Mike Bitz: Challenges facing the school district
July 1 marked the start of the fiscal year and my first day as the superintendent of the Mandan School District. I am excited to welcome both Jeff Lind and Christi Schaefbauer to the Mandan School District central office as well. Jeff will assume the assistant superintendent duties and Christi will take over as the Mandan School District business manager. Christi, Jeff, and I all live and pay taxes in Mandan and between the three of us we have eight children enrolled in the Mandan School District. We have a vested interest in making sure that Mandan Schools are great and that we operate as effectively and as efficiently as possible.
North Dakota’s strong economy and the growth we are experiencing in the area have presented Mandan with a great opportunity to grow and develop. As residents of Mandan, we need to make wise decisions that will attract and retain new residents and businesses to Mandan. People and businesses have choices about where they will live and locate; as residents of Mandan, we need to do all we can to make Mandan an easy choice for them.
As a school district many challenges are facing us. I believe three issues are primary:
1. Find a Solution to our Elementary School Space Issue: During the 2011-12 school year Mandan enrolled 287 kindergarten students and transferred approximately 225 students from fifth grade, which is housed in five different elementary schools, to sixth grade in the Mandan Middle School. This resulted in an increase of over 60 students in our elementary schools in one year, without accounting for new students that moved into the district. This fall we expect that trend to continue. The district will again enroll approximately 280 kindergarteners and we will transfer 221 fifth graders into Mandan Middle School.
This past year our 287 kindergarten students were divided into 12 classrooms, giving us an average classroom size of 23.9 kindergarten students per classroom. For comparison purposes, Williston, located in the heart of oil country, had 248 kindergarten students divided between 13 classrooms; an average of just over 19 kindergarteners per classroom. If we want people to choose Mandan as their new hometown, we need to have enough room in our schools to comfortably accommodate their children. The only way to lower our tax burden is to get more people paying local taxes. To get them to pay local taxes, we need people to live here; we cannot do that without schools to educate their children.
2. Find Ways to Help All Our Students Succeed: The Mandan School District does a great job educating 80 percent of its students. I believe this because of roughly 80 percent of our student are proficient in math and language arts and because over 80 percent of our students who enroll as freshmen go on to graduate. However, we need to do a better job of providing opportunities to the other 20% percent of our students who are not currently finding success in our schools.
As of the 2011-12 school year, the Mandan School District was the only public “Class A” high school in North Dakota without an alternative school. In Mandan we have been contracting with Bismarck to send approximately 10 students per year to South Central High School. For these 10 students, Mandan paid over $69,000 in tuition and lost another $49,000 in foundation aid from the state. This fall we are proposing to keep these dollars in Mandan and to operate an alternative school locally. The new “Brave Center Academy” will be housed in the Brave Center and its hours of operation will be from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. By doing this we will be able to use existing classrooms and technology, making this option very cost effective. We also will be able to serve more students with the same amount of dollars. Students who graduate from the new Brave Center Academy will receive a Mandan High School Diploma.
The Mandan Middle School has also made changes to help students succeed by adding a new resource room for sixth grade students. This resource room will provide academic and organizational support to sixth graders to help them stay on track. Mandan Middle School also received a grant from the N.D. Department of Public Instruction to operate an Alternative Education Program for students in seventh and eighth grade who failed math or language arts the previous year. These students will have math and language arts in a 90 minute block, which will allow the teacher to teach the lesson, give an assignment, help students with that assignment, and correct the assignment before the students leave class. Our belief is that this type of intense intervention will be beneficial to students.
3. Continue Working with Teachers to Transition our Math and Language Arts Curriculums from the Current North Dakota State Standards to the New Common Core State Standards: Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, each of the 50 states were required to develop and adopt math and language arts standards. The states all have different standards and define proficiency differently. This system does not allow us to compare test scores and proficiency levels from state to state. A student could, in theory, take the North Dakota eighth grade state math assessment in Fargo and fail, move across the river to Moorhead, still as an eighth grader, and take the Minnesota eighth grade math assessment and be proficient.
In today’s mobile society it does not make sense that expectations are different for students depending upon where they attend school. That is why the Common Core State Standards were developed and adopted. Currently 45 states (including North Dakota) have agreed to the same math and language arts standards and to the same definition of proficiency at all grades levels in both subject areas. Moving from the current North Dakota State Standards to the Common Core State Standards means that schools across North Dakota need to realign their curriculums to match the new standards. As teachers and administrators we need to find where the gaps exist between the two sets of standards and we need to make plans to close those gaps.
If you have any questions or concerns about anything mentioned in this article or about the Mandan School District in general, please feel free to contact me by phone at 751-6500 or via email at Mike.Bitz@msd1.org.