By Jordan Gerard

Editor, The Caledonia Argus

School’s out for the summer, after surviving an unexpected three-month distance learning period, but next school year could look different than previous years due to COVID-19.

At Spring Grove Public School’s regular board meeting on June 17, Superintendent Rachel Udstuen said the 2020-21 school year could look like one of three models: everyone back in school, everyone distance learning or a hybrid. She added they could also see all three scenarios used during the year. 

School districts will know more by July 31 when the state is expected to announce an education plan. They were also expecting to get guidelines last week about what those models could look like. 

“June is our month to re-charge. July, we hit the ground running,” she said. 

The district is also working on a communications plan for parents and community members. They’ve considered “Lunch and Learn” meetings where the district will communicate as much as they can about COVID-19 affecting the school year and where parents can share feedback. It will also be a chance to meet incoming principal Luke Kjelland. 

Udstuen added some families might not be ready to send kids back to school, due to personal family situations such as health. She said the district will have to be ready for those situations and ready for a lot of different things as well. 

“The top priority is the health of our kids,” she said. “We’re fortunate to have a small school district ... we have relationships with our kids.”

The first day of school is scheduled for Sept. 8. Graduation is still scheduled for Aug. 7, with more details being released soon.

Principal’s report

For her final report to the board, Principal Nancy Gulbranson said she wouldn’t have wanted to serve any other school district and thanked the board members and looked forward to watching the direction the district is headed. 

Board chair Aaron Solum thanked her for the dedication and service to the district. Board member Stephanie Jaster and Udstuen recommended Gulbranson for the American Education Week Citizenship Recognition Award and they hoped to award her in person next fall. 

“In the 15 years I’ve had the pleasure of working with her, I haven’t seen here frustrated or having a bad day,” Udstuen said. “She’s been an unwavering advocate for kids, believes in every kid and has been a steady force in this organization. I will miss her daily dose of humor and her advocacy for all students and seeing the best in all situations.”

Superintendent’s report

Udstuen commended Spring Grove’s staff for a successful end of the year and the “amazing team effort” they had. 

“It’s not the way any of us wanted to do things,” she said. “This team said ‘Alright, how do we do this in COVID-19 era?’ There was incredible effort and I can’t say enough about the staff and everything they did.”

As for the school’s use in the summer, she said kids can come into the building for specific activities. Lions Academy and credit recovery will have a 10-person limit, which could mean one teacher to six or nine kids.

The weight room and gym will also see a 10-person limit, and only allow kids (grades 9-12) who are in organized sports utilize those parts of the school.

New math curriculum

The board approved Bridges mathematic curriculum for elementary grades, after a nearly nine-month process of researching several different curriculum programs.

Assistant Superintendent (formerly Transformational Leader) Gina Meinertz said she and a group of eight elementary teachers used PLC time to search and choose high-ranked K-5 curriculum with the latest data and research. They ordered samples and ended up with two large rolling carts of materials. 

Teachers identified the most important concepts they wanted and ideally, wanted to mirror the math curriculum after the Benchmark Literacy program, which has seen the district’s reading scores increase. 

They looked at math games and hands-on activities, mini lessons and the ability to break off into small groups to work on math skills. Additionally, they also wanted a strong intervention base to make sure they supported students who struggle with math. 

Teachers created a rubic and narrowed the choice down to three programs, after examining depth of knowledge, test questions, vocabulary and how well assessment questions would make students apply math skills. 

Meinertz said Bridges emerged as the clear choice. Udstuen added she was impressed with the conversation and the amount of depth the staff put into it. She said she felt “confident and excited about this.”

Proposed Budget

District Accountant Tanya Elton presented the 2020-21 proposed budget. Revenue took a hit because the district does not have the Bush grant again (yet) nor a MSTS grant, but does expect to get $32,000 from the CARES act, which is to be used for technology and distance learning. 

Other news

The board approved Udstuen’s contract for the next three years with a 3% increase next year, then a 2% increase. She also has flexibility to work from home. 

A resolution was approved to call for the school board election. The filing period is open from July 28 to Aug. 11 at 5 p.m.

The board also approved a list of fundraisers for next school year, though it might change due to the COVID-19 pandemic and what the school year will look like.

Next meeting

The next meeting of the Spring Grove School Board will be held July 20 with a change. Board members and administration will meet in person (limit of 10 people), while guests and press will be connected via Google meets. The Minnesota School Board Association said boards could return to in-person meetings, provided there was a limit of 10, social distancing and the board could decide if the public could attend or not.

The board must provide remote access for audience members, guests and press for the duration of the pandemic. The board agreed members and staff/administration would meet in person while guests and press will be able to view the meeting via remote access. The Google Meet option will be available to everyone, including new people who request it.

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