Century Elementary School hits literacy jackpot

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Century Elementary School has been awarded a $603,000 grant for two years to improve literacy, the Park Rapids Area School Board learned Monday.

Principal Joleen De La Hunt told the board about the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy grant from the Minnesota Department of Education, which was awarded from $20 million in federal funds available statewide.

The grant will allow the school to hire two full-time instructional coaches, who will spend 80 percent of their time in classrooms working with teachers to improve how reading is taught.

De La Hunt said it was a competitive grant weighted in favor of school districts with a high percentage of disadvantaged children. Out of 12 possible points representing English language learners, special education and free or reduced lunch eligibility, the school only had four points in its favor. This meant the application's chances depended on the strength of its narrative.

Among requirements for the program that the school already meets, she said, "We already have a leadership team. We're already part of a literacy academy. We're already committed to this. We're on this journey, and this will supplement what we're already doing."

She also noted the school is implementing a new reading curriculum in 2018-19.

"We needed a really good plan," said De La Hunt, adding that the thick application took a lot of time to complete. "There are narratives. You have to update your literacy plan. It's not for the faint of heart. But if we're going to improve, and we want to get better, and we expect that out of our staff, then we'd better go for opportunities like this."

Because the school initially applied for $900,000, it will have to resubmit its application for the awarded amount. "In the meantime," Superintendent Lance Bagstad confirmed, "our letter says we can start our program."

De La Hunt said the instructional coach jobs have already been posted, and she hopes to hire within the district staff.

"I'm a believer that if we have qualified people in our system," she said, "why not invest in them? They are going to go back to the classroom in two years. They're going to take all of the training, all of the learning, all of the wisdom with them for our kids."

Training for the coaches starts Aug. 6 at the state Department of Education.

"I'm thrilled," De La Hunt said. "We've got young people. We've got a new curriculum. Here's an opportunity to beef it up. I'm so excited that it really is going to be a reality. I have no doubt that this is going to bring great things for our students, for our staff, for our school. It's just a true blessing."

In consent items and general business, the school board:

• Changed its July meeting date from July 16 to July 23.

• Removed interim business manager Carol Hutchinson and authorized new business manager Kent Fritze as a signer on the district's accounts.

• Hired Tanya Miller as speech coach.

• Hired Shalom Grandby as homebound instructor for 15 hours per week.

• Approved the resignations of Barbara Thomason as assistant girls tennis coach, Carolyn Melchert as school readiness teacher and Kathy Soldwisch as Community Education paraprofessional for Century Adventures Preschool.

• Reduced a Community Education paraprofessional position for Century Adventures Preschool.

• Reduced a middle school special education paraprofessional position.

• Increased Kathy Soldwisch to 32 hours a week as Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) school readiness paraprofessional.

• Increased Ronda DeWulf from .5 to .7 full-time equivalent as ECFE school readiness teacher.

• Reduced Colleen Hoscheid, school readiness paraprofessional, from 10 hours a week to eight hours a week.

• Approved an agreement with Marco for printer management services, effective July 1.

• Approved an agreement with Arvig to upgrade the district's phone system.

• Approved volunteer insurance for 2018-19 with Berkley Accident and Health.

• Approved the district's 2018-19 property liability insurance renewal with Gallagher Insurance.

• Approved the district's violent and malicious acts insurance for 2018-19 with Gallagher Insurance.

• Approved the district's life insurance and long-term disability insurance for 2018-19 with National School Insurance.

• Renewed the food distribution contract with Upper Lakes Foods through the National Joint Powers Alliance for the for 2018-19 school year.

• Received and appreciated donations of $807 from DonorsChoose.org to Zach Erickson's kindergarten class, and $300 from the Itasca-Mantrap Co-op to Jenny Corbin's first-grade class.

The school board's next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, June 18 at the Frank White Education Center.