GHS Weight Room Will Get a New Look

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New equipment will have that Blue Dragons look!

Some relationships get better with age.  Our district has worked with the Orthopedic Institute (OI) over the last 24 years, with OI providing athletic training services to our school district once a week, and for all football, wrestling and other “big events.”  Over the past year, Mr. Steckler and I have met with a number of prospective vendors related to athletic training services offered in our District. After looking at our options, we have renewed that relationship with the Orthopedic Institute and the Sioux Falls Specialty Hospital (SFSH).  It has been a great relationship in the past, and we look forward to further developing that relationship in the future.

Two aspects of the new relationship are significant.  First, we will see much more service provided to our student athletes.  In the past, a trainer has come out once per week to assist with rehabilitation and injuries.  Next year, we will have a trainer out to the school five days per week, before practice and during practice to provide our students with injury rehabilitation as well as taping and injury response during practices. This is a 5X increase in services for our district!  In the past, we have only had a trainer available for home football and wrestling. Next year, we will have a trainer available for all of our home athletic events to provide services for injured athletes.  Our student athletes will see better services provided to them in Garretson than we ever have before.  We appreciate OI’s commitment to our school and our athletes.

The second aspect of this new agreement is also exciting.  As part of the discussions about developing our athletes in Garretson, we talked about our summer and in-season strength programming.  Our student athletes will see significant improvement in this area starting THIS SUMMER!  This includes a complete remodel of our weight room facility.  We asked staff from OI to come out to look at our current set up and asked them what they would recommend to maximize the space available.  Not only did they recommend some significant changes to how the room is organized, but they also recommended that we replace our current equipment.  As part of our renegotiated contract with OI and SFSH, they agreed to upgrade our weight training equipment as part of the enhanced services offered to our school.  Equipment has been ordered, production has begun, and we expect the equipment to be delivered in June.

New equipment is only part of the story.  OI has experts in maximizing performance in athletes.  We will be able to tap into that expertise.  They have agreed to come out to train our coaches in not only the proper use of the new equipment, but also in biomechanics – how to train kids with proper technique to get the most out of lifting weights and developing speed. We will have one of these experts out in Garretson weekly, working with our coaches through the summer to ensure we get the most out of our time working this new equipment.

We had some additional ideas for ways we could really improve our weight room, including replacement of the flooring and the addition of cardio training equipment that was beyond the scope of our agreement with OI and SFSH.  We are proud to announce that the Garretson Blue Dragon Booster Club has pledged an additional $13,000 for flooring and equipment that will really make our training area something to be proud of.  We can’t thank them enough!

It’s a great time to be a BLUE DRAGON!

 

Garretson School Walkout – April 20

The following open letter is from Mr. Chris Long, our Garretson High School Principal.  Please take a look:

The recent school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 students and staff has set off a nation-wide movement.  The movement titled “Never Again” was started by Parkland survivor, David Hogg, and has gained traction through media and their constant effort to reach the leaders of our country to enact stronger background checks and weapons laws.  The group has created and advocated for a “March for our Lives” on March 24 in Washington, D.C. and other locations throughout the country.

Another highly anticipated, national walkout is being planned for April 20th, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting and was created by a high school student in Connecticut.  This is the event that was brought to the attention of the Garretson School District administration by some local students.  They inquired about possible participation.  They informed us that the organization’s plan for that date was for students to “walkout” of school at 10 a.m. and sit out the remainder of the day in a peaceful protest.

That wasn’t an option that Garretson High School could support, but these students didn’t start a fight; they didn’t get mad – they asked questions, they were open to suggestions, they didn’t jump to conclusions.

Through discussion, the students were informed that leaving school for any type of extended walkout would result in disciplinary actions according to the handbook.  The conversations veered to brainstorming.  Instead of a protest that could lead to negative consequences, students were asked to consider using the day to show solidarity and support the victims of the Marjory Stoneman shooting while also advocating our nation’s leaders to find ways to stop the violence in our schools.   No agendas, no political platform – just a unified stance saying “Keep Schools Safe”.

Several ideas were discussed and were already in the planning phase – all were to be completely voluntary and optional.  After all, we had time, April 20 was over six weeks away.

The ideas included the following, just as a start:

  • Purchasing school-approved t-shirts with proceeds going to the Parkland victims.
  • Working with other school districts that have expressed interest in supporting the victims and ending school violence and combining resources to make an even larger impact.
  • Having a school-approved “walkout” honoring each victim of the Florida shooting where participants could release balloons as a sign of support for the victims of school violence.
  • Finding ways to incorporate the slogan “Be The Change” where students identify and carry out random acts of kindness for others.
  • Post-It-Positive where students write positive notes to teachers, fellow students, coaches and/or parents telling them what a positive difference they make.
  • Include first responders in the “walkout” thanking them for their service and helping make the world a better place – especially when bad things happen.

Our kids were excited!

They were ready to make a difference!  They were ready to collaborate!  They were ready to listen to others!  They were ready to compromise! They were ready to “Make a Difference”!

They worked with administration for a preliminary plan and outline for their event.  Regarding the use of 17 minutes – 17 meaningful and purposeful minutes to be heard and to make a positive statement for our future.   Those 17 minutes would have been used to spread the message of respect, tolerance, and remembrance.  Those that didn’t want to participate would stay in class.  Those that did would make up their time at the end of the day – all 17 minutes!

They were too excited.

They hastily disseminated information that had been discussed, but had not been approved. It was information directly from the source of the April 20 walkout, the one they knew the school could not support in its entirety.  Information that was inaccurate, information that was inflammatory.

They made a mistake.

Then they learned a tough lesson. A lesson about the monster we call social media.  A lesson about how some people can’t wait to pick a fight, throw an insult and tear someone or something down – even before knowing all the facts.  There were almost 300 comments on Facebook posts opining about the event despite the facts not yet being presented.  I received two emails and one text message by parents who wanted more information.  Interesting.

They learned a lesson that commenting back and trying to justify their stance isn’t respected because they are “kids”.  They learned a lesson that sometimes it is just best to be silent.  Don’t respond, don’t add fuel to the fire.  Hopefully they learned the lesson that sometimes it’s better to just say “I disagree” or “no comment”.

The Garretson April 20th Walkout is cancelled – really before it ever had a chance.  The students that proposed it originally understand and agree with this decision.

Now that the day that they had hoped for – the day that they hope GHS was going to make a difference – isn’t going to happen, they’ve had a chance to reflect.  They realize they had a role in its cancellation.  They understand why because they listened, asked questions and were rational. As a supportive community did we do the same for them? Did we listen to their voice? Did we ask questions? Were we rational?

They apologize for their mistakes, they reacted and didn’t follow directions as accurately as they needed to.  They gave out information that was not completely accurate, and had not gone through the approval process.

But they too are also owed an apology. They won’t get it from most, but they’ll get it from me.  It was clear that they wanted a voice, a chance to be heard. They were willing to do it the right way, but they didn’t get the chance.

This day would have been powerful and effective. I was so looking forward to the opportunity for our students to make a difference.  Our kids want to be heard, and we are still going to figure out appropriate ways to help our students with that.  They still want to make a difference and “Be the Change” they want to see in our community and society in general.

I’m proud of you, I’m proud of your efforts and I’m proud that you were willing to take that chance.  You have my respect.

 

Mr. Long

An Open Letter to the Appropriators

An Open Letter to the Joint Committee on Appropriations:

I appreciate the efforts that the Legislature made in order to provide increased funding for schools in the 2016 session.  In South Dakota, any increase in taxation is not taken lightly, and our public insists that tax money be used appropriately.  In the Garretson School District, we have taken very seriously the responsibility to be good stewards of the tax money entrusted to us for the education of our students.  We appreciated being able to share our District’s story with the School Finance Accountability Board (SFAB).  However, we left the meeting frustrated by what appeared to be an irrational reliance on projections in favor of real student enrollment numbers for the purpose of accountability.

As we approached the SFAB, we relied on the Administrative Rules of South Dakota (24:44:01:06) that spell out the factors that the Board was required to consider when recommending a waiver of accountability rules.  As we presented our case, board members informed us that the committee had set precedent that morning, and that they would not consider the financial impact of retirement in the District or the financial impact of declining enrollment as appropriate justification for a waiver of the accountability rules.  These two factors had a financial impact in our district of $35,393 and $48,203 respectively.  We plotted our course thoughtfully, with knowledge that the ARSD spelled out these specifically as factors that would be considered for a waiver.  How were we to know that in the eleventh hour, these two factors would be removed from consideration?

Over the past five years, we have depleted our General Fund reserves by spending more money than we would receive in revenue.  Our General Fund balance ended the year at approximately 13.5% of expenditures.  We knew we could not sustain the trend of deficit spending, so we asked our community to opt out of the property tax limitations in order to preserve our programs.  We have done the things at the local level that many in leadership positions in Pierre have asked us to do. When presented with the funding package of 2016, our district negotiated with our teaching staff in good faith, knowing that we would fall short of DOE projections for enrollment, and therefore, receive less in new funding than the projections indicated.  When opportunities to bring our expenditures in line with expected revenues presented themselves, we took advantage of them.  We had two experienced staff members retire, to be replaced with first year teachers.  We also took advantage of an opportunity to develop a shared services grant by sharing a full-time Spanish teacher with the Baltic School District.  We made these decisions in a conservative, thoughtful manner, based on the factors clearly laid out in the ARSD for consideration of a waiver of the accountabilities.

We urge you to reconsider the recommendation from the SFAB.  We ask you to recognize the difficulty of being a school in which enrollment declined, and therefore, received less “new” revenue from the funding package of 2016.  As South Dakotans, we believe in using “common sense.”  We believe very strongly that the accountabilities should be based on the common sense of real, accurate numbers (for both enrollment and revenue) rather than the fiction of projections.  We ask that you give full credibility and consideration to factors that are delineated in the ARSD (24:44:01:06), and ask that you grant our request for a waiver to the accountability rules.  Thank you for your consideration.

Respectfully,

Guy Johnson,

Superintendent

Be Informed! Financial Accountability and the Garretson School District

Much has been written lately in the Argus Leader and the Garretson Gazette regarding the school’s position and decisions made by the School Finance Accountability Board.  Normally, these stories include a very bold statement in the headline and details that follow only tell part of the story.

In 2016, the legislature made significant changes to the funding formula for schools.  A half-penny sales tax was enacted to pay for this increase and a portion of the tax was intended for property tax relief.  In the end, the original bill was modified to include two different models for accountability for spending the money on instructional staff.  One model included a requirement to raise teacher compensation by a certain percentage and the second required that a certain dollar amount be spent on salary and benefits for instructional staff.  Both the percentage increase and the total dollar amount was based on enrollment projections from the Dept. of Education, which were based on the previous year’s student enrollment.

That year, our board went into staff negotiations with a clear picture of what needed to be done, and at the end of those negotiations, and planned to meet both accountabilities by spending over $3,000 more than was required and increasing instructional staff compensation by one full percentage point more than was required by the law.  After negotiations, the situation changed.

At that point, we knew that we would not have as many students as the DOE projected.  Knowing that the real increases in “new” money would not match up with projected increases in funding, the Board very thoughtfully considered opportunities that could be used to ensure that our budget stayed balanced.  The law included a provision by which schools could apply for a waiver to the accountability rules for certain conditions.  The impact of declining enrollment and the financial impact of retirements were two circumstances included in the list of factors that the Accountability Board would be required, by law, to consider for a waiver.

In the spring of 2016, opportunities presented themselves as a way that District could ensure that our budget remained balanced.  First, Two teachers retired and were then replaced by first year teachers. Second, the District was able to create a shared Spanish teaching position with the Baltic School District. The Board very carefully considered whether it was appropriate to take advantage of these opportunities to maintain a balanced budget, and ultimately decided that they would put their faith in the Accountability Board to recognize those factors that are outlined in SD law as significant and worthy of consideration for a waiver to the accountability rules.

On November 16th, Board President Shannon Nordstrom and I attended the Accountability Board meeting in Pierre to tell our District’s story and ask them to consider a waiver.  At that meeting, members of the Accountability Board made it clear that they would not consider the impact of declining enrollment or the impact of teacher retirement, even though these were both clearly laid out in the law as factors for consideration in order to recommend a waiver to the rules.  In our District, the impact of declining enrollment was over $48,000 and the impact of teacher retirement was over $35,000.  Ultimately, the Accountability Board decided to recommend to the Appropriators a “conditional waiver,” which would require the District to spend an additional $62,000 on instructional staff salaries.

The process does not end with the Accountability Board.  That Board made a recommendation of this conditional waiver to the Joint Committee on Appropriations, which is made up of SD legislators.  That group will make the final decision, and we are hopeful that they will look at the provisions of the law and consider all of the factors that are laid out in it.  We ask for your patience as we learn more about what, if anything, we are required to do.  After we know the specifics, our School Board will consider our options, weigh out what they believe to be in the best interest of our District, and we will make adjustments where necessary to ensure that we are able to provide the best programming that is possible for our students and our community.

Shorted Salaries, Read Past the Headline

You may have seen the headline in the Argus Leader today (October 11, 2017), which reads “SHORTED SALARIES,” with the story superimposed over a picture of our school.  This headline, while intended to really grab the reader’s interest, seems to imply that our school district has somehow been less than above-board with respect to the use of funds provided in the 2016 legislative session.  Beyond the headline, the content in the news story is accurate.  We encourage people in the district to make sure that you read the entire article beyond the attention grabbing headlines and pictures to get the facts of the matter as it applies to the Garretson School District.

 

When the legislature passed the laws related to the funding increase, the law was written with two different mechanisms for accountability: one that required schools to increase the amount spent on teacher salaries and benefits by a certain percentage, and one that required districts to spend a certain amount of money, which was based on the State’s projected student enrollment numbers for each district.  In our case, the District did meet the accountability requirement for the percentage of increase for teacher salaries and benefits, but did not meet the requirement for the “total amount” spent on teacher salaries and benefits.

 

The law allows schools to apply to the School Finance Accountability Board for a waiver of the accountability rules.  This board then makes a recommendation to a committee of the legislature, who has the final decision.  In the law, it states that the board shall consider five factors in determining their recommendation for a waiver of the rules.  Those factors include fiscal impact due to: retirement, declining enrollment, changes in benefit expenditures such as changes in family status and health insurance, effects of unexpected resignations, and any unforeseen or extenuating circumstances affecting the school district’s ability to meet accountability targets as documented by the school district.

 

The Garretson School Board has discussed this issue at a number of board meetings, in open session.  This subject and the letter we received were not a surprise to the administration or the members of the school board.  We all knew clearly that we would not meet the accountability marker based on the pure dollars spent.  Of the five factors that the School Finance Accountability Board is required to consider when recommending a waiver, the Garretson School District has experienced three of them.  First, declining enrollment – the State projected that we would have 474 students in the 16-17 school year, and based our accountability numbers on that projection.  We knew that our student count would be lower than that, and adjusted our budget accordingly.  Second, retirements – we had experienced teachers retire, and hired less experienced teachers to replace them.  This results in fewer dollars being spent on instruction.  Third, unexpected teacher resignations – we had our full-time Spanish teacher resign and take a teaching position in another district.  We used this as an opportunity to create a shared teaching position with the Baltic School District to reduce the cost to both districts.

 

At Monday night’s board meeting, we followed through with our earlier determination, and the Garretson School Board voted unanimously to apply for a waiver to the accountability rules.  The decision was made based on careful consideration of the District’s financial situation and knowledge of the factors that the School Finance Accountability Board will consider in recommending that the rules be waived. We are confident that the decision is right for our district, and we look forward to being able to tell our District’s unique story to the Accountability Board.  Thank you for your support of the Garretson School District and your willingness to read “the rest of the story.”

Be The Change!

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GMS students find an adult for activities during Challenge Day

There is nothing quite like the energy and excitement of a room full of middle school students.  If you had walked through the commons today around 8:30, you would likely have noticed the large group of middle school students waiting for something… then you would have definitely noted the volume of the group.  Students were checking in for Challenge Day, and waiting (as patiently as a large group of middle school students can wait) for the day-long program to start.

Challenge day is a unique event – designed around the ideas of inclusion, empathy and connectedness in our school.  The program goes well beyond “bullying awareness,” to address many of the most difficult aspects of growing up.  Students will have opportunities to get to know themselves, their classmates, school staff and adult volunteers from our community through music, silly games, discussions with one another and discussions with adults from our school and community.

“Be the Change” is one of the themes for the day, and is based on a quote from Ghandi – “Be the Change you wish to see in the world”.  As the event’s name implies, students are challenged to make a real difference in their own world – whether it’s making a change that benefits one person, or a change that benefits the entire community.

At about 8:45, the wait was over… it was time for our kids to head into the gym.  They arrived to music thumping and 25 adults who care about them cheering their arrival.  The big entrance sets the stage for the atmosphere where everyone respects each other, everyone participates to the extent they are able, everyone is valued, and everyone is heard.  At the end of the day, our kids will leave the gym exhausted, but ready to DO SOMETHING to make their world better.  Many will be inspired to truly BE THE CHANGE!

I look forward to seeing how this group of students responds to the challenge.  One of my favorite things about middle school students is the fact that they truly do believe that they can change the world, and this group just might!

Where’s the worksheet?

Over the last three years, the Garretson School District has been moving towards a 1:1 ratio of iPads to students in grades 6-12.  The 17-18 school year saw the 1:1 idea become reality.  Every students in grades 6-12 has been issued an iPad for their use, and have the ability to take the device home when they are not at school.

Technology, in, and of, itself does not necessarily result in quality education.  However, it is a tool that opens many doors and makes possible so many different classroom activities that engage and inspire students.  Julie Mueller, our middle school science teacher can see some of those possibilities.  She recently led students in a “pancake lab” to show the different ways that heat can be transferred.  The lab was a good “hands on” experience that had a real reward at the end (everybody had some pancakes!!!), and normally, this kind of classroom experience is followed up by some kind of worksheet to check for students’ understanding of the material.  Mrs. Mueller wanted to allow the students to show her what they learned in a more interesting way, so she asked the students to create a video that showed the three main methods of transferring heat energy.  In her words, “it’s more fun for my students, and its way more fun for me to grade than a worksheet could ever be.”  Sydney Olson, one of the sixth grade students in the class gave me permission to share her video – take a look!  She did a great job on it, and yes, it definitely looks like way, way WAY more fun than filling out a worksheet.

Great job, sixth graders, on your first video lab report, and compliments to Mrs. Mueller, one of our teachers who continues to learn and grow herself so that she can provide an engaging classroom experience for every one of our students!

Check out Sydney’s video below!

 

Photo credits -Sydney Olson_s iMovie Lab Report

Garretson Students Perform Well on ACT Test

Every year, students across the US take the ACT test.  This test is used by many colleges and universities as a benchmark for college readiness.  Most of those students are high school juniors, but there are also some high school seniors taking the test as well.  Garretson students tested last year continued the three year trend in which GHS students score above the state average on the ACT test.

  • English 2017 – GHS average: 22.4; SD average: 20.7
  • Mathematics 2017 – GHS average: 21.6; SD average: 21.5
  • Reading 2017 – GHS average: 22.8; SD average: 22.3
  • Science 2017 – GHS average: 22.6; SD average: 22.0
  • Composite 2017 – GHS average: 22.5; SD average: 21.8

This marks the third year in a row in which GHS students outperformed the state averages on the ACT test.  We are proud of the efforts of our staff and our students! We will continue to work hard at preparing our students for what lies beyond their high school years!

Leadership in Music

IMG_1133The Garretson School Board recognized Mr. Nick Sittig and Ms. Kelby Robinson as our March PRIDE award winners!  Mr. Sittig and Ms. Robinson have an incredible impact on our students through their direction of our music programs.

Recently, both music instructors asked their students to provide some feedback with respect to what the music programs mean to them.  Students were asked to finish the statement “music makes me feel…” and were also asked to write about the pros and cons of being part of the music program.  These are some of the things our students said:

  • Music makes me feel confident, proud of myself, dance and love myself.
  • Music makes me feel like I’m the only one on earth.
  • Music makes me feel happy when I’m down.  It puts my frown the other way around.
  • Music makes me feel understood.
  • To me, band is a way for me to express my creativity and love for music.  I enjoy the music we get to play and the friendships you make with other musicians.  Not only are you making music, you are making good memories.  I wouldn’t change a thing with our band.
  • Things I like about band: The feeling of accomplishment when you play something you never thought you could.
  • I do really enjoy band, I have always loved music and the fact that I get to help create music with my friends from some of my favorite movies and symphonies gives me joy.  Sometimes, when I’ve had a rough day or week, it is relieving to express myself through music.  The kids in band are like a family.  We may pick on each other but we are also protective of one another and its always nice to have somewhere to fit in.  I am overall a reserved person, and being in band has kind of pushed me out of my bubble by giving me the opportunity to step up.  I have also been taught to believe in my abilities considering that I am very critical of myself.

Our music programs make a difference in the lives of our students.  Ms. Robinson and Mr. Sittig both accept kids where they are, and work hard to push them to perform at levels that they may not even realize are possible.  Congratulations, Ms. Robinson and Mr. Sittig! You are part of the PRIDE of Garretson!

Most Staff See Changes as Positive

Earlier in the year, we gathered data from a number different populations in order to use that data to identify areas of strength and opportunities for growth and improvement in the District.  Staff were given the opportunity to share their thoughts through a survey.  The results of the survey were shared with the Board of Education at the Board Retreat on January 25th, 2017.  The Board has continued with work that was started in January by revising the District’s official goals, which will be used as the root of a new strategic plan.  Over the next several weeks, we will share survey data that identifies both areas of strength and possible areas in which we may focus District improvement efforts.

Surveys for staff included a scale where they could select one of four possible answers between “strongly disagree,” and “strongly agree.”  All of the scaled responses are included in the PDF below, but three survey points stood out as areas in which most of the staff either agree or strongly agree.

  • 85% of staff agree or strongly agree with the statement that positive changes are being made in our school.
  • 91% of staff agree or strongly agree with the statement that administrators in our school challenge staff members to be effective.
  • 86% of staff agree or strongly agree with the statement that it’s ok to discuss concerns, frustrations or worries with administration.

Some of those possible areas for improvement include the following:

  • 79.6% of staff agree or strongly agree (20.4% D/SD) with the statement that in our school, professional expectations are clear.
  • 68.2% of staff agree or strongly agree (31.8% D/SD) with the statement that administrators in our school are aware of what goes on in classroom.
  • 64% of staff agree or strongly agree (36% D/SD) with the statement that in our school, all students are held to a high standard of behavior, no matter “who” you are.

One could spend a great deal of time trying to “interpret,” or “guess” what people’s intent is when they answer survey questions.  We choose to take the answers at face-value.  To us, the staff survey yielded the positive information that, in general, staff believes we’re making positive changes in the schoolhouse, and that our administrators are encouraging staff to improve, while maintaining open lines of communication.

Those possible areas for improvement also tell us something important – while the majority of our staff believe that expectations are clear, and students are consistently held to a high standard of behavior, we may have some work to be done regarding communication and consistency of expectations for both students and staff.  Likewise, we know that each of the administrators in the building would like to be out among our students and staff more frequently.

Overall, we appreciate the feedback that our staff has given through the survey, and we look forward to incorporating this data into the strategic plan.  If you’re curious or interested in the list of questions we posed to the staff, and the percentage responses for those questions, click the link to the PDF document below.

Garretson School District Staff Survey 2016-2017