Monticello eighth graders get STEM exposure

The 2012-13 school year is off to a running start, with approximately 4,030 students in grades K-12 now streaming into district schools each weekday morning. At Monday evening’s school board meeting district leadership shared how the first week went and some exciting projects they are working on for this year.

Superintendent Jim Johnson
Superintendent Jim Johnson

For his part, Superintendent Jim Johnson said district leaders would focus on four different areas this school year:
First, he will be leading an effort to determine whether or not to change the school day structure so that elementary students begin and end school before middle and high school students, which is opposite of the current schedule. Johnson said research has proven the academic benefits of making this switch, but he and a steering committee are looking at the issue from all angles to form an opinion of what’s best for Monticello kids. He said the board would likely make a decision on this in January or February.
Another structural change being considered is the overcrowding issue at the district’s two elementary schools. Currently, 27 Little Mountain students are bused to Pinewood each day because of space shortages; and Johnson said Pinewood no longer has empty classrooms. District leadership will be looking into options for managing space issues this year, taking an especially close look at Eastview to see if or how this building could play a role.
Johnson’s other two main goals for the year are integrating technology into all buildings and implementing instructional strategies to help teachers be successful.

At Pinewood, grade 3-5 Principal Brad Sanderson talked about the school’s recent completion of the goal to switch over from chalkboards to whiteboards and to get more LCD projectors in the classrooms. He said iPads are the newest addition to the learning tools the school uses to engage learners. Pinewood hired 14 new certified staff members for this school year, had a handful of current teachers switch grade levels and condensed two media centers into one.

Little Mountain
Little Mountain principal Joe Dockendorf used his time to discuss the two elementary schools’ new tutoring program through the Minnesota Reading Corps. Three tutors between the elementary schools are working full-time to work one-on-one with “bubble” students, or those who do not qualify for Title 1 or reading specialist services, yet still need a boost. Each tutor will work with 50-60 kids per year.

Middle school
Middle school Principal Jeff Scherber talked about some changes to student course schedules this year. First, the school’s former 8th grade semester-long health class has revamped to be incorporated into the physical education program. Students in grades 6-8 will spend several weeks discussing health topics in gender-separated environments. This change will allow the school to target messages to the best age group rather than having all health topics discussed in eighth grade. Instead of health, all eighth graders will now take a semester-long STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) course that district officials hope will get kids excited about STEM subjects through lessons, hand-on activities and researching career opportunities.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in the area that even comes close to doing this,” Johnson said of the new STEM class. “We have to prepare these kids for a very different world; this fits right in the middle of that.”

Monticello High School
Jim Lundin at Monticello High School talked about the high school’s new literacy specialist and literacy emphasis to raise academic achievement, the new assistant principal Mike Carr and some long-overdue changes to the homecoming lineup. Thanks to a new Eagle Scout, the high school will now be able to have the homecoming coronation and bonfire at its own school rather than the middle school. In the past the high school did not have a place to properly contain and clean up a large bonfire, but high school student Marty McNichols created a bonfire pit for his Eagle Scout project.
“I’m excited – it has been a great start,” Johnson said in conclusion. “I don’t know that I ever have been more excited to be where we are and looking forward. There’s some real challenges out there for us, but change can be fun, too.”

In other business, the board:
• Accepted several donations to the school: $1,000 from Cargill for school supplies, more than $16,000 from Target and $421 from Primo Pizza.
• Heard from senior Pat McNaughton, the school board’s new student representative, about his perceptions on the start of the school year.
• Approved Linda Borgerding’s annual report on curriculum and instruction, which showed that Monticello students’ MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) scores were higher than the typical national scores, especially in grades 2-4. The report also showed that Monticello students outperformed state averages on MCA math and reading tests in every grade level, and they outperformed their own 2011 scores in every category except 11th grade math and four grades out of the seven tested on reading.
• Heard an update from Jim Lindberg on the Wright Technical Center cooperative. Lindberg said it is maintaining an annual fund balance of around $600,000-800,000, and the school is within 30 students of capacity. Monticello has 82 students enrolled in the program, and 125 students at the ALC program located on the site.
• Board Chair Scott Hill gave a brief synopsis on Superintendent Jim Johnson’s recent performance review. Hill said Johnson scored above average to outstanding in each of the areas of scrutiny and that they are very glad to have his leadership.