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'Student success coordinator' to help bolster Park Rapids graduation rate

Park Rapids Schools have received unofficial approval to hire a "student success coordinator," whose role will be to increase graduation rates by focusing on at-risk middle school students, superintendent Glenn Chiodo reported at this week's board meeting.

The anticipated two grants from Blandin Foundation ($50,000) and Northwest Minnesota Foundation ($25,000) will fund the two-year, part-time position.

The student success coordinator will work with 20 to 25 students in the fifth grade who are not special needs students, but kids in need of mentorship, Chiodo explained.

The goal is to increase graduation rates and send more students on to post-secondary opportunities.

"The late bus piece was part of the component," Chiodo said of students who have not had the opportunity to take part in after school activities. Three late buses will run, transporting not just athletes but all students in the district involved in co-curricular activities.

The students' after-school activities will be monitored; they will not be allowed to simply hang out downtown, Chiodo said.

Students will be issued a $2 punch card for the service and will be required to register for the late bus by noon in the school offices. Office personnel will have records of students' activities.

Buses will depart from Century School at 5:15 p.m. and the high school at 5:30 p.m. They will head to Lake George, Hubbard and Ponsford, as had been the practice before the service ended in 2001.

The Park Rapids Education and Activities Foundation and St. Joseph's Area Health Services have made a two-year commitment to fund the service.

In other action, the board:

n Learned Chiodo is recommending the school district ask voters to approve another five-year general education levy at the same amount of $600 per resident pupil unit.

No official action by the board will be needed until Aug. 20, he told the board, noting preliminary numbers are showing residents will see less of a tax impact because of the growing tax base.

"We don't have a choice unless we are prepared to make more cuts," board chair Sherry Safratowich commented.

"With the economy, it makes sense to extend it," Chiodo said of the state delaying aid payments.

"Is it enough?" Safratowich questioned.

"No," Chiodo replied. "But we need something doable for the public. It's a continuous battle. We need this piece in place," he said of the levy generating more than $900,000 each year.

Ninety percent of Minnesota school districts now receive referendum revenue, with a state average of $826 per pupil unit in 2010.

Notice will be sent to all district taxpayers with the decision by voters to be made in November.

n Approved hiring Jody Bettin and Joseph Kuehn as first grade teachers.

n Approved a dairy bid from Land O' Lakes and a bread bid from Sarah Lee.

n Reviewed the MCAII test data, Century principal Bruce Gravalin noting, "Overall, we are showing improvement," high school principal Jeff Johnson concurring.

"I feel good about the results," Johnson said. "It's an improvement over last year and past years."

"Comparisons are not fair," Gravalin said of comparing districts. "But the process has schools looking at curriculum."

"But we're making gains toward standards most don't agree with," board member Gary Gauldin said.

The school district has lost some Title I funding, "but the process has afforded us good staff development time," Gravalin said.

Math tests scores found 62 percent of the district students proficient, compared with 66 percent of the state. Eighty-four percent of Century Elementary students were deemed proficient in math compared with 66 percent statewide. In the middle school, 56 percent earned a proficient score compared with a 66 percent state average.

By grade, 86 percent of third graders were proficient in math, compared with 83 percent statewide; grade four, 82 percent compared with the state's 77 percent; grade five, 65 percent and 69 percent statewide and grade six, 49 percent compared with the state's 69 percent.

Fifty-five percent of Park Rapids seventh graders were ranked proficient in math compared with 64 percent statewide and scores were 56 percent and 59 percent, respectively in the eighth grade.

Grade 11 earned a 29percent proficiency rating in math, compared with 43 percent across the state.

Johnson noted what may be expected of a student and what actually happens on a test can be quite dissimilar.

"We have kids in the advanced classes who may not meet the standards and another who succeeds," he said.

"We have kids in tech math who passed," academic advisor and district assessment coordinator Shelly Walsh said.

She noted high school students may sign up for math MCA refresher courses and after school tutoring. A HELP program is also offered during the summer.

Passing the math test is now a graduation requirement.

Johnson noted the MCA tests are not timed, but students completing the test have an impact on those still tackling questions.

The ACT tests are timed, Walsh said, which can be difficult for some.

In reading, Park Rapids School District students overall nearly mirrored the state average of 72 percent (71.80 passing in Park Rapids, 72.34 percent statewide). Eighty percent of Century Elementary students were successful, 72 percent statewide; 66 percent of middle schools were proficient, 72 percent statewide and 76 percent and 72 percent, respectively, in the senior high.

By grade, with the state percentage of reading proficiency in parenthesis, were third, 82 percent (76); fourth, 78 percent (73); fifth, 75 percent (76); sixth, 62 percent (72); seventh, 65 percent (66); eighth, 59 percent (68) and grade 10, 76 percent (75).

The ninth graders mirrored the state on the writing test with 90 percent of the students claiming proficiency.