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Educators respond to North Star Accountability report

The Enterprise reached out to area school officials for comments about the 2022 North Star Accountability report, summarizing students’ math and reading proficiency and progress during the past three school years.

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Education and reading concept - group of colorful books on the wooden table
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The Enterprise reached out to area school officials for comments about the 2022 North Star Accountability report, summarizing students’ math and reading proficiency and progress during the past three school years.

Park Rapids students making progress

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A three-year North Star Accountability System report was released by the Minnesota Department of Education on Sept. 1.

“The mission of Park Rapids Area Schools is to prepare today’s learners for tomorrow’s challenges,” said Jill Stevenson, director of curriculum and instruction with the school district. “The educators in District 309 are working diligently to meet the needs of all learners.

“The Minnesota Report Card and North Star report reflects the data that is used to inform curriculum decisions, system supports, and overall student achievement. The district collects a wide range of data in addition to what is published on the Report Card for more specific and individual grade level or program level (information) for the continued growth and development of learners from preK-Grade 12.”

Stevenson concluded that the North Star Report shows that Park Rapids students are making academic progress.

Nevis School looking to close the gap

Principal Brian Michaelson said the Nevis district is working on strategies to address disparities.

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“During our staff workshops before school started, I had meetings with my elementary and high school teachers and we talked about our professional learning community,” he said. “That’s where we set up goals for the year on those types of issues. We want to close the gap between students who qualify for free and reduced lunch and those who don’t. Like Superintendent (Gregg) Parks said at the August school board meeting, we’ve done well academically. We looked at goals to improve the mental health of students and behaviors in elementary students.”

Michaelson said this year’s eighth grade class was significantly above the state averages in both math and reading.

“We have enrichment materials for students who are ‘high flyers’,” he said. “We teach the lesson and take it up another grade level to challenge them with the same material. That’s one of the challenges I gave their teachers, to keep challenging this group of eighth graders.”

Raising achievement in Menahga

“Our goal this year is to get just a little bit better every day in every aspect of what we’re doing,” said Jason Kjos, superintendent of Menahga Schools, serving just over 1,000 students.

Kjos noted that he, elementary principal Margaux Hylla and high school principal Mike Schmidt are all new to their roles this year, “so we are really gathering baseline data and trying to devise a plan to meet the mission and vision of Menahga Public Schools.”

“We are feeling very fortunate,” he said. “Our students do read at a very high level. The former administrative team did a wonderful job in preparing our students and guiding them through.

“The last few years in public education were very, very difficult. We feel we’re in a very good place to address achievement gaps, but just achievement overall.”

Feedback from Laporte

Laporte Superintendent A.J. Dombeck said that overall, statistics in the report such as the graduation rates, consistent attendance were “pretty consistent with our past.”

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Acknowledging that he hadn’t dug deep into the figures yet, Dombeck said his gut feeling about Laporte’s enrollment losses was that “we had gained some students from surrounding districts during COVID, because our guidelines were a little bit different than some of the surrounding districts. We ended up with some students that just felt more comfortable here because of that. As COVID became less of a concern, then some of those students returned to their home districts.”

Regarding enrollment losses, particularly among elementary special education students, Dombeck said, “That does happen to us sometimes because we don’t have in middle school and high school some of the services that are available at other schools, and so sometimes we retain those special ed students through elementary school, but when they’re transitioning to middle school, they might choose a school that has an option that we’re not able to offer for them. That’s not an uncommon trend for us.”

Asked about math scores, Dombeck said he plans to go through those numbers grade by grade in September and October. “Overall,” he said, “the scores didn’t seem to deviate from our long-term trends.”

However, he said he had looked at the reading data because the school is looking at making changes to its reading curriculum. In their reading scores, he said, “We’re below where we’d like to be. There’s no doubt about that.

“And if you look pre-COVID, we were trending upward and making quite a bit of progress. That first testing period after COVID was a pretty big setback for us, and now this is a step back in the right direction, but we’re not quite where we’d like to be yet.”

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