Process improvement continues to be district focus

LUSK – The Oct. 28 Niobrara County School Board meeting was called to order at 7 p.m. Board Chairman Joel Richardson was attending via teleconference and Vice-Chair Katie Kruse presided over the meeting. The district’s mission statement and vision were read. The agenda was approved as presented.

Under visitors, the Niobrara County High School FBLA team presented to the board a review of their trip to the national competition in San Antonio, Texas in June 2019. They reviewed the competitions they had attended. The students also had the opportunity to take in different cultural experiences offered in the San Antonio area and they enjoyed networking with over 17,000 students from around the United States and the chance to attend many different workshops. They specifically thanked the board for the Chromebooks that were purchased for use by team members. These laptops were integral to their ability to effectively compete.

The team plans to attend the national fall conference in Denver, Colo., in November. During that trip they will attend various workshops and have a chance to go to a Denver Nuggets game. The team expressed their appreciation for the board’s support of their trip to San Antonio.

District department reports

Business Manager Stuart Larson reported that his office is waiting to hear back on additional needs from the state Department of Education from the desk audit for special education and Title 1 programs and grants. The district will continue to collect information for the auditors that will be turned in by the end of November.

Discussion regarding district reimbursement and financial status was held. Larson reassured the board that the expenses accrued will be fully reimbursed by the state following the submission of the new grants since these are on a 30 month cycle.

Dr. Joe Heywoodof WYVA handed out the plan of action information for WYVA that was the results of the goals which were set by staff at the end of the 2018-2019 school year. These goals are focused on WYTOPPs scores and lifting those across the board. Heywood has been meeting with teachers one-on-one for the goal progress review each month. The teachers are committed to improvement with every student. In previous years these meetings were not as specific to WYTOPPs. This year that is the main focus. These include instructional changes each month and individual interventions. 

WYVA adopted another assessment using Star 360 to try and obtain progressive data on each student. This assessment will be done a minimum of three times a year. It is hoped the Star 360 will lead to success with WYTOPPs. All these meetings are specifically driven by data that is obtained on student performance. 

Superintendent George Mirich discussed the Department of Education peer review meetings that were held throughout the district the week of Oct. 21. This process involves Department of Education staff and several visiting educators who assess 15 areas of district performance utilizing a workbook and then present their findings to the district. This process is to aid the district with its annual accreditation through an in-depth review of where the district is at in meeting expectations for accreditation. 

Student activities scored well. The majority of feedback fell into an “acceptable” level and a few were substandard levels. The two lowest levels were in grading and grade reporting and some processes need changed as soon as possible. Mirich emphasized the district is not going to have grading discussions until the curriculum and lesson plan work has been completed. He advised that there is a process for improvement and that grading structures and reporting needs to come at the end of that process when it is clear what is expected of students and how to hold them to that standard and not before.

Mirich reviewed the steps in this curriculum development process. The teachers and administrators are working on purpose statements for content area and grade levels. Priority standards must then be developed. The district is working to discuss priority components and then breaking it down into concepts and learning components for the learning targets. Mirich has requested that each teacher develop 100 highly effective lessons (100 days). If teachers will do that then it will be way more than the district was doing with 175 days (they currently have 148 instructional days). If the district can do this then it will drastically change volume at which the students learn. 

The idea that learning a concept is no longer optional was emphasized. The standard is not “do we teach this” but “have they learned this.” Students will learn it and there will be interventions until they learn it. It will be yes we are moving forward but now as a student you will be held accountable for knowing all the concepts. If the students hasn’t truly grasped a concept, while the class as a whole moves on, the student will be required to grasp the concept that was previously taught and move forward with the class as well.

Teachers are submitting all this work on Canvas in a classroom just like students submitting to an instructor. Mirich admitted there is lots of work to do before they can start talking about grading systems. They are arbitrary once you move out of the district anyway and without a strong curriculum foundation they would be worthless.

Teachers are developing all these programs and this is why the district requested a four day week. This is a great deal of work and many teachers are finding curriculum work is taking more than just the Friday work sessions.

Discussion was held regarding the article that was published from the Oct. 14 school board meeting that wasn’t completely representative of the meeting that was held. This disappointment was discussed with a newspaper representative and hopefully the coverage will be less disruptive and more accurate in the future. As a public meeting the school board meetings cannot be restricted in access to any group or individual unless the board wants to take more aggressive actions to do this.

Proposed changes to the Vistabeam contract have been drafted per the board and Mirich’s request.

Rick Luchsinger will be awarded the Golden Bell award. Many thanks to Candy Dooper for her work on the nomination letter. This award will be given on Nov.  21 at a banquet at the Casper Ramkota.

The school district the board will receive the 2019 Standard of Excellence award. The school board received this acknowledgement because the majority of its members have received or are eligible for the master of board member award.

During the downtown trick or treat activities on Halloween the board will be at Deckers from 3:45-5 p.m. 

The construction proposal for additional work near the ramp outside the administration building that was presented at the previous meeting has not moved forward at this time. The scope of the project makes it a capital construction project that must be submitted to the state. The magnitude of the project will require a bid process because of the dollar amount. The board should consider how it would like to move forward and advise the superintendent of their wishes.

In the new superintendent evaluation system there is a review of progress and programs that is supposed to take place at the first meeting in November. If there is anything specific that the board would like from Mr. Mirich they need to let him know so he can have it ready.

The board was reminded of appropriate chain of command for district concerns. If a parent, student, or other individuals involved with the district has a concern they need to take that concern to the level in closest proximity to where the problem lies. Board members are expected to offer guidance to these individuals to make sure the concern goes where appropriate. However it is almost never necessary to have an in-depth conversation with the concerned party. These are often operational concerns and the board is responsible for governance and financial oversight. These discussions must be held where they will do the most good. If a board member has a question they can always discuss it with Mirich on a confidential level.

The need to be more aware of confidentiality as a board member was also discussed. Board members need to be sure that any discussions being held are within the appropriate boundaries of their role (i.e. during executive session or with Mr. Mirich). If approached to discuss an individual employed by the district, the board member needs to redirect the conversation so that it doesn’t appear that the board engages in gossip.

Board Reports

Lexie Ashurst attended Freshman Impact in Newcastle with the NCHS freshmen. It was a great program and she was blown away by the extent of the program. They really need volunteers for this program and if anyone is interested in helping out next year they can contact Lisa Williams who is the regional coordinator.

The board adjourned for a 10 minute recess and reconvened at 8:19.

Consent agenda was approved.

Action Items:

• An application for classroom volunteer by Sharon Barndt was approved. Discussion was held regarding some confusion on which volunteers need to be approved by the board. Clarification was provided that any regular volunteer who will be fingerprinted and need a background screening must also be approved by
the board.

• The board needed to appoint a representative to WSBA delegate assembly. The motion to appoint the board at large as voting
delegates passed.

• The recommendation to hire a WYVA Special Education teacher Melody Jordan for a fourth, fifth and sixth grade one FTE position was approved.

Old business:

Book Study Chapter 3 Getting Started. Discussed planning and use
of scheduling.

The board next discussed the resolutions that will be up for vote at the next school board association meeting in November.

The board moved into executive session and then adjourned at 10 p.m.


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