Archived Story

Plans on schedule for I.J. Holton Elementary

Published 9:44am Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The math is adding up for I.J. Holton School.

According to district officials, construction and academic planning is progressing on schedule for the new fifth- and sixth-grade intermediate Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics school.

“The building is on schedule,” Holton Principal Jean McDermott told the Austin Public School Board at its monthly public meeting Monday night.

McDermott said workers were planning to pre-install the roof soon, and OSHA inspectors had already toured the site. While the construction project progresses, district officials are also working on securing furniture and equipment for the school, with teachers, focus groups and other staff mulling over requests.

Teachers and district officials are still planning the new school’s curriculum and programming with University of Minnesota experts and a community advisory committee. District officials are also partnering with other education groups to develop assessments for students, so the new school teachers can gauge what the students already know, and plan STEAM lessons accordingly.

“We feel very comfortable moving ahead,” John Alberts, education director, told the board.

District officials say the curriculum is largely decided by state and federal education standards, but STEAM provides a new look, and a different perspective on these lessons.

“This goes beyond [what the curriculum is],” Superintendent David Krenz said. “How we teach, this is where the innovation comes in.”

McDermott said fifth-grade students will most likely have a large, grade-wide engineering component across classes for the end of the school year, and district officials are reviewing potential lesson units that students could learn about and would directly relate to. For example, students could do a large project around water, and those lessons could incorporate real-life lessons from Austin’s flood renovation projects, the Cedar River, or the environmental impact of the area’s watershed.

“STEAM is not something you just pick up,” McDermott said. “You develop that philosophy to fit your community and your school’s needs.”

By the same token, district officials sought to calm potential fiscal doubts residents may have. McDermott said district officials are carefully looking at what technology needs to be available at the new school, and which technology would make the most sense for students, while not just buying new computers and devices for its own sake.

In addition, Krenz said, he had been asked about the potential surplus in funding from the new school’s construction, as well as the Woodson Kindergarten Center expansion. Both projects were supported by voters in a $28.9 million bond referendum last November, and both projects received construction bids below what district officials budgeted. Yet, as Krenz pointed out, the district can’t use bond levy funding for anything other than the projects that went before voters, which means both Woodson and Holton’s construction projects will still use up the entire levy amount for things like Woodson’s flooring, ceiling, and HVAC, as well as Holton’s fields, grounds, play areas, and more.

“The scope of those projects is well beyond bricks and mortar,” Krenz said. “None of that money will get shifted, or legally can be shifted, to other areas of the district.”

In other news, the board:

—Approved the 2012-2014 contract for Austin’s principals. Principals will get a 2 percent raise this school year and a 1 percent raise next year. In addition, the dental insurance policy will be moved to the $2,000 max to be in-line with the rest of the district’s health insurance policy. District officials raised the insurance funding for its self-insured policy to the maximum amount allowed earlier this year, in order to better plan future overall budgets as insurance funds ran deficits over the past several years.

Overall, Austin principals will see a 5.5 percent total package increase over this school year and about a 2.7 percent total package increase next year under the proposed contract, to keep in line with federal insurance mandates as well as the district’s move to fund its insurance policy to the maximum claim amount possible.

—Heard an annual report on curriculum, instruction and student achievement. The report summarized the district’s progress on its strategic roadmap as well as student testing data from last year’s assessments. The district did change one assessment, as school officials will now use the CogAt, or Cognitive Abilities test, to determine whether first- through third-graders should be part of a gifted and talented program. The test doesn’t focus as much on language as it does on critical thinking and logic skills, which Alberts says benefits more non-white and lower income students.

—Officially recognized a local Fellowship of Christian Athletes group as a school club. Activities Director Lisa Quednow-Bickler said the group has operated independently for a number of years but wanted to be recognized as a school activity.

—Postponed renaming the Ellis Middle School swimming pool after former coach Bud Higgins, a member of the Minnesota Swimming Coach Association Hall of Fame who worked in the district in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s.

—Canceled its monthly special session meeting and changed the date of next month’s public meeting. Board members plan to meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13, inside the district’s conference room at Austin High School.

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