Wilfred Volesky: New year’s challenges for Mandan School District
This month I would like to share with you three major challenges that the Mandan School District will be facing in 2012. Whether we are able to overcome some of these challenges will be dependent upon the support we receive from the patrons of the Mandan School District. You should be hearing more about these three challenges throughout the 2012 year.
The first of these challenges will be to convince the Mandan School District patrons of the need for a new elementary school. In order to build a new elementary school it will require the passage of a bond issue to help pay for the cost of a new school. At the last school board meeting the school board directed district administrators to put a timeline in place that would allow us to have a bond issue election in the latter part of March or the first part of April. This timeline, including the date of the bond issue election, was presented to the school board at their Jan. 3, board meeting. The time period between Jan. 3 and the bond issue election school board members and school administrators will need to justify to the Mandan community the need for another elementary school.
Our elementary enrollment numbers have been a topic of discussion for the last several years. Due to the increasing enrollment in grades K-5, the number of students in some grades has surpassed the enrollment limit the school board put in place about five years ago. As an example, in grades K-2 the district suggested a limit of 23 students per classroom. At the present time we have an average of 23.3 students in our 12 kindergarten classrooms across the district. Certainly we can function with this number of students. The problem is next year when these students are in first grade, we have space for only 11 classrooms. This means the average number of students in each first grade classroom next year will be 25.5 students. The 25.5 students is a problem since in every classroom we will have students with a variety of ability levels and skills, thus making it difficult to challenge every student in the class.
Patrons may ask what guarantee do we have that the enrollment numbers are going to remain at that level. One factor that indicates our enrollment is going to continue to increase is the births in Morton County. If 80 percent of the children born in Morton County come to Mandan Public Schools, like they currently do, our kindergarten enrollment will continue to increase since our births in Morton County are increasing. Personally, I also believe that we are going to get families with children moving into our school district that work in the oil fields. This is already occurring. So our early elementary numbers are going to continue to increase which will mean an increase in per classroom student numbers well beyond the district limit if we do not find additional classrooms.
In the near future we will be having public forums to discuss our enrollment numbers and the need for additional space in our district. We hope that you attend one of these sessions once they are scheduled.
The second challenge will be to get the federal No Child Left Behind Law reauthorized. During the 2010-11 school year we have six out of seven schools in our district that did not make Adequate Yearly Progress. This means our schools will be placed on school improvement which labels these schools as failing schools. Yet, almost all students in every grade in every school in our district made a year’s worth of academic growth during the 2010-11 school year. The year’s growth is based on a Northwest Education Association test, which is given a minimum of twice a year versus the North Dakota State Assessment which determines AYP and is given once a year. We are hopeful the NCLB law will be changed this year so it fairly and accurately measures the success of the students in every school throughout the nation this year. However, with a national presidential election occurring in November 2012 politicians may be more interested in electing a president than changing a law that unfairly penalizes schools whose students are showing academic success.
The third challenge we will face is implementing the national common core standards into our language arts and math curriculums. At the present time we use the N.D. state standards that were developed for students in our state a number of years ago. Each of the other 50 states also developed their own standards in the core academic areas. The problem with each state having their own standards was the inability to have a common standard which could be used to fairly compare students nationally. Some states have rigorous standards that are difficult to achieve while many states have standards that are not very challenging. Due to the inability to compare students nationally, the nation’s governors were motivated to request national common standards in language arts and math. The work on these national standards has been completed and adopted by 44 states, including North Dakota. As a district we need to begin providing our teachers with professional development on how to implement these national standards into our language arts and math curriculums. In 2014-2015, Mandan students will be tested on these new standards for the first time. This makes it necessary for us to begin the implementation of the national core standards into our curriculum as soon as possible.
As we begin the 2012 year we will try to keep you informed of the challenges that the school district will face. ased on my six years of experience in the Mandan School District, I am confident we can count on your assistance and support to help us continue providing a first class education to the youth in our district.