Alta-Aurelia board concerned with preschool waiting lists, eyes technology updates

Friday, August 16, 2019

Numbers in the Alta-Aurelia early childhood grades look to be high as the school year nears, with some preschool kids on waiting lists as class space is full.

The A-A Board of Education expressed concern about the situation during a meeting this week.

T-K is already full to capacity at 19 students. Kindergarten has 50 students in three sections, First grade 56 in three sections, second 43 in two sections, third 40 in two sections, and fourth 55 in three sections, for 263 total students in the Alta building.

Much of the concern is with the 3-year-old preschool program, up three students from last year, and full with nine students on waiting lists. The program is run with Head Start funds, and must adhere to the federal rules that apply to that program. New A-A superintendent William Walters said the regulations are positive, but can “hamstring” districts in some situations.

School officials said the high numbers are good news, but that they feel bad for the students who may not be served.

They also worry that if parents take those youngsters to other districts to attend preschool, they will make friends there and likely continue to attend those others schools when they reach school age.

The 4-year-old program is also at its limit of 40, with two teachers in two sections that are by law limited to 20 students maximum each.

The district is mandated to accept IEP (special education) students in preschool if they come into the district, so that could potentially leave other students to be bused.

A parent of one of the children who was bumped into T-K for lack of space in preschool urged the board to act now to add another 4-year-old section, predicting that the district would have to scramble to do so anyway once the school year starts.

Superintendent Walters promised that the district will look into the situation, and that a special meeting may be held soon.

Walters also addressed the board Tuesday on technology. He said that the goal is for every student in the district to have access to a computer during school, and when necessary, to be able to check one out to take home. Research, however, doesn’t show significant gains for complete 1:1 student to computer ratio schools where all students have computers to take home, he said.

A school board member suggested that the school look into mobile WiFi hot spots, as some areas of the district do not have high speed broadband access.

Williams noted that computers purchased today have about a five-year lifespan. “We will never ever be able to keep up with technology based on what is happening in the world today. What we will do is make sure that what we have works.”

The district has added a technology position to the staff, and Williams wants the district to invest in charging, lockable carts for the classrooms.

Much effort of late has been made so that the internet technology in the two schools - formerly part of individual Alta and Aurelia districts - now fully communicate with each other.

The district will also work on single all-school social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook. The sites will be used in part to recognize student achievements. “They deserve that,” the superintendent said.

Forty-six Chromebook computers have been purchased. Many will go to the high school, to increase laptop numbers in classrooms from 10 to 15, toward an eventual goal of one for each student. Others go to the elementary, and a few to teachers will receive Chromebooks to replace outdated units.

In other Alta-Aurelia school board action this month:

• A new Caravan will be purchased for over $23,000 for 3-and-4-year-old programs, although it wasn’t scheduled. A previous 2006 vehicle was rusting out and might not pass DOT requirements. School board members were concerned about how the old vehicle would reflect on the district when picking up children. A 2007 Suburban is expected to be replaced next year.

• Elementary/middle school principal Jennie Henningsen told the board that the library will again be made a “library first, not a study hall.” New paint and bookshelves have been added, and a new elementary book club is planned. A storeroom has also been converted to a ceramics room, complete with a kiln. More efforts to involve mentoring in the younger grades by high school students are also planned. An open house is planned for August 22, 5-6 p.m.

• Keyboarding will be added in 7th grade, as Henningsen said educators have seen students’ skills slipping. “They can text like no other,” but struggle in typing, and with technology in heavy use in every classroom, the skill is important to all students, she said. Keyboarding will be addressed as early as kindergarten this year. Students will also be shown a video on potential consequences of reckless social media use. Henningsen said a study was done that showed many young people would post unkind things online that they would not say to someone in person.

Cursive writing will be brought back for the first time in several years also as a brief unit, in response to concern that students wouldn’t be able to even sign their own signatures formally.

• At the high school level, early out days this year will be dedicated to college and career preparedness, Principal Tom Ryherd said, with a number of activities planned to help students pursue future goals.

• A new playground surface of rubber mulch was approved for the elementary school/preschool area in Alta, at an estimated cost of $20,243. The surface upgrade is needed to meet safety code.

• The board approved adding air conditioning to a room at the elementary that was formerly a teacher’s lounge, for $4,800. The room is being used for a variety of small group and AEA programs, and without any windows, tends to be hot even in winter.

• The board approved $2,500 for repairs to Aurelia building brick work where there has been some leaking.

• $3,300 was approved to build a replacement kitchen cabinet and counter for the Alta building. Doing the labor in-house will save the district several thousand dollars over purchasing furnishings.

• The board discussed utility costs. While the bills are rising for the former high school building due to increasing areas of that building being rented out for use, but the costs for the current high school are down some $800 from the previous year.

• The parking lot in Aurelia that was redone a year ago is already showing signs of cracking. The district will raise the issue with the contractor in hopes of having repairs made.

• It was noted that three school board seats will be up for election later this year, with the nomination period beginning August 26.