Graduation hang-up

Staff Writer
Jennifer Edwards


Policy E-014 graduation requirements did not pass at last weeks meeting of the Big Lake Board of Education as board members asked questions about the need to require more credits than the state requires. 
Principal Bob Dockendorf presented the information. Graduation requirements at Big Lake High School have changed due to the switch from semesters to trimesters, which has given students a wider selection of electives to choose from.
The State of Minnesota requires students to have seven credits of electives in order to graduate. Big Lake’s graduation requirements ask for 7.5 credits of electives. 
However, other schools in the region have chosen to add to their list of requirements for graduation, Dockendorf said. One school requires as many as 13 elective credits. Some schools have added other conditions such as community service to their list. While the state does not require credits in physical education, some schools have chosen to include physical education as a requirement.
“I was wondering if there are better uses of additional credits above state requirements,” said Board Member Tom Pietrzak.
“This is just a baseline,” said Dockendorf, noting many students earn more credits than are required. “Each trimester in a subject counts as one credit, so three trimesters of an elective equals three credits.”
Some subjects, such as math, science and social studies have  required numbers of credits already mandated.
Truth In Taxation
The school district’s Truth in Taxation meeting has been scheduled for Dec. 19,  prior to the school board meeting. The district’s levy on local property taxes will decrease this year by 6.09% due to an excess in the amount collected for debt service, which will be returned to property tax payers via the decrease.
This year residents will contribute $406,017 in taxes. Last year tax payers contributed  $408,304.
The reduction is due to the state debt forgiveness program for new construction the district participated in last year, District Finance Manager Angie Manual said.
Performance Pay
In a three to three vote, board members turned down a one-year contract agreement with non-affiliated staff members of the school.
Board Member Tony Scales objected to the performance pay clause, which was on a sliding scale.
“Either they achieve their goals or they do not,” he said. “And I would not expect that everyone included here will achieve all their goals.”
“This is intended to be pay for performance,” said Board Member Dan Nygaard. “The issue is going to be how you administrate it. That’s hard to do with a paper performance. And everybody can’t do exactly the same. Or we have great employees.” 
“Which we do,” said Board Member Amber Sixberry. “Although some just stand out.”
“This is just for one year,” said Board Chair Tim Hayes, who was on the negotiating committee with Board Member Tom Pietrzak. “We can change it next year if it doesn’t work out.”
Supt. Jonathan Miller, (absent from the meeting), would be the one to decide who did and who did not merit performance raises.
“That would be part of his evaluation too,” said Hayes.
The matter went to a vote, with Hayes, Pietrzak and Nygaard voting to approve the contract. Scales, Sixberry and Hedstrom opposed.
“The committee will need more direction,” said Hayes.
“Don’t have a sliding scale for performance,” said Scales. “It is a yes or no issue. The goals were met or they weren’t.”
“I would like to see this be more defined,” said Sixberry. “This is very broad. Before we vote we should fully understand it.”
“We do want to reward good work,” said Hedstrom.
“I don’t want to get into the objectives,” said Scales. “I just want to know if they were met. Twenty percent met is bologna sandwiches.”
Student Achievement
Director of Teaching and Learning Crystal Thorson gave an update on student achievement for 2012-13,  which parents can find on the district’s website.
“We are putting a lot of weight on our MAP testing results,” she said. “They show continued growth.”
Minnesota students ACT scores were the top of the nation for the eighth straight year, Thorson said. Minnesota students average a score of 23 on the ACTs. Big Lake students scored close to average in the last school year with an average ACT score of 22.8. The national average ACT score is 20.9.
“Until every child reaches their full potential, we have work to do,” Thorson said.
Students have had to take the MCA III math and reading tests for the last three years. These tests are administered online and test scores reflect more rigorous standards, Thorson said. While 95% of students took the online test, students still prefer to take tests with pencil and paper.
“We can’t go backwards,” she said. Kids will just have to get used to it. Soon all testing will be done that way.”
The result will be a drop in test scores next year, Thorson said.
“I guarantee it.”
The board also approved the hiring of one elementary school teacher/counselor, which will help reduce class sizes. This teacher will work with students to reduce bullying, said HR Consultant Hugh Skaja.


Franklin F. Kemp

TYLER HUVER had fun with playdough at the Big Lake School District Early Childhood open house last month. (Photo by Jennifer Edwards.)

GRAY AREAS indicate counties that are not currently part of an RDC. (Submitted chart.)

SOLDIERS LETTERS. The Minnesota Military Veterans Family Tribute (MFT) project is seeking items of correspondence from Sherburne County veterans from the Civil War through today for possible inclusion on the Story Stone each county will have on the memorial now under construction on the State Capitol Mall in St. Paul. The photo depicts an artist's rendition of the material to be etched on the stones, one for each of the 87 counties in the state.