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Technology, updates top school board agenda

By Staff | Apr 17, 2020

A sign in front of Rugby High School carries a message from teachers to students: "We miss you." Sue Sitter/PCT

The Rugby Public School District Board held its April regular meeting via online teleconference Tuesday morning.

Superintendent Mike McNeff briefed the board on topics he discussed with parents and community members in a live social media session last Wednesday.

McNeff’s report included a description of security changes to classroom and school meetings held through Zoom meeting software. Flaws in the platform have come to light nationwide.

“We’ve done a lot of work and our teachers understand why we keep changing our direction with security,” McNeff said. “We need to make sure those spaces are safe for our kids and they aren’t compromised by people who shouldn’t be there.”

Both Ely Elementary School Principal Jason Gullickson and Rugby High School Principal Jared Blikre told the board they used Zoom for classroom sessions and individual education meetings for special education as well as communicating with teachers.

Gullickson reported the Ely Elementary building has received a “deep cleaning.”

“It looks like brand new,” Gullickson said of the building. ” (Staff) Butch, Missy and Candy have done a fantastic job. They haven’t entered into any type of summer cleaning. There’s a glimmer of hope (students) may get back into there,” Gullickson said.

An executive order from Gov. Doug Burgum closed public schools in North Dakota “indefinitely” as of March 16.

Gullickson said COVID-19 restrictions meant kindergarten registration for the school took place online.

“This morning I checked, we have 35 students enrolled for the coming school year. That’s very encouraging,” Gullickson said.

Gullickson noted 15 kindergarteners had been registered in April 2019. “We ended up with 36 students to start the fall,” he said. “The year before, we had 21 pre-registered and ended up with 55.”

“I hope the online registration process has been a little more efficient for parents and we’re closer to the actual number (of students enrolled next fall),” Gullickson added. “I’m anticipating 10 more. It’s still hard to plan, but I’m anticipating 45 to maybe upwards of 50 kindergarteners next year.”

Gullickson put the total number of Ely Elementary students enrolled at 352. Of that number, 40 are pre-kindergarteners.

“From what I’m seeing, it still looks like teachers are working to find that ‘whole child’ balance,” Gullickson said of his observations of Zoom meetings. ” I think we all realize the academics, that’s a major component that we want to fill in. But in these times, we’re also very aware of the social/emotional piece.”

“Ordinarily, we’d be doing spring measurement of academic progress testing and we’d also be doing the North Dakota State Assessments,” Gullickson said. “Because of the circumstances, those have both been canceled.”

Rugby High School Principal Jared Blikre reported tests and other activities have been canceled at his campus as well.

“Typically in April, I’m letting you know about the North Dakota State Assessment, ACT, prom, pre-registration, extra and co-curricular activities such as regional instrumental music, regional speech, FFA and FBLA events and Senior Capstone Night,” Blikre said. “I was looking at the calendar at all the stuff we’ve been looking at and attending, and it was disappointing, to say the least.”

Blikre reported some success at Rugby High School with online meetings. Each high school student has an adviser, he told the group, and students check in with advisers weekly for activities. “They discuss issues that they have so we can sort of brainstorm for solutions to potential issues,” Blikre said.

“Teachers have office hours for each class via Zoom. We’re using the Pass/Fail grades for seventh- and eighth. We have to use letter grades for high school so our students have the opportunity to get the state scholarship, which has a value of $6,000 over four years,” Blikre noted. “(The scholarship program requires) they have a letter grade, which is frustrating under these circumstances, but it is what it is,” Blikre added.

McNeff said schools were finding success with online learning and addressing ways to reach disengaged students.

Other online work by the district includes teacher training in a variety of software applications.

“We’re fine-tuning it,” McNeff said of the distance learning program. “Now we’re trying to find the best practices involved in remote learning. What is the best way to instruct kids virtually? Ashley Seykora has been working hard to get professional development to our teachers remotely. Some trainings we’ve had (include) how to use Youtube, how to record lessons, how to use Screencastify where you’re screen capturing your lesson, different activities, that social-emotional part and how to use Zoom effectively.”

McNeff told the board the district established a help desk for parents to call for questions. The help desk, staffed by personnel from Ely Elementary and Rugby High, is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. through 4 p.m. Friday.

McNeff also reported the district was seeking ways to deliver driver training and driver education courses to high schoolers.

McNeff said he had given graduation advice to several concerned parents.

“If you’re looking to get out graduation cards and such, because I know people are already doing that, for a date, you can put, ‘For more information, visit the school website.'” McNeff said. “My plan is to have a giant banner at the top (of the Rugby Public School web page) when we know what we’re going to do for graduation. I know that’s a very important milestone for our kids. We’re going to do whatever we can to have that event.”

Business Manager Dawn Hauck presented financial information to the board.

“We’re about $145,000 less so far this year compared to last year in the general fund,” Hauck said. “We expected a deficit, so it’s not unusual.”

“We are having to transfer quite a bit for food service,” Hauck said. “Yesterday I had to transfer another $10,000. So, we’re up to $48,000, I believe, transferring from the general fund so far this year. I expect to be transferring from the general fund again, probably by Monday.”

“The reason for that is with the change in the food service program. It’s not the same (as the program operating during the regular school year),” Hauck explained.

Hauck said the district was providing meals to student households through a federal and state summer food service program. “The state won’t give us reimbursement for the meals in March until May, so we’re kind of lagging in getting our refund from the state so that’s why I’m having to transfer quite a bit this month,” she noted.

McNeff reported the district serves “over 400 meals a day. We do delivery in some situations. We also have meals for pickup at the front entrance of the high school. As this continues to grow, we may need to transition to pickup sites only.”

About 40 households receive delivered meals, McNeff added.

McNeff said households in rural communities such as Balta and Wolford receive a week’s worth of meals in a single delivery on Mondays.

Hauck told the board Peggy Harmel, who administers the meal program records each meal served and submits the total in a report to state agencies overseeing child nutrition.

In other business, the board approved a contract addendum with Hartley’s buses to ensure bus drivers would be paid through the end of the school year.

The board approved minutes and financials from regular and special meetings held in March. Bills payable from March and financial comparisons between March 2019 and March 2020 were approved.

The board also voted to hold the June 9 school board election exclusively by mail-in ballot.

McNeff presented information taken from the North Dakota School Study Council, adding Rugby Public School District is the smallest district participating.

McNeff also told the board the Rugby City Council had scheduled a special meeting to discuss the closure of a section of Third Avenue Southwest for May 13. McNeff urged board members to attend the meeting.

The next regular Rugby Public School Board meeting is scheduled for May 12 at 7 a.m. The meeting will likely take place online.

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