GFW teachers, students talk of tour benefits

Bring back ideas for GFW programs

GIBBON — The Gibbon Fairfax Winthrop (GFW) school board heard public comments from several teachers and students Tuesday.

Most of the comments were about the school district’s strategic plan in action tour that included visits to a number of other school districts.

Freshman Mitchell Olson said he’d like to see more agriculture classes at GFW.

“I understand some courses have to rotate, but it would be nice to have a bigger selection,” Olson said.

“I really enjoyed it when Big Ideas came to school,” Olson added. “The immediate feedback, realistic experience and options in what you wanted to learn about were all appealing to me.”

Big Ideas, Inc. of New Ulm visited GFW about a week ago, providing students opportunities to discover, explore, and learn real world trades using virtual reality and leading-edge augmented technology.

English teacher Mark Leitheiser, GFW Middle and High School Principal Brittany Galetka, Supt. Jeff Horton and several students rode a bus to visit public schools in Alexandria, Wadena-Deer Creek and Perham.

“Each of these schools showed us some amazing programs. Some of which could be realistic for GFW,” Leitheiser said. “Others, because of our size, would not. Students had the opportunity to choose programs tailored to their interests, which, not surprisingly, leads to greater student interest, engagement and enthusiasm.”

Leitheiser said a greater variety of class options in all academic areas would be a positive step forward for GFW.

Another student said the tour showed him that GFW schools are not behind some schools.

“I thought it was very beneficial,” he said of the school tour.

GFW FACS (Family and Consumer Science) teacher Deb Kammerlander said she’s attended lots of training and is working on creating future partnerships with businesses.

“I have lots of big ideas for my students,” Kammerlander said.

“We plan to have a $1 million budget surplus at the end of the next fiscal year,” said Supt. Horton. “We need to continue to listen to what the communities want. We have historical low interest rates now. I’ll work on getting more information on what the communities want.”

Horton said GFW Buildings, Grounds and Safety Director Dave Sellner could not make the board meeting but reported that the school district has many facilities needs.

“Twenty-three of our 29 roof sections are reaching life expectancy within two years,” Horton said. “In the past, they’ve been patched and repaired as needed. The Winthrop school had some single-pane windows that create high gas consumption and heating system stress. The school needs tuck-pointing. Water is seeping through mortar.”

Horton said school district repair costs exceed facilities maintenance funding.

Activities Director Rich Busse said the school track needs to be completely rebuilt.

The board approved:

• By a 4-2 vote with board members Jeff Merkel and Marissa Lee dissenting, moving 5th-grade students from Gibbon to the Winthrop school when the 2022-23 school year begins. Action came on a motion by Jason Haas, seconded by Drew Schmidt.

Board chairman Mike Kuehn said the move would take advantage of staff licensing for more and better class options.

• A 76-page 2022-23 school registration guide created by Galetka, motion by Kuehn, seconded by Haas. Galetka said 5th and 6th grade students would come to school one day earlier next year and that a career and college readiness would be offered for 8th graders.

“We’re also looking at requiring band and/or choir for middle school students,” Galetka said. “We’d like to add some fun things to do too like fishing and swimming.”

Horton praised Galetka for her work on the registration guide he said offers class options that equal schools much larger than GFW.

• Rescinded Policy 491 requiring mandatory COVID-19 testing after the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled against the measure, motion by Kuehn, seconded by Schmidt.

• Tabling the 2022-23 school calendar after Horton presented a couple of calendar options.

• A $100 donation from Peace Lutheran Church to the T-Bird Club (childcare program), motion by Kuehn, seconded by Haas.

• Kuehn said a Dec. 20 closed meeting to discuss Horton’s performance included praise for his leading the school district out of Statutory Operating Debt faster than expected and forecasting a positive fund balance.

“We look forward to Horton working with stakeholders (school district residents) on school policies and procedures,” Kuehn said.


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