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Feuerhelm and Mark sworn into office, EMS to see changes in 2018-19

Ellsworth School Board incumbent vice president Katie Feuerhelm and recently-elected member Steve Mark took their oath of office on Monday, April 9 at the board's monthly meeting. Katie Davidson / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
Ellsworth School Board incumbent vice president Katie Feuerhelm and recently-elected member Steve Mark took their oath of office on Monday, April 9 at the board's monthly meeting. Katie Davidson / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

The Ellsworth School Board, like Ellsworth Middle School, will see some changes in the coming 2018-19 school year.

Ellsworth Community School District voters elected Steve Mark to the school board in the Tuesday, April 3 local election. Mark received 1,091 total votes, beating out incumbent Gary Brown who received 841 votes.

Incumbent vice president of the board Katie Feuerhelm was the top vote-getter with 1,410 votes. She and Mark took their oath of office at the Monday, April 19 school board meeting.

Feuerhelm will resume her current roles and Mark will begin his term on April 23.

The middle school's changes will take effect long after the board welcomes a new face to its membership.

EMS principal Jon Dodge explained the class scheduling changes that will be carried out in the 2018-19 school year once fifth-graders are no longer at the middle school and staff and students are allotted more space and schedule flexibility.

Beginning next school year, EMS daily Interactive/Enrichment periods, also known as Panther Time, will be moved from the end of the day to the middle of the day around lunch time and will be lengthened from 31 to 42 minutes.

The middle school will also move to a flexible block schedule, keeping their typical 43-minute eight periods Monday, Tuesday and Friday and moving to four 86-minute periods on Wednesday and Thursday.

Explaining the choice of moving to a block schedule, Dodge's powerpoint read: "Blocking allows for deeper thinking and learning. We have been in a daily rush for a long time. District-wide we have pledged to increase rigor. Now we can allow for time for kids to think."

The third change involves a "near elimination" of study halls, which would eliminate the equity issues of students involved in band and/or choir missing out on a study hall hour and non-music students being deprived of the brain enrichments that music provides.

"Research shows that kids who take music classes learn better; music makes the brain more efficient," Dodge said. "Kids in study halls are missing out on the opportunity to increase the efficiency of their brains because they're not involved in music. Now, I'm not saying all kids need to be involved in music, but all kids should have an opportunity to work their brains throughout the course of the day."

Removing the middle school's study hall hours would also keep teachers from getting paid to be study hall supervisors, an improvement in use of school district funds, according to Dodge.

Instead of having a study hall, non-music students will be placed in Foundations of Learning classes, which are described as being "academic-focused" not "fluff."

The new courses will be presented to the Curriculum Committee as an action item once they're developed.

Lastly, EMS plans to hire a full-time technology education teacher to allow students to take tech classes in the morning instead of study halls.

"We've made a lot of changes at the middle school in the last four year," Dodge said, "but they all fit together. It's all part of the vision of things.

"These changes are staff-driven, and there is a lot of positive energy taking place right now."

EMS security cameras

The board also discussed the replacement of the current security cameras at the middle school, which superintendent Barry Cain described as "not functioning the way we'd like them to function."

Cain and the middle school's assistant principal Tim Conway have received initial pricing numbers on an upgraded system.

"I think we're at that point where there is no way that we can continue with the current system long-term," Cain said. "We can invest more into the cameras and systems that are there, but you're basically investing into antiquated equipment."

The board hopes to be able to use funds from Gov. Scott Walker's $100 million School Safety Plan, which was included in the AB 843 he signed into law on March 26, to cover the cost of the new security system. Walker's safety plan creates a grant program for school districts to enhance school safety resources.

The grants are competitive, according to Cain who said, "There are going to be a stampede of districts who have needs, so I think the earlier the better we get on their docket."

The state does not have the grant application set up yet but is accepting letters from districts interested in receiving funding for safety resources.

"Obviously, I think it's something that we will do, but the question is do we hold off and wait to see if there's potential for paying for the systems with this grant money that could be available, or do we just pull the trigger and do it and hope that that grant money may be useful for other aspects of security," board president Doug Peterson noted.

The board will wait to move forward with its decision after gaining more information about the state's safety grant.

Old business actions

The board approved the following old business items unanimously:

• March 19 school board meeting minutes

• March 2018 financial report

• School board policy second reading

New business actions

The board approved the following new business items unanimously:

• Two early admittance requests

• The retirement of Barb Johnson (Ellsworth Elementary School Title 1 paraprofessional, effective beginning with the 2018-19 school year)

• The transfer of Steve Straub (from sixth-grade math teacher to sixth-grade social studies teacher, effective beginning with the 2018-19 school year)

• The resignation of Melissa Boyum (Ellsworth Elementary School Panther Kids Club paraprofessional)

• School District Referendum Election results

• School Board Election results

• Oath of office for Feuerhelm and Mark

• Selection of school board representatives for scholarship presentation and graduation ceremony

• Forgiveness of the April 3 snow day, which will not have to be made up by students

• Elementary staffing for the upcoming 2018-19 school year