By Jordan Gerard

Editor, The Caledonia Argus

It might have seemed like just another regular school board meeting for Spring Grove on Monday, Sept. 21, but for board members, they heard firsthand how COVID measures were working. 

In her superintendent’s report, Rachel Udstuen said the kids “have been awesome” in whatever settings they have been in.

“They’re happy, smiling. They’re a lot of fun to be with,” she said. Behind the scenes is where much of the work takes place to make the new school environment work. 

Udstuen noted kitchen staff, maintenance, teachers, paraprofessionals and office staff have all helped things run smoothly. From lunching outside, to cleaning bathrooms and the park, to paraprofessional staff being wherever they’re required, day-to-day activities have been moving along, she summarized. 

“I can’t say enough about the staff ... We’re all smiling,” she said. 

The school has run into a few snags, such as navigating Edgenuity, an online learning platform that allows students to learn from home if they do not attend school in person. Many school districts are using the same platform, leading to a lot of questions from students. However, the company has not given all students a seat yet. 

Meanwhile, gifted and talented instructor Jackie Parker has been helping out with assigning social/emotional relationship building and project-based learning ideas until they are enrolled in the platform, assistant superintendent Gina Meinertz said in her report. She is also helping kids get registered for the right classes, Udstuen added. 

Also in her report, Udstuen relayed the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) decision to allow football and volleyball games this season. 

Spring Grove is expected to limit football spectators to 250, as per state guidelines during COVID, while volleyball will likely not have any spectators at all, due to the school’s current “no visitors” policy. Many school districts in Minnesota have a similar policy. Udstuen said the school will try to stream the games. 

The board also heard an update on the two-week case rate model used to determine which learning mode school will be in. Udstuen reported Houston County Public Health educator Audrey Staggemeyer was working on a new model to get closer to “live-time” with cases in Houston County. 

Staggemeyer reported the increase and community spread is likely due to small, social gatherings held over Labor Day weekend. 

Assistant Superintendent’s report

In the remainder of her report, Meinertz said two student teachers from Winona State University were teaching alongside Spring Grove K-1 outdoor and indoor classrooms this semester. 

She also reported a grant was awarded to begin a program called “Houston/Fillmore County CEO,” which aims to “enhance our community to our students.” Spring Grove, Mabel-Canton and Caledonia school districts each have students participating in the program. Their first task is a project that will teach them how to communicate and solve a problem remotely, then they’ll go onto work with Gundersen Lutheran and a chamber of commerce. 

Career navigators are working with counseling services and the financial literacy class to create  “distance learning career planning support for 10th and 12th grade students.” The students are using the MCIS system to explore careers, then they’ll create resumes, cover letters and do other job-specific research. Eventually, students will connect with outside businesses and organizations, Meinertz said. 

Principal’s report

Luke Kjelland said back to school conferences were complete, despite rain pushing students and parents inside and despite a few wifi issues. 

He noted several handbook changes, many of which were related to COVID, including parent volunteers, Halloween walk-around school, masks and social distancing and other COVID-19 language. 

He also mentioned a list of COVID-19 vocabulary that staff should know and use, in order to avoid confusion. 

The seventh graders’ annual Eagle Bluff trip was reduced to no overnight stay, bring your own lunch and students spread across two buses. They had the option to move the trip to spring, but the waiting list for a full trip was huge, Kjelland said. 

A band zone, music zone and three lunch zones were established to eliminate large groups of people congregating, he added. 

English language learning services would be offered this year, as the district had one enrollment where those services were required. 

Kjelland reported more progress with students’ mental health and becoming a trauma-informed school. 

Finally, a TikTok challenge was announced for the school to do community building and to kick off the year. The administrative version was viewed at the board meeting. 

Official newspaper

After a two-month delay, the board chose the far-reaching Fillmore County Journal in Preston over the more local Caledonia Argus – after the Spring Grove Herald was closed due to COVID-19 and a lack of advertisers – for their official newspaper. 

Proposed 2021 Levy

The board approved the maxium amount at $697,890, which is a 9.65% change from last year’s levy of $636,491. 

Next meeting

The next meeting of the Spring Grove School Board will be Oct. 19, at 7 p.m. People wishing to address the board can contact the school to be included on the Google Meets list.

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