by HANNAH BROADBENT
The Watertown Mayer School District is putting the final touches on a two year plan that according to the district, is designed to increase learning opportunities for
students who may need additional support and time to reach their full potential.
“We want to remove barriers to learning and create greater flexibility,” said Superintendent Ron Wilke.
The two year plan starts next school year, in the fall of 2017. The focuses for the plan in the first year will be in the elementary school and the high school.
The elementary school applied for and received Alternate Delivery of Specialized Instructional Services (ADSIS). This means that the school has greater use of early intervention funding from the Department of Education. With those funds they will be offering an academic and behavioral interventionist. A behavioral interventionist helps with kids with their social and emotional needs.
“We want to make sure in the school system that every child’s need is met,” said Watertown Mayer Elementary School Principal, Marnie Pauly.
Pauly said a few years ago the school started perfecting it’s reading program.
“We have a nice system for reading, we need one for math and we need one for behaviors.” she said.
Kindergarten through fifth grade goes through a reading screen. She says it’s similar to the idea of a thermometer, when kids are sick a thermometer is used as an indicator of what may be wrong, she says the reading screen is their indicator.
Pauly said an interventionist is similar to this idea.
“They help us make sure our programming is right, that we’re doing the right intervention, then we’re checking on it to see if it works or not,” Pauly said. “Then hopefully they’re successful and if they’re not we need to change something.”
According to Pauly that something may mean more one on one time or additional resources perhaps in the special education program.
She says that the interventions can work with students one on one or in groups, it just depends on the students and what they need and what they are working on.
Pauly said the school has one paraprofessional(para) for reading and one for behaviors, but para’s can’t make their own lesson plans, a teacher needs to do it for them. According to her an interventionist is a qualified, licensed teacher.
“We want to streamline it,” she said.
Pauly says an interventionist can connect with teachers who are in the classroom and can suggest ways they can continue to help those needs in the classroom. She said that due to resources they may only have one interventionist for math, reading and behavior in the first year.
“The reason this is so important to me is because I think there is a fair amount of kids who have needs at a younger age and if we teach them how to handle those needs, we won’t end up with a diagnosis,” Pauly said.
She says they have the lessons plan in place for the fall but are still looking into who will fill the position. She can’t say if they’ll be hiring externally but is passionate about keeping with the skilled teachers they have now.
High school changes
The high school is going to be offering an Alternative Learning Program(ALP) to students who may need accelerated help for graduating, or for those who struggle in a traditional classroom setting.
“It’s a different way of programming and thinking,” said high school principal Bob Hennen.
The district said the ALP is designed to provide greater flexibility to meet students academic and behavioral needs and retain student enrollment which is currently being lost to neighboring district programs as well as online options.
Hennen said that by starting these programs in the fall they can keep about ten students who would have otherwise gone to places like the Waconia Alternative Learning Center. He said he has already identified 20-25 students who have shown interest in the program.
“Over the last few years especially it seems like the number of kids that are struggling in a regular classroom setting has grown, it’s not that they have behavioral issues it’s just that they need a different environment to learn and sometimes that’s hard to do especially with classes of 25-30 kids,” Hennen said.
Watertown Mayer High School (WMHS) offers independent study and online learning options but Hennen knows that sometimes those aren’t enough.
“You need the teacher there,” he said.
The program would provide additional courses in a non-traditional setting according to Hennen. The classes would have at most 12 students. Hennen says they will offer core courses like math, social studies and sciences but students will also have the option to take classes they are interested in that the school doesn’t offer. They are also hoping for a work study option.
Hennen says beyond those core classes, it is hard to say what other courses they will offer because it will depend on the student. He said the goal is that these classes will be much more individualized.
“This just fits in with our current model that we want to give kids as many options as possible to pursue things they’re interested in and also in different settings,” Hennen said.
In the district’s written plan the ALP is specified for students who may not graduate on time, but educators in the district want the community to know it’s much broader than that. It’s for any student who needs it.
“Let’s stop calling it ALP, it’s more learning options,” said Superintendent Ron Wilke. “It makes the most sense for the way kids learn.”
Wilke and Hennen also stress that it is focused on academics, it’s not a behavioral center.
“ALP is an acronym that’s used but realistically I think we would just like to have programming options and to be flexible,” Hennen said. “Whether we call it ALP or we call it another name they’re taking other classes that’s what it comes down, it’s course options.”
At this point in time the school has staffing and plans in place, but Hennen says the plan for the first year is to start small.
“We know that the first year is going to kind of be a trial and error but I think it’s going to be better than what we have been doing,” he said.
“The system that we have traditionally had is that time is a constant and learning is a variable, this seeks to flip that,” Wilke said.
The school is also partnering with Freedom Farm and Southwest Metro Intermediate District to create an area learning center called Freedom Academy which will begin in fall 2017.
“There are some kids that the other programming we are talking about are still not a good fit for,” said superintendent Ron Wilke. “Freedom Academy will be designed to provide them a high quality academic experience with their life experiences in supporting their life needs.”
Students will be able to use the horse therapy offered by Freedom Farm and have hands on work experience if they choose.
Wilke hopes this space will allow students to still have more intensive care and possibly transitioning them back into the high school.
“That’s where partnering with Southwest Metro Intermediate comes in, that’s what they do,” Wilke said. “We’re tapping into their expertise, their experience and resources.”
The school district will have the option of taking over the program when it is at a sustainable level of student enrollment.
2018-2019 school year
In the second year of the district’s plan there will be moving around of grades and the transition of Watertown Mayer Primary School to the Watertown Mayer Family Center.
According to the district, fifth grade will move to the middle school and kindergarten will move to the elementary school. This leaves the possibility for infant and toddler care in the Primary School.
Superintendent Ron Wilke assures community members that they don’t plan to take away business from private day care centers.
“We believe there is a need for this,” Wilke said. “We think there’s enough to go around.”
He says with the transition to a family center there is greater opportunity to reduce the wait list for families and there will be more room for community education programs and the Possibilities Program.
The district plan states that the 2017-2018 school year will be a planning year for the center, and for the other two transitions between schools.
Principal Marnie Pauly and Wilke ask for as much parental involvement as possible.
Pauly says she wants to start with small groups including parents and grow from there. She said one of the best things about this change is that all of the resources for the elementary school will be in the same building. Right now resources are shared between the two buildings.
“I understand parent’s perspective, I would have all kinds of questions,” Wilke said. “We want to more deeply engage parents in the planning.”
School board meetings are held at 6 p.m. on the fourth Monday of every month at the Watertown City Hall and are open to the public.
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