade English teacher and Beseman is an administrative assistant.

In consent items, board members approved hirings for Flor Turrubiartes, Brenda Sorenson, Stephanie Breuer, Ginger Friday, Jason Davis, Mary Appleton, Marci Maier and Shannan Nelson. They approved leaves of absence for Laura Wangen, Samantha Dorman, Matthew Dorman, Khorn James, Beth Isaacson, Rachel Crosby, Kiah Bonnerup and Alissa Peterson. The board also approved the resignations of Say Rober, Kayla Bahr, Jennessa Runia-Bade and Kelsey Eide and retirements of Edward Chapman and Diane Heaney.

The district spent $4.461 million for the month, and received donations totaling $17,707.