Exemplary students recognized at school district meeting

(Photo 1) Anna Richardson, left, and Abby Kottwitz were recognized as Students of the Month at the Oct. 26 meeting of the Niobrara County School District. Special Education Educator Robyn Heth presented certificates and a blanket to the honorees. (Photo 2) Abby Glavan, left, Natalie Sampers and Delisha Momin were recognized as Students of the Month at the Oct. 26 Niobrara County School District meeting. K-8 Principal Lucinda Kasper presented certificates and a blanket to the honorees. LOGAN DAILEY/LUSK HERALD

LUSK – The Niobrara County School District Board of Trustees met for their regular meeting on Monday, Oct. 26, at the school district office. Students Delisha Momin, Natalie Sampers, Abby Glavan, Abby Kottwitz and Anna Richardson were honored to be recognized as Students of the Month.
Each student was identified by their exemplified qualities in school. The students were nominated by their teachers after showing exceptional integrity, academic and leadership skills. Each student was given a certificate and a blanket as a memento to recognize their excellence.
Superintendent George Mirich said he had received a letter which recognized a student athlete for good sportsmanship exhibited at the football game versus Southeast. Mirich said Jasper Caldera and the team did an outstanding job and the school will recognize Caldera with his peers.
Mirich, educators and the board discussed the new standards-based grading. Mirich said the traditional method of grading was quantitative whereas the new method is qualitative, focusing on how well and to what degree the students know the curriculum. He noted the new method of grading focuses not only on basic knowledge and apprehension, but also applications of learned skills.
K-8 Principal Lucinda Kasper spoke of the new standards-based instruction and report cards. Lusk’s elementary school finished its first nine-week period and has sent out the new standards-based report cards. Despite challenges brought forth by the report cards, Kasper reassured the board they have it figured out.
Parents receiving these new report cards for their children will see a new system of grading. The bottom of the grade cards has information on how to read and interpret the new report card.
Trustee Loren Heth asked about eligibility in sports as result of the new grading process. Kasper said students who are struggling, but trying, will be eligible to play sports, while those who are refraining from trying will be ineligible.
Kasper also reported she had applied for the 21st Century grant. The district will know if they received the grant on Nov. 20. If the school district receives the grant, they have several ideas for how they are going to apply the grant.
Kasper intends to apply the grant funds towards an after-school program. The program is intended to aid challenged students in academic success. The program will be run by either the school or another entity, but Kasper hopes an external entity will run the program as there are concerns over teachers accruing too much overtime.
The focus of the program would be 21st century skills, technological collaboration, working through problems, persistence and perseverance.
If approved for the grant, the school district would need to hire a director for the program. They hope to appoint someone who is presently employed by the school district. Kasper noted there would also be a need to hire a couple of teachers and a couple of para-educators.
The Silver Springs Center for Excellence would help with finances to pay teachers. The progam is also working actively with community members, business members and area ranchers for funding.
Trustee Candy Dooper asked Kasper if the program would be open to any students. Kasper said it would be open to everyone but would target students who need the assistance.
The board directed Kasper to begin working on staffing the program, contingent upon notification of receipt of the grant. If the grant is not received, Kasper will have to re-address the board on the matter.
Wyoming Virtual Academy (WYVA) K-6 Educator Lisa Williams told the board they had also finished their first nine weeks in WYVA. Those teachers in the WYVA elementary school have been doing their parent/teacher conferences.
Currently, there are 1,120 students in WYVA, with 570 in K-6, according to Williams.
Trustee Cindy Dooper asked about the turnout for the conferences. Williams said she had been experiencing excellent turnout with rates of 75% or more in every grade level. Williams added there were a couple of teachers who were still reaching out but was optimistic about the progress.
Williams told the board the elementary students had been attending assemblies with participation as high as 300 students at the online assemblies. The students were also participating in clubs where they applied sciences by participating in Minecraft, veterinary animal sciences and baking. The students will also be participating in an online parade of spirit week through Zoom. Students will take photos and send the photos through the system to accomplish the parade.
In other news, Business Manager Stuart Larson reported the district’s finances are standing in good condition. Larson explained how a few items were under what he hoped for but would likely even out by the end of the year.
Larson said the Lusk Herald had previously reported Blue Cross and Blue Shield would be refunding some of the premiums, but a representative for the company told Larson there would be no money coming back to the schools because the school has a self-funded insurance plan, not a full-premium plan.
Members of the board discussed their concerns over continuing budget cuts. Trustee Loren Heth, Trustee Randy Rose and Mirich expressed how cutting a teaching position can cut an entire program for small districts. Rose said budget discussions were forecasting the possibility of the loss of more than 1,000 teachers across the state.
The board discussed amending some of their policies with the school district’s attorney, Mark Hughes. Hughes encouraged the board to consider several small revisions to their policies so that they would comply with state statutes and possibly prevent any future issues.
In action items, the board discussed the addition of a third wrestling coach, Andrew Wasserburger, but the motion failed with four yes-votes and four no-votes. The third reading of Policy GCPB, a late resignation policy was discussed, but was tabled after a failed vote. The board approved changes to the WYVA hires, approved applications for Isolation Pay and approved school picture bids for Lisa Shaw and Lifetouch, Inc. At the request of the Superintendent, a new district custodian was also hired.
During discussion of old business, Mirich told the board the Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration would be meeting Oct. 28-30 on Zoom.
Mirich also wished to clarify an issue brought up in a recent edition of the Lusk Herald. Mirich wished to convey that it is not the responsibility of the board to increase tax revenues. It is the responsibility of the board to discuss budgets and how to apply budgets to the district. Mirich noted discussion of increasing tax revenues is outside the purview of the school board and is a matter for the county and state to address.
The next meeting of the Niobrara County School District’s Board of Trustees will be Nov. 9 at 6 p.m.

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