New Ulm Schools continues to grow and add new programming options for our students. With all of the news focused on building a new high school and remodeling our existing sites, we can’t lose focus on the students in the classrooms today. There are so many exciting and new opportunities for our students to engage them in school and to broaden their learning experiences.
Program plans for 2016
I would like to start with the new high school project. We are well underway with the building phase. All plans are to be completed with the building in the fall of 2016. While that continues, the high school planning team has been working on the types of programs to have, what the schedule will look like, increasing collaborative learning options, defining team teaching options and how to increase more electives for all students. Surveys to parents, staff and students will provide input to help refine the plans. We are thrilled to have a new building that will provide so many new programs and options.
Some of the highlights of the new high school include: A new performing arts center that will be a regional centerpiece for our fine arts programs; a large commons/entry area for students to use for lunch, before and after school work and for our community to use for evening or weekend events; an expansive media/learning center with two computer labs for multiple classes; collaborative spaces designed in the hallways for small groups to work together; three large shop spaces to provide more vocational programs; a large greenhouse that provides our students in Agriculture and Science more hands-on opportunities; large science, engineering and FACS learning labs; a large three station gymnasium that provides flexibility for multiple events at the same time; outdoor classrooms and a nature study area. There are many athletic fields and spaces for our Phy Ed department and athletic programs.
The plans for Washington Elementary are to make that our new early learning/community education center. The programs that will be housed at Washington starting in the fall of 2016 are: Pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten, ECFE, ECSE, Head Start, Community Education and Kids Connection. The planning committee is fine-tuning their plans to include more play and movement spaces inside the building and designing an outdoor learning and play area for the children. Having all of these programs under one roof will help with the transitions from one program to the next, all with the same mission and culture of developing early learners. Community Education will have its office and several meeting spaces at Washington. We are increasing our Pre-K offerings and most likely offering wrap around daycare options for parents whose children attend one of our Pre-K programs.
Jefferson transitions to a grade 1-4 building. The planning committee has prioritized their programs to include more space for small group learning, adding new programs like MakerSpace and Engineering, continue to increase technology applications in the classroom and adding more movement spaces. A new addition will help with the additional movement spaces and a SMART room for integrating movement with academics will be included. The playground has been relocated to the front of the main campus and will be enlarged as we get into the summer of 2016. New parent drop off and pickup locations will be developed to help with the traffic flow near the building.
New Ulm Middle School will provide opportunities for students in grades 5-8. This is a true middle school alignment and more appropriate for the social and emotional development of students in those grades. The main focus of the middle school planning committee is to provide teaming of teachers to work with a group of students, offer advisory time each day to meet with students and develop relationships, offer programs that are exploratory so students can investigate many areas and to have electives when they reach 7th and 8th grade. Middle School is about the focus on connections, relationships and building up students through teaming and experiences so they are ready for high school. The planning team is doing a great job of incorporating the middle school philosophy and key components into their design for the new middle school. There will be before and after school programs available for students to participate in. These include sports, clubs and enrichment courses.
At the district level, our work is focused on supporting our schools, students and staff with resources, time and space for our programs. We encourage new ideas and calculated risk taking so our staff can try new instructional strategies to positively affect student learning. Since last year, we have hired new administrators who will take on new roles in 2016-17. The administrative group is working this year with planning teams at each site to finalize what we will have for programs next year. Administrative positions and duties will be realigned for next year to meet the requirements of our programs.
For the past two years, the school board has provided resources to teachers who would like to try new strategies in their classrooms to engage students and push them beyond their limits in learning. The program is called “Innovation Grants”. Teachers apply for a grant by indicating what the grant will do, how many students it will impact and what research supports their idea. Since last year, seven grants have been awarded to start and an additional two were approved to start in the 2016-17 year.
At Jefferson, iTutoring, Active Kids/Active Minds and Monday Makers were approved. iTutoring is a joint venture with Martin Luther College. College students work with Jefferson students on reading strategies with the use of iPads. Active Kids/Active Minds is a before school program designed to get students moving and physically active before school so that they can focus more when school starts. Monday Makers provides students who struggle in the regular classroom an opportunity to work with their hands to build, take apart, re-engineer and design new things. This is another program geared to engage students in something they like and it can carryover into the regular classroom.
At Washington, two Lego programs were approved in the 4th grade. One is called Lego We Do, designed to provide more science and engineering exposure to those students. Students work with partners to design projects using iPads or computers, motors and Legos. Build to Express is used for students in language arts classes. Students build settings from stories to aid in their creative writing.
At the high school, Summer reading interventions were completed and a new Chromebook program for math classes started this school year. The Chromebook project provides students with on-line course information and curriculum to use in class. This is another way of incorporating technology into the classroom and prepares students for the way colleges offer classes today.
Two additional grants were approved, but we are waiting until the 2016-17 school year to implement them. Purposeful play is a Kindergarten program where students work on their motor skill development, social interaction with others, allow for creative thinking and provide for physical engagement of learning. The Writing Center is a high school program to offer a support center for students to receive help working on research or writing papers in any class. A staff member will work with students on the “how to” of proper writing for any curricular area.
The financial state of the district remains solid and stable. The 2015 annual district audit shows that we use sound business practices and have no areas of concern on how we build our budgets or spend our finances. The general fund balance as of June 30, 2015 stood at $5,434,292 or about 75 days of operating funds. We need to continue to maintain a reserve to help to offset any future state aid payment shortages, help with future program changes to align with the new facility plans and to provide resources for our staff to implement new programs. $1.3 million of the fund balance is restricted and can only be used in specific areas. The rest is considered unassigned and available at the discretion of the school board.
There are other budgets we use to run programs: Community Service (includes ECFE, Kids Connection and Community Education), Food Service, Debt Service, Trust Fund and Activity Fund (21 accounts). All of theses funds have rules and regulations on where and how they can be used. The General Fund is the largest. It is used to pay our capital investments, payroll and other monthly expenses. A fund balance is what one can expect if all of the bills come in as planned and all of the expected revenues come in as planned.
The 2015-16 school general budget is $21,840,176. Of this, $16,363,511 is for employee wages and benefits; $4,175,132 is for purchased services; $794,737 is for instructional supplies and materials; $423,310 is for capital expenditures and $84,026 is for other expenses not associated with the above categories.
Our food service staff works hard to prepare several nutritious meals each day, including breakfast and lunch options. To do this, they need to keep their facilities and equipment in proper working order and pass periodic health inspections. The food service budget covers the cost of meals, personnel, equipment and repairs. This budget is separate from the general fund budget. The staff looks for ways to offer better menu items and ask for student input on the food choices available. There will be many changes with the new site configurations.
Our buildings are in great shape and they need constant maintenance to remain that way. Pat Lang oversees a district program that provides us with custodial and maintenance support at all of our sites and athletic facilities. The staff performs daily cleaning, weekly and monthly maintenance checks, athletic event preparation and summer cleaning. There are other requirements that many of our staff aren’t aware of, such as health and safety checks, monitoring our indoor air quality, working with vendors on needed repairs, overseeing all HVAC systems and coordinating district capital projects. These all take resources so that our students have a safe and comfortable learning environment.
New Ulm Public Schools has spent time and money to increase our technology assets and enhance technology integration in the classroom. Technology by itself isn’t the answer. It takes staff time to develop strategies to incorporate technology effectively in the classroom so students can grow. We remain committed to providing access to technology tools and other resources well into the future. Our 21st Century learners will demand new ways of learning, forcing us to incorporate new teaching strategies into our classes. We all see the computers, printers, SMART Boards and mobile devices that are used today. What is seldom understood is the infrastructure that is necessary for all of our technology to work as well as it does. We have servers, network switches, voice over internet protocol (VOIP) devices, wireless access points, too many connections to count, service contracts for our outside access and other systems that allow us to do our jobs. We need to continue to update our infrastructure while building capacity along the way.
Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) is a program for all families with children between birth and pre-kindergarten age. It is the mission of ECFE to strengthen and support the ability of parents to provide the best possible environment for the healthy growth and development of their children. ECFE classes are held once a week for nine weeks. Classes are one to two hours in length. Classes are held mornings, afternoons, and evenings at Washington Elementary School. Other programs offered through ECFE: Early Childhood Screening, Creative Kids (School Readiness), Learning Together, ECFE on the Go and Kids Connection. ECFE maintains a separate budget from the general fund.
New Ulm Community Education programs provide our youth and adults with a variety of opportunities for almost any interest area. The mission of Community Education is: “Strengthening self and community through learning”. Our youth are afforded the opportunity for summer recreation programs and classes. Trips, sports camps and summer outings are included. A variety of classes, trips and special events are available for adults. We have a strong Community Education program that provides opportunities for all the surrounding communities. The Community Education program has a separate budget from the general fund.
Our priorities will continue to focus on providing a quality and challenging educational experience for all of our students. We need to continue our work at incorporating technology for our 21st Century learners and offering education in different ways. Our learning environments need to remain safe and inviting for our students, staff and communities. Moving forward will require all of us to get out of our comfort zone, look for new opportunities, find new methods of education, stay on the front edge of technology and, above all, continue to care for our students.
School is about providing a safe, inviting, challenging and rewarding experience for all of our students. To accomplish these tasks, we need to align our resources to support our district vision and goals. Our vision is “Preparing all of our students to be successful in a 21st Century World”. To accomplish this, we have developed the following mission:
To create a regional center of academic and social excellence for all children that includes:
- Challenging and engaging academic programs for each student
- Learning opportunities for all children from birth to post high school
- Teaching every child as a whole child
- Integrating technology with instruction to provide opportunities for individuals
- Providing safe and modern facilities that meet our student and community needs
- Collaboration with community organizations and civic groups
- Encouraging appropriate parent engagement in their child’s educational program