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Kenmare outgrowing grade school building

Enrollment at Kenmare Elementary School is expected to outgrow the building in August.

2/22/12 (Wed)

By Caroline Downs

Enrollment at Kenmare Elementary School is expected to outgrow the building in August.

That projection led the school board’s Building Committee to adjust their priorities, which they reported during the board’s regular meeting held February 14th.

“Our number one priority right now is the need for more room at the elementary,” said committee chair Mike Zimmer. “Looking at the numbers, we’re going to need seven classrooms there next year, and we currently have six. Right now, we have a small kindergarten, but next year, that would be the only class that would need a single classroom. In fact, we anticipate needing eight classrooms there to keep the third graders [in that building].”

The Building Committee had been working on a plan for a back-up heat system at the high school, to supplement the coal furnace, but no federal grants have been made available to assist with heating projects. The committee’s second priority was to replace the ceiling tiles in the high school commons area, but no bids were submitted last month for the job.

In the meantime, the need for more classroom space could not be ignored. “I think we’re going to wind up using a portable and probably building on [later],” said board member Roger Johnson. “I don’t think our numbers are going to decrease. I think they’re only going to increase.”

Board member Jan Kostad agreed with Johnson, saying plans were underway in Kenmare to construct two 12-plex housing units by the end of the summer. “And the city is working on the infrastructure for development on the other side of the highway,” he added, “although we may not see anything there until 2013.”

Superintendent Duane Mueller was checking prices for portable classrooms, with the idea of making a purchase for the 2012-2013 school year, depending on space available for the third grade class at the high school. He noted that moving the third grade from the elementary building would increase travel time between the schools for teachers serving those students.

Zimmer said a fourth project had also become a priority, which involved building a gym and a community wellness center on the north side of the Kenmare High School facility. Because of the need for classroom space, that project could possibly include classrooms.

“I think we would need to raise some money to pursue this project,” he told the board, “but we’re at the point where we either need to put it on hold or get some architect drawings done to present to people in town and help raise some funds.”

His statement generated several questions about the cost of the project and details of the layout. “We can’t get to solid numbers until we have an architect’s drawing,” Zimmer said.

“This may be a five-year project,” said Kostad. “You’ve got to start somewhere. We can call it a gym plan, but it’s really an addition to the school.”

Committee member Lenny Rodin said the group had discussed raising about a half million dollars for the project. “It’s tough to do that without a drawing, though,” he said.

Zimmer said the committee had a few versions of the addition in mind, and he wanted an architect to take those ideas and create several draft plans. “We’re hoping those would have some options, with some prices attached to those options,” he said.

The board approved a motion from Craig Ellsworth to spend up to $8000 to work with an architect to develop general sketches for an addition with a gymnasium, wellness center and classrooms, using concepts from the building committee.

The Building Committee, with members Zimmer, Kostad and Rodin will schedule a meeting to discuss the proposed high school gym and classroom addition with an architect.

The date, time and location of that meeting will be posted at the school business office.

Board to raise funds for $80,000 electronic sign
Board members approved a motion 6-1 to accept a price quote for a two-sided electronic marquee sign at $80,000 including installation but not electrical work, to be placed on the high school property.

Zimmer reported from the Building Committee that the district would pay no more than $10,000 toward the cost of the sign, with $10,000 committed from Kenmare Veteran’s Club, Inc. and an application for additional funds submitted to the Fund-ITT committee for the city of Kenmare.

Rodin explained the committee could now approach Trinity Health in Minot about helping pay for the sign, in exchange for advertising. “We needed to have a motion on record in order to submit a request to Trinity,” he said.

District to request
bids for activity bus
Transportation Committee chairman Craig Ellsworth said the committee recommended the district request bids for an activity bus, with federal grants available again to offset the cost of new bus purchases.

Committee member Michele Nelson described the bus under consideration as having storage compartments above the seats and a hitch for pulling the school’s equipment trailer if necessary.

The grant would pay up to $40,000 of the cost, according to business manager Renae Murphy. “And you have $70,000 set aside in the budget for a bus purchase,” she said. “When these grants become available, there’s no way you’d want to turn that money down.”

Johnson, also a bus driver for the district, described the district’s fleet of route buses as very good. “Our activity buses are where we need to improve on,” he said. “If we get an activity bus, we could probably coast [with our fleet] for a couple of years.”

Board members approved a motion to request bids for a new activity bus.

Elementary enrichment
program going well
Kenmare Elementary School’s After School Enrichment (ASE) program is going well again this year, according to program director Barb Johnson, with about 17 students participating. Johnson talked about the program with board members, at the request of Lenny Rodin.

ASE is available to students in grades kindergarten through six. Parents are informed about ASE through letters home, articles in the newspaper and information posted in the elementary school newsletter, and they have the option to enroll their children.

Johnson works with three other part-time staff members to offer enrichment activities and homework assistance to ASE students. Snacks and recess are part of the schedule, too, with the program running from 3:10 until about 5:30 pm three days each week between October and April.

“The demographics of our program have changed since we started,” Johnson said, “so now about two-thirds of our students are also enrolled in reading interventions and the Title I program. They need help with their homework, and the classroom teachers have been very good about that, providing us with materials and communicating about the students.”

Board members asked if the teachers were noticing positive results. “Yes,” said Johnson. “The students get their homework done with us, and we know for some students, if something goes home it never comes back.”

She explained that in past years, several volunteers provided enrichment activities for the students, including adults who would share various interests or hobbies, or groups like the Kenmare FBLA chapter to work on specific skills such as handling and counting money. In the last couple of years, however, the number of those volunteers has dropped. “One thing I would like to see more of is getting community people to come in,” she said. “The kids love it.”

Superintendent Mueller said parents appreciate the ASE program. “One thing we have to realize is that our demographics are changing,” he said, referring to the increasing numbers of elementary students who need special services or additional assistance in the classroom. “We take kids as we get them and try to push them on, and this is one way to do that.”

“This certainly sounds like a good program,” said Roger Johnson. “It benefits the kids academically, and there’s some enrichment there, too.”

Policies for attendance,
library use and bullying
Board members approved, on first reading, a revised “Attendance and Absences” district policy with the definitions for excused, unexcused, approved and unapproved absences clarified.

The board also approved, on first reading, the revised “Kenmare Public School Library Policy” as recommended by the Policy Committee. Committee chairman Lars Christensen said several sections in the library policy were changed from the former policy.

“The old policy was probably 25 years old,” said business manager Renae Murphy. “The librarian has also looked at it and changed some things.”

Christensen asked board members to review the new “Bullying” policy the district is required to have in place by July 1, 2012. The suggested policy is recommended for districts by the North Dakota School Boards Association.

First reading for the bullying policy will be held during the April board meeting, after Superintendent Mueller has sent a copy of the draft policy to all the groups required to be notified, under state statute, including parents, students, local law enforcement, volunteers and others. Those groups may or may not respond to the policy, as they see fit.

“This puts a document in place so if there’s a problem, there’s also an order as to how to proceed,” said Johnson.

Any district policies can be reviewed at the school business office during regular school hours.

Superintendent evaluation
The board conducted their formal evaluation of Superintendent Duane Mueller, as required to be completed by March 15th of each year.

Board members rated Mueller satisfactory in 10 categories listed on the evaluation, including relationship with the board, with the community and with students and parents, recruitment and retention of staff, financial management skills, educational leadership, supervision of grounds and buildings, supervision of transportation, personal and professional development, and extra-curricular programs.

Open enrollments approved
The board approved four open enrollment requests from the same family.

The children currently attend Kenmare schools, but the open enrollment application became necessary after the parents moved their family out of the school district.

Activities report
Activities Committee chairman Roger Johnson reported the committee and activities director agreed to guidelines stating events within 75 miles of Kenmare would not require an overnight stay.

He also announced that golf, track and softball would be offered during the spring season, given the number of participants for teams.

Only two students signed up for baseball, so that program would not be available this year.

Transition in science
classes going smoothly
Principal Thom reported the transition in the science classes appeared to be going smoothly, with Thurstan Johnson teaching two sections of seventh grade life science. He noted students in the two sections of biology had just completed their first lab for the course, now taught through a distance learning program with the teacher located in Fargo, and all lab supplies were sent to the school.

Superintendent Mueller announced he had received one application for the biology position at the high school.

In other business:
• Board members approved minutes of the January meeting and the district’s bills for payment.

• Board members scheduled a public meeting for Tuesday, April 17th, at 6 pm at Kenmare High School to discuss the Long-Term Demographics of the school district, as required by state law. The regular monthly board meeting will follow that evening at 7 pm.

• The Curriculum and Technology Committee, with members Rodin, Ellsworth and Nelson, will meet Monday, March 5, at 7:30 am.

• The Negotiations and Finance Committee, with members Kostad, Ellsworth and Johnson, will meet Monday, March 5, at 8:30 am.

• The next regular meeting of the Kenmare School Board will be held Tuesday, March 20th, at Kenmare High School, beginning at 7 pm.