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Ely Lego League visits school board meeting

By Sue Sitter - | Feb 13, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT Members of Ely Elementary School’s Lego League start their robot on an obstacle course at the Feb. 9 Rugby Public School board meeting.

A review of next year’s school calendar and a presentation by Ely Elementary School’s Lego League highlighted the Rugby Public School Board’s regular meeting, held Feb. 9 in the Rugby High School library.

Superintendent Mike McNeff, Ely Elementary School Principal Jason Gullickson and Rugby High School Principal Jared Blikre began the meeting with updates. McNeff shared information from a presentation by Jessica Minahan, author of The Behavior Code, who shared strategies “for teachers dealing with anxieties and behaviors.” Minahan gave a virtual presentation of these strategies to educators.

“We had a lot of positive comments,” McNeff said.

McNeff added teachers at Rugby public schools were “working our way through PLCs (Professional Learning Communities). We’re about 75 percent through. We’re working on what we want students to do in classes from kindergarten through ag education students in high school.

(Educators) are asking what do we want (students) to know, how do we know they know it?”

McNeff told the board testing for COVID continued for staff and students. He informed the board public health nurse Samantha Wentz would begin administering COVID vaccines for school personnel Wednesday, Feb. 10.

“She’s got about 20 doses,” McNeff said of Wentz. “We’ve got a list of about 75 people who signed up through the district. They also include bus drivers, substitute teachers and 64 regular district staff who are on the list.”

McNeff also told the board he had heard a request from members of Rugby High School’s senior class to hold their senior banquet Wednesday, May 5. McNeff noted the date may possibly conflict with Wednesday activities for students. “If you have any issues with that, let me know,” McNeff said.

The board heard a report from Dawn Hauck, the district’s business manager.

Hauck reported the district’s general fund was “back to where it should be” after a temporary dip, refunded by deposits from federal CARES money. Hauck reported other district accounts were “okay,” however, she noted she would closely monitor expenditures in the district’s hot lunch fund.

Hauck also announced she would transfer written meeting minutes to high-quality paper that was more durable over time.

The board reviewed a draft of the district’s 2021-2022 school year calendar. The 170 instructional days in the calendar represent a total of 1,147 instructional hours for high school students and 1,020 instructional hours for elementary students, according to McNeff. The calendar also has 10 professional development days and a total of 183 contracted work days built into it.

Board member Shane Livedalen suggested updating the calendar to allow for shortened weeks after holiday breaks such as one normally taken in December.

Members also discussed changing schedules on Wednesdays to allow for early dismissal rather than a late start, which was the district’s usual Wednesday schedule in the past.

The board voted to approve the calendar after updates.

Students from Ely Elementary School’s Lego League attended the meeting briefly to present their entry for the 2021 Lego League competition to be held virtually the week of Feb. 14.

Students can be ages 10 to 14, and our team this year is actually all fourth and fifth graders, so we’re a pretty young team. But that’s okay; they’re doing pretty well. This is the second year we’ve had Lego League.

“We were supposed to compete in January, but with COVID, they bumped the date back,” Lego League Advisor Andee Mattson said. “This year, we’re actually competing virtually. So, you are the only live audience we’re going to present for. That’s exciting for these kids.”

“The competition is broken up into three parts,” Mattson explained. “They have to come up with an innovation project; they have the robot competition itself, which we’ll show you today, and then they’re judged on their core values, which are discovery, teamwork, fun, inclusion and respect.”

The students told the board and a group of parents who joined the meeting they developed an innovative way to solve the problem of staying active in winter.

Their solution? A bicycle with skis attached called a “ski bike.”

The ski bike figured prominently into a scale-model Lego course representing a town. Students developed a robot to navigate its way through the course, performing tasks such as moving the ski bike to help a rider. When the robot finishes the tasks on the course, the students make the robot spin in circles, or “dance.”

Some tasks proved difficult for the robot during the students’ demonstration. Sometimes, the robot knocked over objects or failed to turn others over. However, the robot danced very well.

The robot performed according to instructions written in code on computers by the students, Mattson said.

“Usually we can get the robot to flip the yellow blocks,” Mattson said of one task. If the robot doesn’t start exactly perfect, it won’t reach the right spot to flip the blocks correctly.

Another difficult task, where the robot pulls a bar to release more blocks “is our last-ditch effort, (to get points for the competition)” Mattson said. “It only works …”

“Two out of 31 tries,” Ely student and team member Opal Hackel said, finishing Mattson’s sentence.

Mattson said the team would pre-record a trial run for the robot course Feb. 9 before creating three time-stamped videos the following week for contest entry.

Board members applauded the students’ presentation. “What an amazing project,” said board member Brenda Heilman. “And they’re excited,” Heilman added. “They always learn when they’re excited, don’t they?”

In other business, the board approved minutes, bills and financials from their Jan. 12 regular and Jan. 20 special meeting. The board also approved a resignation letter submitted by teacher Adam Chausse.

McNeff presented the board with bills considered in the North Dakota legislative biennial session that affect public schools.

Among them are SB 2380, which permits posting of the Ten Commandments in schools and the pledge of allegiance to the flag, school vouchers and one percent funding for public schools with a one percent funding increase for two years in the 2021-2022 biennium.

McNeff and Hauck said Rugby Public Schools’ financial and student data put them outside of the funding formula due to the district’s absorption of students from Wolford, so the district would not receive the funds for the biennium.

McNeff voiced his opposition to vouchers. “As a public education person, I’m always against vouchers,” he said. “I’m always against the fact they take public dollars and funnel them away from public education.”

The board also heard updates from member Kris Blessum, who attended a negotiations seminar. McNeff said contract negotiations might possibly begin before May of this year.

The board reviewed information on the superintendent evaluation process and heard information on ND Insights, a website with data on school districts in North Dakota including test scores and demographic information.

The board next meets March 9 at 7 a.m. in the Rugby High School library.

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