By Kremena Spengler
NEW ULM - During a joint meeting Thursday, the District 88 School Board and the New Ulm City Council had an initial discussion of possibilities for collaboration.
The meeting did not result in any specific decisions.
Following introductions, School Board Chair Duane Winter listed the goals of the school district and invited input on how the two government entities could possibly cooperate, in ways that align with the goals.
School board members, city councilors and school and city officials then presented ideas in a free-flowing format.
The resultant list included both ideas already being implemented and new thoughts for future consideration. Some highlights included:
Working together to establish safe walking routes to school
Cooperation in career shadowing, work study, classroom visits, competitions and other programs intended to familiarize students with careers in areas operated by city government: utility workers, city engineers, planners and inspectors, city management, etc.
School building trades classes potentially building houses for affordable housing subdivisions sponsored by the city
Field trips to city facilities (such as the water filtration plant, in one example) as part of hands-on learning
Bringing city council meetings to school, or students to city council meetings, as part of civics education
Potential joint funding of a facilities manager position, to manage both city and school buildings
Joint provision of recreational opportunities for young residents
Advertising of school community education and city-run park and recreation programs in a joint print publication or via electronic means
Joint purchases of gasoline to save money
Joint green energy efforts, including potential PUC funding for green energy projects developed by students.
Officials summed up the meeting as a good first step, in the right direction, and agreed to continue the interaction.
Immediately before the joint meeting, the School Board held a work session to hear updates from Washington Elementary School Principal Les Koppendrayer and Jefferson Elementary School Principal Pam Kirsch.
Koppendrayer's report focused on test data and efforts to address its implications. More notably, he pointed out as an area of concern the underachievement in reading and math of students receiving special education. Testing data also indicates some years of lower-than-average scores in math in fifth grade; a problem Koppendrayer is confident has been addressed.
In response to the data, the school is focusing on initiatives such as: small group instruction; instituting 90-minute blocks for reading and math; working with new intervention series, Voyager Math and Soar to Success; increasing the mainstreaming of special education students; and working with Dr. Cynthia Whaley from Martin Luther College to train teachers in small group instruction, said Koppendrayer.
In contrast, Kirsch's presentation did not involve test data. She spent her allotted time explaining two programs central to her school: an effort to maintain positive school climate called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), and a literacy-building effort called Response to Intervention (RTI), a program that seeks to prevent problems through "high-quality instruction, frequent brief assessments and the use of a problem-solving model in a team context."