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Kenmare school board discusses range of topics and conducts evaluation of superintendent during retreat

Kenmare school board members talked about a variety of topics and changes for the district during a retreat held March 9th, but the only official business they conducted that day was an evaluation of Superintendent Duane Mueller.

3/23/11 (Wed)

By Caroline Downs

Kenmare school board members talked about a variety of topics and changes for the district during a retreat held March 9th, but the only official business they conducted that day was an evaluation of Superintendent Duane Mueller.
As in previous evaluations, the board rated Superintendent Mueller “satisfactory” in the areas of his relations with the board, relations with the community, retention and recruitment of staff members, and relations with students and parents.
Board members rated Mueller “satisfactory” in the areas of financial management skills, educational leadership and supervision of buildings and grounds, especially in regard to the renovation and remodeling project started last summer.
The board rated Mueller “satisfactory” in the areas of supervision of transportation, professional and personal development and characteristics, and extra-curricular programs. They especially praised his active participation in conferences and his positive attitude toward his own continuing education at workshops and meetings.
New calendar proposed
Once they completed Superintendent Mueller’s evaluation, they turned their attention to other matters, including a modified calendar for the 2011-2012 school year that would end the first semester before the holiday break on December 22nd.
Classes for the year would begin on August 22nd, with breaks for Labor Day, teacher convention, Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving during the first semester. Second semester classes would begin on January 3rd, with spring break scheduled for March 15 and 16. May 17th would be the final day of classes, with graduation held May 20th, although board members raised the possibility of holding graduation on a different date in order to avoid conflicts with other graduation ceremonies in the area.
Action will be taken to approve the 2010-2011 calendar at a later board meeting.
Building needs and buses
The board reviewed several proposed buildings and grounds projects, with the understanding that funds for such projects may be limited while payment continues for the renovation project.
Repairs to the coal furnace, especially the bin and auger, were considered the top priority. Board members designated new playground equipment at the high school as the second priority, with a group of parents also working on that project and a donation promised by Kenmare Veteran’s Club, Inc. to help with expenses.
The board named replacement of the ceiling tiles in the high school commons and office area as the third
priority, both because of damaged tiles and possible asbestos abatement. Other projects discussed included renovations in the vo-ag area, replacing the gymnasium floor, possible roof work, and improvements to the entry doors at the high school to reduce the amount of cold air entering the building.
Superintendent Mueller announced the Minot Regional Education Association (REA) had again applied for a federal transportation grant that would pay school districts up to 50 percent of the cost of a new bus if an older model, less environmentally-friendly bus was taken out of service. Board members discussed the possibility of replacing Bus No. 1 in the fleet, a 2001 model with 156,000-158,000 miles on it.
If the Kenmare district participated in the grant program again, the district would receive about $40,000 toward the cost of a new bus. “Our interim balance will be less if we do that, but it makes sense to use their money,” said business manager Renae Murphy.
New staff needs
Although enrollment numbers for next school year are a mere projection at this time, board members talked about the potentially high numbers of students in the primary grade classrooms.
Superintendent Mueller reported that currently 28 kids are enrolled in kindergarten, resulting in two classrooms. First grade has 25 students, with a split class, and second grade has 23 students.
“We’re anticipating at least 25 second graders next year, maybe more,” said Mueller, “which means another second grade teacher.”
However, adding a classroom to the Kenmare Elementary School building could result in moving another grade out. “If we would split the second grade, we would have to move third grade to the high school,” Mueller said, “and I really want to keep the elementary building as a K-3 building. As more and more kids move into our district, we’re expecting to see younger families with more elementary-age students, like they’ve seen in Stanley and Divide County.”
Action regarding additional teaching staff will be taken at a later date. Mueller also noted the current third grade class has 22 students enrolled, while fourth grade has 24 students and fifth grade has 17.
High school principal Scott Faul noted that the large sixth grade class would easily be accommodated by the junior high schedule next year, and no additional teachers would be necessary.
Board procedures and patron complaint policy
The board also took some time to review their own roles and procedures, and talked about ways to streamline their work and communications. To that end, the board will reduce their paper load by using more online resources, with each board member receiving a laptop computer loaded with the necessary software and files pertaining to school district activity. The computers will be refurbished from among the school’s current inventory, after new netbook computers are purchased for student use.
Board members discussed reducing the length of time given to committee reports during regular board meetings, with minutes from those committee meetings to be sent by email to all board members for review prior to a meeting. “That way, if you have questions about the committee’s recommendations, you can contact the board members on the committee before the meeting,” said board member David King.
Any official actions of the board will still be taken during regular board meetings.
Board members talked extensively about their role in communicating with district patrons, especially when those patrons were unhappy with a board or administrative decision. King reminded board members of their duty to inform the superintendent about patron complaints and to direct patrons to the principal or superintendent with their concerns, as stated by the district’s Patron Complaint Policy.
“We’re the people’s representatives,” countered Mike Zimmer. “If someone talks to me about a problem, I should listen. A lot of them are intimidated, and a lot of them think their kids will get picked on [if they complain].”
“There’s a whole procedure about how to handle a complaint,” King said. “If it’s bad enough that Superintendent Mueller has to do an investigation, it should be handled now.”
He added that if the board did not like the way situations were being handled by the administrators, then the board could change policy, but not interfere with the administrators’ responsibilities. “When we get a complaint as board members, we need to steer them toward the administration,” he said.
Board president Lenny Rodin reiterated that he would not shy away from listening to concerns expressed by parents and other district patrons.
“Absolutely not,” agreed King. “In those cases, I will follow that up with a call to the superintendent and then make my own return call to the patron.”
Board members also received a self-evaluation document to complete and return to Murphy later in March to review their effectiveness as a board.
The next regular meeting of the Kenmare school board will be Tuesday, April 19th, at 7 pm at Kenmare High School.