ALTA - At their monthly meeting here on Monday, the Alta and Aurelia School Boards learned about innovative practices being used in the delivery of Social Studies classes in the Alta-Aurelia High School.
Social Studies classes offered at Alta-Aurelia High School include American History I and II, World History, World Geography, Economics, Recent American History, World Religions, Critical Thinking and American Government.
Kirsten Doebel, who teaches many of those classes, spoke to the Boards about how she tries to merge emerging technologies into those classes with the all-important aspect of critical thinking situations for the students. Among the emerging technologies being used are "prezis," a free application which students use for making presentations to their classmates and "glogging," in which students share their thoughts on each other's research-based reports.
The World Religions class has established a website featuring a guide to world religions and the Government class's website features research the students did on Voter Apathy. The students in that class, most of whom will be registered to vote in the 2012 elections, have also been researching to learn more about the candidates and their stands on relevant issues, so that they can be informed voters.
In other business, public hearings were held on Internet Safety Policies and procedures, and Technology Director Linda Huseman gave a summary of the school's policies and procedures in that area. Huseman said the students have discussed the "do's and don'ts" of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and the school has just upgraded their firewall, allowing better blocking of inappropriate sites, as well as the ability for the district to "unblock" sites if needed. Huseman also assured Board members that the students' use of computers can be monitored by teachers.
The Boards approved applying to the State Department of Education for an "Early Start Waiver" to allow the Alta-Aurelia schools to start classes prior to the legislated start date in September. This has been done in the past, and Principal Tom Ryherd said starting early has worked well to allow the first semester to be completed prior to the Christmas break and give students a "fresh start" following the long break.
In other new business, Superintendent Lynn Evans explained the Drop-out Prevention Modified Allowable Growth, and stated that he would like to apply to the state for the maximum amount allowed for both districts. Alta's maximum amount is $151, 645 and Aurelia's is $52,777. If approved by the state, these funds would only be used for programs associated with drop-out prevention, such as counseling, alternative school and before and after-school special programs. Both boards approved the applying for these funds.
Curriculum Director/Elementary Principal Stacey Cole presented a report on what the Early Learning Committee has been doing. She said that they have been "investigating" the Iowa Core Program in more detail, and have decided that the High School and Middle School math programs will be the first departments to try implementing Core principles.
Cole also reported that Middle School Principal Ann Sandine, who was not present at Monday's meeting, reported that Middle School students will soon be participating in a Geography Bee, as well as a Middle School Musical production, which is slated for March.
Ryherd told Board members about the Pre-District Speech Day, scheduled for Tuesday, January 17. This all-day program, believed to be unique to the Alta-Aurelia District, provides students from area schools a chance to come to Alta and perform the pieces they will be doing at the District Speech contest in front of judges and an audience. He said it has gone very well in past years, and been much appreciated by the students and their coaches. Ryherd also spoke briefly about the "Bridgewater class" program at the school, which is designed to help students who, for one reason or another, are determined to be at risk for dropping out of school. Ryherd said that three students were involved in the program during the first semester and that it seemed to achieve its purpose in the case of all three students. Four students are involved in "Bridgewater" this semester, and Bridgewater will be the topic for a future "Spotlight" presentation at a Board meeting, so that Board members can learn about the program in more detail.
Evans mentioned to the Boards that the Early Retirement Policy they approved at last month's meeting dealt only with Certified Staff members, and he wondered what the past practice has been for Classified Staff. Board members in both districts responded that past practice has been to have the same policy for both Certified and Classified staff. An amendment stating this will be presented for Board approval at next month's meeting.
Evans gave a brief summary of district finances, including a refresher on the meaning of the term "Spending Authority" and the appropriate use of the various budgetary funds which have been set up in the District. The median (average) property tax rate for the use of general funds, as legislated by the state, is $12.50 per student. Based on a statewide formula, the Alta District rate is $11.63 per student and the Aurelia District's rate is $9.29 per student. Both are below the average rate for non-general funds use as well, and Evans said that both Districts have a positive outlook financially. Certified budgets for Fiscal Year 2013 will be put together in early February.
The Boards went into a closed session to discuss the mid-year progress of the Superintendent and discuss the format for a final evaluation.