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School board hears of scholarship success

By Sue Sitter - | Aug 21, 2021

Submitted Art A graph shows the number of graduating Rugby High seniors qualifying for the North Dakota Academic and Career Tech Scholarship has beaten state averages since 2014.

Rugby Public School Board members praised High School Principal Jared Blikre and guidance counselor Julie Sjol for years of success helping students qualify for a $6,000 state scholarship at their regular meeting, held Aug. 10.

“I’d just like to say Mr. Blkre and Mrs. Sjol have done a great job preparing kids for this scholarship,” said board member Kristi Blessum.

The board reviewed a 10-year report tracking the number of scholarship recipients of the North Dakota Academic and Career Tech Education Scholarship from 2011-2021.

The report showed Rugby High School students had consistently beaten state averages – sometimes by more than 20 percentage points – since 2014.

To qualify for the scholarship, graduating seniors must earn a B average, with no grade lower than a C throughout all four years of high school. Students must also earn no less than a cumulative score of 24 on their ACT exam.

The scholarship is offered only for students intending to continue their education at colleges, universities or technical schools within North Dakota.

The scholarship report showed the percentage of students qualifying for the scholarship had dipped in 2020, when in-person classes were discontinued in favor of online learning. Still, the drop from 48 percent to 33 percent qualifying stayed above the state average of 24 percent.

Board members also heard news for students at the very beginning of their education.

Superintendent Mike McNeff told the board the district had received a $120,000 grant from the North Dakota Department of Commerce’s Best in Class preschool program. The grant supports programs using preschool curriculum from Head Start and offers opportunities for staff development. McNeff said the curriculum ideas could be shared with all preschools operated by the district.

Ely Elementary School Principal Jason Gullickson told the board the school was “fully staffed and ready to go.” The Ely campus had new staff, while “some shuffling” had taken place with others. Kristen Heilman, who had taught kindergarten for the 2020-21 school year, would return as a fourth grade teacher.

Gullickson also said public health nurse Samantha Wentz would visit the elementary school every Tuesday morning to provide services.

Gullickson also gave thanks to Ely’s custodial and maintenance staff for “a job well done” to get the campus ready for the new school year.

Blikre reported Rugby High School had hired three new teachers. The high school’s population had reached 302 students for the new school year, up 50 students from five years ago.

Blikre added Rugby High’s cross-country, football and girls’ golf team had begun their seasons. The Rugby Panthers volleyball team would start their season the week of Aug. 16.

In his monthly report to the board, McNeff noted plans for expanding the Ely campus were in the beginning stages.

“We’ve been busy with a survey coming out to all property owners in the county, also with focus groups and forums (on the project),” McNeff said, adding the district had submitted an application for relief funds from the third round of the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) program. McNeff said he hoped to use the funds for the expansion project.

McNeff said the car used for drivers’ education classes needed to be vreplaced, noting the car the district had used for the classes had “died on Broadway in Minot.”

“We’ve been borrowing the drivers’ ed car from the Towner school district for about three weeks. We weren’t looking to budget for a new driver’s ed car, but we’ll have to do that for the next school year,” McNeff added.

McNeff also reported the district was exploring ways for school policy to be updated and transferred to a searchable online format.

McNeff added the district would study the possibility of adding Esports, or competition using online gaming to the school’s athletics and activities program. McNeff said the North Dakota High School Activities Association would possibly sanction Esports in the future.

Rugby High’s activities review committee would also discuss developing the school’s softball program and seek full funding for it from the district, according to McNeff.

McNeff also asked the board to consider raising pay for substitute and hourly district employees. The board did not vote on the matter.

The board reviewed possible changes to the district’s extracurricular participation policy. They voted to table the matter until Blikre, Athletic Director Scott Grochow, coaches and others affected by the changes had the opportunity to study and discuss it.

In other business, the board reviewed financial information provided by Dawn Hauck, district business manager. Hauk reported a recent audit of the district’s finances “went well.” She reported moving a district budget report from July into a new format to meet state requirements.

Hauck also reported the school’s general fund balance would be “hard to gauge” at the beginning of the school year, adding it would be difficult to compare this year’s financials to those from last year, when school attendance had been reduced due to COVID.

Hauck reported the district’s hot lunch program would continue receiving funds from federal aid programs to address COVID. “We’ll see how that goes,” Hauck said.

Hauck added all employees would move to a new benefits package through a self-insurance program for schools.

Board members approved a school health and safety plan called the Safe Return to In-Person and Continuity of Services Plan.

A committee of parents, educators and health professionals had met Aug. 8 to update the plan. The plan allows for emergencies occurring in buildings at times when board meetings can’t be called.

McNeff said a virtual academy would still be available for students who wish to participate in distance learning, however, he added he had only seen a small number of students find success by learning only online.

McNeff said mask wearing remained optional at both Ely Elementary and Rugby High School. Parents had the option of having their children vaccinated for COVID; however, the district did not require vaccines.

After a year of eating lunches in their classrooms, Ely students would resume having lunch in the cafeteria, according to the plan.

The board opened their discussion to members of the public. Parent Dallas Hager told the group, “My biggest thing is we need to keep on educating these kids. As a country, the U.S. has fallen behind the rest of the world.”

McNeff and board members noted Rugby schools had been open when many schools in other parts of the country had been closed. “Some are just going back now, after about a year and a half,” McNeff noted.

A link to the plan is available online at https://www.rugby.k12.nd.us/domain/2149.

The board will hold their next regular meeting Sept. 14 at 7 a.m.

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