By Luke Reiter
Almost one year after the Minnesota Department of Education labeled Braham’s secondary school as underachieving and placed it in a mandatory reform program, District 314 officials say the designation—while frustrating—has its perks.
In a community meeting held on Monday, March 14, Superintendent Greg Winter told parents while he still disagreed with the assessment, the money provided through the School Improvement Grant has been a welcome asset in a period of poor funding.
“Now, almost a year later, the resources we were able to get because of this certainly outweigh the stigma of the label itself,” Winter said.
Winter outlined several ways the school had used the grant to bolster academics, including the hiring of two additional math and reading teachers and the implementation of a teacher evaluation system to improve staff performance.
Other new positions created by the grant include a full-time chemical dependency counselor and a half-time social worker. The school also added a Site Administrative Manager position filled by Judy Adams. The SAM functions like an assistant principal and deals with financial, disciplinary and personnel issues, allowing the principal to focus on curriculum and teacher development.
One of most recent changes afforded by the grant money is a new remedial program for seventh and eight grade students. Winter said some students entering the secondary school can become complacent, but he said it’s crucial time to impart a solid high school work ethic.
The new program mandates that students who fail a certain number of classes must take part in either summer school or after-school programs to lift their performance.
Regardless of the efficacy of programs bought with grant money, Winter said a greater degree of parent involvement would be required in order for students and the school to be truly successful.
To that end, administration has used grant money to reinstate the school newspaper and improve the information available through the district Web site, and Winter said they will continue to work to improve communication.
Winter said the secondary school has also implemented new, stricter policies to improve the academic environment.
“I think at the beginning of the year if we were about two or three weeks into the school year most students would tell you ‘Boy, it’s really different—they really hammer down on behavior and clothing and stuff like that,’” Winter said. “But if you talk to students right now it seems normal.”
Winter said some of the programs, such as the anti-bullying program, address important issues that would have been low priorities with past funding, but since being billed as low-peforming school Braham has had the means to address them.
“Was that a difficult label to deal with at first? Yeah it was.,” Winter said. “But once again if you look at outstate Minnesota small schools, these things exist everywhere. We were just enabled an opportunity of… resources, training, guidance to deal with some of these things.”