Schools facing challenges
By Dustin White
Mandan News, editor
Educating the next generation is an important task to focus on. As they will be the ones who run our country someday, making sure they have the best possible schooling is something that can not be stressed enough. In order to achieve this, it is necessary to evaluate the state of the school system from time to time. Mandan recently completed such a task.
The state of the schools report, which was presented at the March 17 Mandan school board meeting, outlined the current status of the city’s school system. While there were areas that needed improving, the overall view was promising.
One major area that needed focus was the percent of children affected by poverty. As the report pointed out, nearly 32 percent of children in the school system qualified for either free and reduced meals. This is just slightly higher than the states average, which is just slightly about 31 percent.
The potential effects of poverty on children can be quite severe. This can be a difficult area for schools to navigate, as they do not have the means to relieve the level of poverty, but must continue to provide a quality education.
“Children in poverty, in general, are more expensive to educate,” Dr. Mike Bitz, superintendent of Mandan public schools, said.
Part of this expense comes from a lack of parent tutoring at home. As the parents have to work longer hours in order to support their family, it can often result in less time working on their children’s education. Later on, many of these children feel a need to help with family issues, which distracts from their schooling even more.
In areas of higher poverty, their is also often an increase in the drop-out rate. This is a problem that the Mandan school system has been dealing with for a considerable time.
“Early intervention is necessary,” Bitz said. “Even with early intervention though, closing the gap can be tough.”
A good deal of this intervention includes setting aside additional resources for those schools that have a higher population of children affected by poverty. The goal is to make sure that children stay on track, especially through the third grade. A study conducted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that students who are not reading proficiently by the third grade are four times more likely to drop-out.
Over the course of the last year, the percentage of children qualifying for free and reduced meals has been declining; however, that may not accurately display a lower level of poverty in the area.
“Many are beginning to get higher paying jobs in the area, and are no longer qualifying,” said Bitz. “At the same time, the cost of living is going up.”
This new situation may cause future problems as families could be put into tighter financial situations, by being denied free and reduced meals. Currently, the Mandan school system has little control over this matter as the program is a federally funded program with national guidelines.
Another major problem that the Mandan school system has been experiencing is the loss good new teachers. The primary reason for this loss has been lower starting wages in Mandan, compared to Bismarck.
With Mandan being a small school system, with fewer resources, this has been a difficult problem to overcome. Last year alone, from March to August, Mandan had lost eight teachers.
This problem has prompted the Mandan to rearrange their pay structure in order to allow for a higher starting wage for new teachers. This process was partially led by current teachers in Mandan. Currently, the starting wage difference between Mandan and Bismarck is just $2,600.
“We decided that we wanted to make it possible for young teachers to stay in Mandan,” Bitz said.
To date, the Mandan school system has not lost a single teacher. While it is still early in the year, it has been a promising sign.
A potential problem that the Mandan school system may be facing in the future is the potential growth in enrollment. In the next three years, it is possible that Mandan will see more than 300 additional students, which could put a strain on the current school facilities.
This has been an ongoing problem that Mandan has been facing. Currently, Red Trail Elementary school is scheduled to open in August, which will help reduce some of the growing pains the schools may experience.
A growth in middle school students may be the next hurdle that Mandan faces though. However, Bitz said that the current middle high was designed with the potential to expand. Such an expansion, if current projections are correct, may be needed in the not so distant future.
While the Mandan school system does face some serious challenges, it is prepared to tackle them. At the same time, the schools in Mandan have also made some great leaps forward.
Even though the schools do fall behind in some areas, students have continued to perform higher than the state average in regards to their ACT scores. For the last five years, besides 2012, Mandan has scored above state average. In 2012, the year that they scored lower, it was only by 0.3 points.
Whether this trend will continue into the future is not known, but if the schools continue to strive to properly educate their students, we should be able to see improvement.