During last week’s meeting, the Big Lake School board heard an update from Independence Elementary, as well as a presentation from three students on why they love their school.
Independence Elementary Update
The school board heard an update on the year so far from Independence Elementary School.
Last fall, Independence staff offered the new student and family orientation for the first time. The event taught new students and families about what it meant to be a part of a STEM school, allowed them to pick up their Chromebooks prior to school starting, and gave them a rundown of how school dropoff and pickup works. Staff reported that the event went well and families were much less confused on the first day of school. The orientation day will return for new students again for the 23-24 school year, with a few changes made.
Next, the board heard about the school’s goals and how they have been implemented thus far.
The first goal was to increase the capacity of STEM implementation in the classrooms. Teachers are educating their students about proper questioning techniques, and have been attempting to recreate outcomes seen in the Pygmalion Effect (and effect which showed that random students labeled as “gifted” out-performed their peers due to their teachers’ high expectations and extra attention.)
The next goal was to continue to implement targeting literacy practices through routine implementation of vocabulary. Teachers have been pursuing this goal in a variety of ways, several of which were outlined during the meeting. School board members were asked by Independence staff to do a little homework of their own by reviewing teacher lesson plans.
In other news at Independence, the school has recently won an award from the MESPA (Minnesota Elementary Schools Principals’ Association). This national award has recognized Independence for its STEM programming. The annual MESPA conference will be held in Minneapolis this year.
Buzz’s Bookstore is now open. This is a vending machine that features children’s books. Students can earn tokens to use at the vending machine by showing positive behavior. So far, the machine has been entirely stocked through donations. Independence staff is always looking for more donations towards the purchase of books for the machine.
Finally, three students wrote a letter about how much they love their school. The letter was published in the school newsletter and the students were invited to read it aloud before the school board.
Atypical of the return from winter break, Big Lake Schools gained 17 new students in January. Business Manager Angie Manuel noted that, usually, there is a dip in the number of students after the break. This keeps the district in a comfortable place slightly above their budget (as the schools receive state funding based on the number of students.)
Another bit of good news is that Governor’s Walz’s new educational spending budget has the state funding 50% of special education programming. This would be a huge increase in government funding for the schools, as the program is currently only funded by the government at 13%. Look for a more in-depth story on special education cross-subsidies and what this means for Big Lake Schools in an upcoming edition of the Patriot.
The federal government has opted to continue with its policy of providing free meals for all students in schools across the country, which began during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that students would not go hungry as they attended school remotely. Manuel noted that this is both a blessing and a curse, as she and her peers (other business managers in neighboring districts) are concerned that this will lead families to not apply for free and reduced lunch. While it may seem meaningless to families, since they will receive free lunch for their students regardless, some of the income the schools receive are based on the number of students on the free or reduced lunch program. Therefore, it is important for eligible families to apply. Families can also re-apply after a change in family situation, such as a layoff, change of job, or cut in pay. Manuel noted that there really is no direct incentive for families to apply any longer, however, and the situation has been brought to the attention of the governor, who promised to look into the situation.
Student Liaison Report
Student Liaison to the board, Grace John, noted that school policy was successfully changed by a group of students. Students will now be allowed to wear hats in school, barring large or distracting hats. Teachers are still allowed to ask students to remove hats if need be, and the use of hoods is a gray area.
John noted that the school E-Sports team went to state.
The National Honor Society (NHS), Big Lake Chapter, is holding a blanket drive, as they do annually, and blankets will be donated to local homeless shelters.
NHS also organized a “Giving Tree” in December. Donations of items such as winter coats, new backpacks, and other items were collected. These items will be available for any student to take as they need from the High School’s “Hospitality Room.”
John and one of her peers, David Guyse, were both nominated for MSHSL ExCel awards. See the story on page XX.
In Other Business, the Board:
• Noted that the district may be required to make up a day if they had another snow day, as only so many E-Learning days were permitted, and considered making April 10 a make-up day if this were to happen (which is the Monday after Easter);
• Noted there will be no school February 17, and February 20 is President’s Day;
• Noted that Kindergarten registration will be February 21.