By Kremena Spengler
NEW ULM - Free breakfast at all school sites, some class size reductions thanks to a levy passed by the community last year, a teacher evaluation pilot project, and a continuing focus on technology integration are some noteworthy developments at New Ulm Public Schools highlighted by Superintendent Jeff Bertrang as the new school year begins.
For the first time, the district will offer free breakfast at all sites, reports Bertrang. The popularity of the program will be assessed as the year goes on.
As a result of the passage of an extra operating levy last year, the district will be able to fulfill its goal of reducing class sizes wherever possible. For example, an extra class section is being added in each of kindergarden, first and fifth grades (where student numbers merit it the most). Some core class section sizes are also being reduced in the upper grades.
The district this year is piloting a teacher evaluation model based on teachers observing each other, setting goals and creating individual growth plans. Other components of the model take into student surveys and student standardized assessment results.
An evaluation model will be mandatory for state teachers starting next year.
A similar model for evaluating principals, piloted last year, becomes mandatory during the present year.
The district will continue to focus on further integrating technology into instruction. Thanks to parent-led fundraising, district school sites will have more current devices for staff and students to use (iPads, iPad minis, Chrome books). Computer labs have been upgraded at the high school.
The focus is on further training staff how to integrate these devices into instruction, notes Bertrang.
A new mathematics curriculum, Math Expressions, is being introduced in grades K-8. Teachers have undergone training on how to use the new series.
Jefferson School is adding a section of kindergarten and a section of first grade.
The school is welcoming two Reading Corps members, who work with children to strengthen literacy skills. The Reading Corps members help meet children's needs by providing extra help in individualizing instruction.
Phase 2 of a major playground upgrade - installing a rubber mat to minimize the potential for injuries - has been completed.
A fifth grade section is being added at the school.
Washington School is implementing a system aimed at further individualizing instruction in core subjects (math, reading). Ninety-minute lesson period blocks are split into 30 minute large-group instruction periods and 60-minute small-group periods. Students are divided into groups on the basis of skills and learning styles.
The school is continuing to consciously focus on the integration of technology in the classroom.
Character Counts, a program aimed at fostering a safe, respectful school climate, this year is emphasizing quiet, safe hallways in the building.
The school reports technology upgrades in computer labs; two new staff members with tech credentials have been added since last year.
The High School is beginning the year with all new lockers, which are larger, quieter and with better-working locks.
Online course options have been expanded to offer additional opportunities to students who do not need extra help or remediation during scheduled "resource time."