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Menahga High School temporarily moving to virtual learning

Due to illness and staff shortages, the Menahga High School will move to distance learning from Jan. 25-28.

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Menahga School District
Shannon Geisen / Park Rapids Enterprise
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Due to illness and staff shortages, the Menahga High School will move to distance learning from Jan. 25-28.

The Menahga School Board authorized the temporary move for grades 9-12 at Tuesday’s meeting. The resolution allows Interim Superintendent Kevin Wellen to “adjust accordingly, if conditions change.”

In his report, Wellen wrote, “As much as we want to stay in person, we just physically are not able to do so. With an in-service day set for Monday, having Tuesday through Friday next week as distance learning for grades 9-12 and PreK-8 will remain in person all four of those days. It will take pressure off our system and allow students and staff a chance to recover from whatever is ailing them in the hopes that we can be back at full force the following week. Since the building is not closed, high school activities may continue. Grades 9-12 will also have tutoring available on a case-by-case basis.”

Wellen explained that the admin team has been “scrambling” to find substitute teachers and paraprofessionals. “We’ve had a lot of absences. From what we can see, it’s not due to COVID. It’s just a lot of absences,” he said.

The team determined that, if the high school moved to virtual education, it would free some paraprofessionals to help in the elementary and middle school, Wellen said. “Our fear is, if we don’t get some reset time, we’re going to be shut down K-12 because we have to get the staff on board.”

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High schoolers have the most “self-guided ability,” he added.

Wellen noted that 75-80 out of 500 high school students were absent on Tuesday, “which is a huge number for us. That’s not all for sickness.”

High School Principal Mark Frank noted that the high school was short two paraprofessionals at the start of the school year. “We’ve not been able to fill those two,” he said, plus others have since resigned. “We’re substantially short on paras. Definitely pleading for anyone interested in a position to apply so we can get back to fully staffed.”

Wellen reiterated it’s the administrative team’s goal to stay in person.

When school isn’t in session, he continued, cooks, bus drivers and paras don’t get paid. “It’s their livelihood as well taking care of the kids and mitigating daycare for the families.”

Wellen said he filled out an application to the Minnesota Department of Education to offer online classes, in a worst-case scenario.

Board member Dave Treinin inquired if high school students struggle to meet graduation requirements under virtual education.

Wellen replied that graduation rates were the same.

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The second semester starts next week, Frank added, and tutoring is available to salvage credits, if needed.

Teachers will be giving direct instruction online, answering questions and taking attendance, he explained.

Board chair Andrea Haverinen noted that many parents don’t have internet access and don’t want devices brought home.

Wellen said concerns should be directed to the principal or teacher. Hotspot wi-fi is still available.

Wellen “strongly encourages” parents to keep sick children at home or else the situation will worsen. The school has remained in person because “staff has been very accommodating” and filling in where needed, he concluded.

Superintendent searchHaverinen said the district received just under 30 responses to a districtwide survey. There are four applicants for the superintendent position, thus far.

The board will receive interview training on Jan. 31 and the final candidate list on Feb. 17. Interviews are scheduled for Feb. 22-23.

In other business, the school board did as follows:

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  • Accepted a $1,000 donation to FCCLA from the Wolf Lake Wolf Pack Baseball Club, Inc.
  • Approved lane changes for Christa Palubicki, Kayla Huttunen, Lindsey White, Megan Porta, Joshua Roiko, Cody Pulju, Keylee Sommer, Lisa Novak and Christy Henry.
  • Received notice of these work assignments: Bill Hodge, JH girls basketball coach; Shane Siltala, bus driver, beginning Jan. 17; and Alexandra Entwistle, full-time custodian.
  • Accepted letters of resignation from Connie Strandquist, special education teacher, effective June 3; and Sarah Lusti, paraprofessional, effective Feb. 11.
  • Approved the Kenmark invoices in the amount of $938.
  • Approved the clerical employee handbook, which included step salary increases. For the 2021-22 contract year only, each active clerical employee who has been employed on or before Nov. 15, 2021 received a one-time payment of $400 in December 2021.
  • Accepted open enrollment applications for 2022-23.
Related Topics: MENAHGA SCHOOL BOARD
Shannon Geisen is editor of the Park Rapids Enterprise.
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