Superintendent Lance Bagstad discussed how Gov. Tim Walz’s latest executive orders will affect the Park Rapids schools’ plans to return from Christmas break.

“Since we did articulate our plan before the new executive order, we can still operate under that plan,” he said in a report to the school board on Monday. “So, looking forward to coming back from Christmas and getting those kids into hybrid (learning) that are distance learning right now.”

Bagstad said all students having contact with students will be required to wear face shields as well as masks, starting Jan. 18. Also, staff will be provided voluntary COVID-19 testing every two weeks.

Schumacher award

Activities Director Jeremy Nordick announced that the Midstate Conference Athletic Directors is starting an annual John Schumacher Award, honoring the long-time Park Rapids coach and activities director who died on Oct. 14.

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“This is awarded to a student that exemplifies courage, perseverance, positivity and sportsmanship,” said Nordick, calling them four things Schumacher stood for.

Each member school nominates one student and the conference ADs will vote on the best candidate, he said.

Nordick credited Wadena-Deer Creek AD Norm Gallant with coming up with the idea.

High school failure rates

“Our failure rates have increased,” high school principal Jeff Johnson reported, citing the challenges of COVID-19 and distance learning. “(We’re) working hard on what we can do to bring those classes back for credit recovery and get those students those classes that they need.”

He said after investigating causes of this trend, staff found that students simply weren’t logging in for classes. “When they don’t log in, it’s kind of like not coming to school. When you don’t come to school, you miss the material. When you miss the material, you don’t do the homework; you don’t hand it in.”

Johnson said staff has spent a lot of time during the last two weeks trying to “make connections with kids, contact parents, contact students directly.”

He said high school faculty is already starting to work on next year’s course catalog. He also discussed continuing efforts to bring an Associate’s Degree program to the school via Central Lakes College, including band teacher John Cook’s ability to teach music classes for college credit.

Panther Time underway

Middle school principal Shawn Andress voiced excitement about sixth graders returning to in-person learning on Jan. 4, followed by grades 7-8 on Jan. 18.

“School is not the same without kids in the building,” she said. “Everybody – custodians, cooks, paras, teachers and principals will tell you that we didn’t get into this business to not have kids in the building.”

She said student data so far this year hasn’t been good compared to last year. Staff responded during the second trimester with the Panther Time program, bringing students on campus on Fridays for extra help.

“We’ve now had three Panther Times on Friday mornings, through invite only,” she said. “Our first go-round, our numbers were low, but this last Friday, we had 72 middle school students with us,” and all agreed it was a success.

“Our business is kids,” she said, “getting those kids in and getting them the support that they need.”

Andress hinted that this year’s middle school meal seating in the hallways, leaving the cafetorium to the elementary students, may become permanent, provided seating that can also serve as a flexible learning space.

Requesting the addition of a kindergarten-first grade distance learning teacher to his staff, elementary principal Mike LeMier said his teachers have been setting a high standard for distance learning this year.

“Hopefully, we’ll continue to get more and more kids coming back into the building, but we’re prepared to meet the kids where they’re at,” he said.

School finance award

Business manager Kent Fritze announced that the district’s finance team has received the Minnesota Department of Education’s (MDE) school finance award for the second year in a row.

Fritze said the award is given to school districts whose filings are on time, complete and accurate.

Enrollment stays flat

The number of students enrolled in grades K-12 went unchanged during the past month.

According to the school board’s monthly enrollment report, K-12 enrollment as of Dec. 17 totaled 1,565 – the same number as of Nov. 12.

However, districtwide enrollment totaled 1,694, up seven students from last month, thanks to a gain in early childhood students.