Dist. 88 town hall meeting draws wide range of topics

NEW ULM – Questions asked during a “town-hall” District 88 School Board meeting Thursday at the District Administrative Center Auditorium spanned a range of topics, from opportunities available to students at the high school, to transportation issues that may arise if the district creates an entire new campus.

Around 40 members of the public attended the first-of-its-kind meeting.

The meeting was loosely structured around a rather comprehensive agenda, with school board members taking turns to present on each agenda item and inviting questions during any part of their mini-presentations.

The topics included: district goals; activities and athletics; fiscal management; district programs; community needs; and parent needs.

One prominent set of questions focused on opportunities and challenges at the high school.

One parent noted that unlike “true” extracurriculars, music options, such as band and choir, are also classes. The parent noted that the transition to a six-period schedule (from a seven-period schedule) has made it more difficult for students to participate in band and choir while also taking a foreign language.

In response, board members and administrators explained some of the steps taken to minimize this impact – including but not limited to, creative scheduling around lunch times.

Several parents requested clarification on enrichment classes. In particular, the parents noted a confusion about who pays for online classes, the school or the students.

Administrators clarified that this year, the school board has allocated money to cover the $350 cost for an online class, although that was not the case last year.

Administrators also detailed enrichment options such College in the Schools classes that can be taken for college credit at night and other steps to increase scheduling flexibility (condensing a geography class to free up time, or giving students more choice as to when to fulfill a specific health class requirement).

A related topic also addressed was open lunch. Parents asked about any safety problems and administrators responded in the negative.

A group of questions focused on plans to upgrade school facilities, including remodeling and switching grades among existing schools and building a new high school.

Some asked about the potential timeline: in the best case scenario, board members explained, the projects would be placed on the ballot this August, with construction starting next spring, and the majority of it completed a year later.

Parents wanted to know how a new high school, likely on the edge of town, would affect transpiration patterns – older siblings dropping younger children off, shuttling among sites, etc.

Officials responded that details remain to be worked out, but it is unlikely that shuttle systems would be discontinued.

Others asked if the planned upgrades would improve existing traffic patterns around schools and how the effort to increase opportunities to walk or bike to school would be impacted.

In response, officials detailed plans to redesign traffic flow, in a joint project with St. Paul’s Lutheran School that would open up a street between that school and Jefferson Elementary.

They also discussed planning to change traffic along Garden Street to accommodate bikers, in conjunction with the City of New Ulm.

An audience member asked about any long-term class-size goals – and whether building a new high school, with larger classrooms, would mean increasing sections.

Officials noted that new spaces would be designed in response to trends such as mainstreaming children receiving special education. Also, potential new construction would not necessarily mean simply larger square classrooms – the redesign may involve creating new types of learning spaces, with a “different flow to them,” flexible enough to meet needs of technology-driven 21st century learning.

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