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Kindergarten will start two days late next fall

Kindergartners will have their first day of school two days later than all other students in the Morris Area School District this fall in order to help students and families prepare for a successful first year of school.

On Tuesday, the Morris Area School Board approved a calendar change that would set aside the first two days of school – September 3 and 4 – for meetings between kindergarten students, teachers, and families.

On September 3 and 4, each kindergarten family will have a half hour appointment to meet with their student's teacher to complete assessments and paperwork and establish a relationship between parents and teachers.

“The big thing it's going to gauge will be where the child is at so that when they are here for the full day we can hit the ground running,” said Morris Area Elementary School Principal Ken Gagner.

The half-hour meetings will help staff get to know students and develop curriculum based on their needs.

Other districts like Detroit Lakes, Battle Lake, Fergus Falls, Lac Qui Parle, and Willmar have already implemented a schedule shift like this one for kindergarten students.

This year, staff in early childhood education have also been working hard to improve collaboration between their services and the K-3 staff by offering literacy information to child care providers and matching language and handwriting curriculum, for example.  

“The whole goal is that when the children come, no matter what their previous experiences have been, they're ready to have a successful first year of school,” said Gagner.

District requests setting aside mandatory staff development allowance

The Morris Area School Board has voted to ask the Morris Teachers' Association to waive a state mandated allowance for staff development money, a move that could save the district almost $80,000 in the 2013 – 2014 school year.

For several years, school districts had the authority to waive a requirement to set aside 2 percent of the state aid allowance for staff development – a total of about $125,000. Morris Area elected to do so, but did set aside between $40,000 and $45,000 for staff development each year, said Superintendent Scott Monson.

This year, the district has not been given that authority. In order to waive the mandate, the district needs a majority vote from both the school board and the MTA. Since the board voted to ask for the mandate on Tuesday, the proposal will now be

brought to the MTA for consideration.

Monson told the board that the district is looking at several increases in expenses for the next year, which have led to a preliminary budget deficit approaching $300,000. For example, the district may need to add another section of fourth grade to keep class sizes down, Monson said.

“Staff development is important, and nobody would argue with that,” said Monson. “You're in a position where do you put money into staff development and not create that fourth section of fourth grade? Do you not give at will staff salary and benefit increases? You have to make tough choices.”

The district Finance Committee will continue to work on the budget and present a more detailed preliminary budget in March, Monson said.

Students show growth on second MAP test

Students in first through eighth grade performed well on the second round of Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests for this school year, showing growth for most grades in all three areas: reading, math and language usage.

“One of the goals that we have for our students that we're really focusing on this year is growth,” said Gagner. “The reason I like growth versus proficiency is because it doesn't matter where the students are, whether you've got your highest students or your lowest students.”

Based on growth models developed by Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) based on a national average, seven of eight grades met or exceeded growth targets in reading, six of eight exceeded targets in math, and six of seven exceeded targets in language usage. This is the second year the district has administered the assessments.

Over the course of the year, the district has taken steps to help teachers better understand the data collected during these assessments. This fall, 18 teachers attended full-day data retreats with the test developers, and teachers in grades K through six have met to discuss and analyze the data after each testing period, Gagner said.

“Our teachers, for only being in the second year, have come a long way towards accepting the tests and using the data,” said Gagner.

The test results have also helped identify students who may need extra help and work to prepare them for other standardized tests in the future.

Other business

• The board made two changes to the 2013-2014 schedule to better accommodate parent/teacher conferences.

Fall conferences will be held on just one evening, Tuesday, Nov. 12, at staggered times – elementary conferences will be held from 4:30 to 7 p.m. and high school conference will be held from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

Spring conferences on Wednesday, April 9 will also be staggered, with high school conferences from 4:30 to 7 p.m. and elementary conferences from 5:30 to 8 p.m.