Braham School District’s School Improvement Plan grant is approved

By Elizabeth Sias

After months of revision, the Minnesota Department of Education last week approved Braham Area School District’s School Improvement Plan grant for its second year.

The School Improvement Plan (SIP) is part of Braham’s school turnaround program that requires money for additional teachers, counselors, programs and software in order to improve quality of education and test scores.

A quality review report released by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) in May 2010 labeled Braham Area High School’s overall performance as “unacceptable.”

The 2010-2011 school year was the first year with the grant in place, but the revision process for obtaining the grant for the second year was difficult, Superintendent Greg Winter said.

“As with any grant process, the second year revision can be very arduous,” he said. “The Minnesota Department of Education officials became more aware of the scope of requirements from the federal education department. These new requirements were handed down to the schools late in the revision process.”

The biggest change is the process for documentation of student progress as a result of the turnaround program. The U.S. Department of Education requested the use of more quantitative data to track student progress.

Support staff that have been hired through the grant, the CD counselor and social worker will also use quantitative data to track the effectiveness of their duties as they work with students, Winter said.

Several factors led to the delay in the approval of the grant. The state government shutdown caused about a three-week delay in the renewal process, then there was a change in staff at the division of the MDE that Braham works with throughout the revision process.

The final point, Winter explained, was a requirement of the grant to increase the school day by one hour for all students at the high school.

Staff were able to add 21 minutes into the schedule starting with the second semester this year, but adding an hour was impossible because the district only has one schedule for all of the buses running for students in K-12.

“Since our (grant) funding is only for 7-12 students, it is impossible to add this time on without additional funding for our K-6 elementary level,” Winter said. “Our biggest hurdle at this time is to get MDE to understand the difficulty of adding the additional time for next year. All current research does not support adding additional time into the school day to increase student achievement. Better use of time and additional support for struggling students is the best strategy for increasing student achievement.”

Now that the SIP grant has been approved for year two, one benefit will be the purchase of technology that will be implemented along with investments the district has made into technology.

Over the past two years, the district has replaced all computers in the district along with rewiring the secondary building for WiFi capability. The grant will provide iPad portable labs that will be able to be used in the classroom.

The biggest change, Winter explained, will be the reinstatement of the Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).

The PLCs help staff work with each other and review issues the school needs to overcome to help educate students.

“PLCs have been part of many successful schools for many years,” Winter said. “The biggest investment a school can make for student achievement is staff development.”