72% Reduction in D’s and F’s. Is Wednesday Worth It?

In the summer of 2021, all current staff members were trained in a process called the Masonic Model Student Assistance Program.  The intent of the training was to provide a structure for professional collaboration that would allow us to better meet the needs of our students with respect to behavior, academics, health concerns and attendance.  The first year of implementation was the 21-22 school year.  At that time, we knew that we would need to make adjustments to the process that would help with the “fit” of the structure in the context of our school and that this was a new process for our staff, so a learning curve was to be expected.  One of the hallmarks of our implementation is that we have set aside time on Wednesday afternoon specifically for collaboration that benefits our students.  Had the district attempted to implement the plan without specific time earmarked for collaboration, we knew that the many before and after school obligations of many staff members would prevent the program from being implemented consistently.  In the 22-23 school year, we have continued to adjust the program based on feedback from staff.  In a recent staff survey, we collected attitudinal data from certified staff regarding the programming as well as the necessity of having specific time set aside to allow for all professional staff to participate.  

  • 92% of certified staff agree or strongly agree with the following statement: The time spent in Student Support Teams translates into tangible, supportive change for students.  
  • 92% of certified staff agree or strongly agree with the following statement: The Student Support Teams time and process allow me to meaningfully collaborate with colleagues.
  • 92% of certified staff agree or strongly agree with the following statement: The scheduled early release time, earmarked for SST on Wednesday is necessary for the implementation of the program.
  • 100% of certified staff agree or strongly agree with the following statement: The Student Support Teams model has helped students in our district to be more successful.

Quantitative data also supports the assertion that this program is having a significant positive impact on our students.  It may be important to note that another supportive intervention put in place for high school and some middle school kids who are at risk of failure is the REACH program.  We know that the collective impact of these two programs may be responsible for some of the improved student performance.  Quantitative data was collected with respect to the number of students earning grades of “D” and “F” for quarter grades in the middle and high school for the year before implementation (20-21) and the two years since implementation of the program.  See the data in the following table.  

MS Quarter grades  “D”MS Quarter grades “F”HS Quarter Grades “D”HS Quarter Grades “F
2020-2021 SY (no GSST)1581314331
2021-2022 SY (first year of SST implementation110612726
2022-2023 SY (second year of SST implementation, in first two quarters)195329
2022-2023 SY Data extrapolated to 4 quarters38106418
Data Table – 20-21 compared to 22-23 data

We knew that we would need to make adjustments to the structure of the program as we worked with it.  As with any program, there can be an implementation dip, where the initial results are not as promising as overall expectations would lead us to believe.  Year two data indicates that some of the changes to the programming and our familiarity with the process has increased the effectiveness of the program.  The 2022-2023 totals are extrapolated based on Q1 and Q2 data.  If the trend continues, by the end of year two of implementation, we will have reduced the number of “D” grades in the middle school by 75%.  In the high school, the reduction in students earning “D” grades has been 55%.  Failing grades in the HS have decreased by nearly 42%.  A more modest reduction in failures at the middle school of 23% is also noted. Overall, we have reduced the number of D’s and F’s in the middle school by 72% and in the high school by 53% since the 20-21 school year.

Is Wednesday worth it? The time our staff has earmarked for collaboration for the benefit of our kids definitely makes a difference!

Have any changes been made?  The Scalpel or the Axe

The scalpel, or the axe.   In 2016, we asked the community to support our opt out to allow the school to make precise changes that would reduce our costs, but not directly harm our educational programming or negatively impact our students.  The community supported the opt out at that time, allowing us to take a precise, surgical approach to reducing costs.  Had the opt out been defeated at that time, the reductions would have been more like whacking away at our programming like using an axe.  Because the community supported the school seven years ago, it allowed us to find reductions in expense that have had a small impact on the educational programming and our students.  Some of the adjustments are relatively small, but some of them are significant adjustments to our expenditures.  

  • In 2016, the district contracted a service provider for custodial rags, microfiber mops and rugs in the building.  As we looked at the cost for the service, we decided to make the investment in our own washing machine/dryer and purchase our own custodial mops, rags and permanent rugs.  Our custodians now wash these materials, and outside of the initial purchase costs, replacement of worn out mops and rags has been a minimal cost.  Savings to the district is 3-4,000 annually.  
  • In 2016, our Spanish teacher took a position at another district.  We did not feel like we had the enrollment numbers to support a full time replacement.  At that time, there was an opportunity for “shared services grants” from the state, to encourage cooperation between districts in close proximity to one another.  We applied for the grant with the Baltic School District for a full time Spanish teacher to be split between the two districts.  The state paid the entire cost of the position for the first year, 50% the second year and 25% the third year, saving each district approximately $75,000 over three years.  We continued the partnership with Baltic for two more years.  At that time, Baltic had grown to the point where they felt it was necessary to move that position to full time.  We have advertised for a half time Spanish teacher, but the position remained unfilled.  At this time, our students take Spanish classes via distance learning, through the NSU e-learning center.  Overall, this saves the district approximately $67,000 per year.  
  • In 2017, the food service fund was in the negative by a little over $90,000.  The district worked with Lunch Time Solutions with the goal of breaking even in our food service.  In 2019, we no longer needed to subsidize the food service fund with general fund money.  In 2020, the revenue generated through the food service program was enough to pay for the entire cost of the program.  We expect that to continue in 2023 and beyond.  Savings: approximately $90,000 annually.
  • In 2018, we compared costs associated with refinishing our gym floors with different vendors.  Up until that point, we had spent $9,000 annually in refinishing those wood floors.  After exploring different options, we were able to reduce e that cost to around $2,500.  Annual savings to the district of approximately $6,000.
  • In 2019, we went through the Request For Proposal (RFP) process for our copier lease.  At that time, we had a five year lease that was costing us approximately $36,000 per year.  After the RFP process, our costs are now closer to $12,000 per year for copier services.  Savings to the district is approximately $24,000 annually.
  • In 2019, we went through the RFP process for waste services as well.  Through the process, we were able to reduce the cost of those services significantly.  Annual savings to the district is approximately $6,000.
  • In the summer of 2020, we completed a project to replace the old chiller and replace our fluorescent lights with LED lighting.  Costs of the improvement were paid through the Capital Outlay fund, but we expect to see savings of between $15,000 and $20,000 in the General fund through reduced energy costs.   

In 2016, the Garretson Board of Education made two promises to the community.  The first was that of the $500,000 approved for opt out, that the board would only request as much as the school needed.  Over the five years that opt out was in place, the budget demanded the full amount the first three years, and then our enrollment went up and the opt out was reduced to $350,000.  The board and the district kept its word.  The second promise was that we would continue to look for ways to reduce expenditures in areas that have as small an impact as possible on our students.  The board and the district held true to this principle as well.  As a district, we will continue to explore the different ways that we can reduce our expenditures.  We are optimistic that our community will allow us to continue to look at reductions in a targeted, precise manner with the support of the opt out.

Why do kids leave the Garretson School District?

Our society has become more transient over the last 30 years.  In the past, it was rare that people would move, and long ago, open enrollment was not an option.  At the public information meeting, one district patron questioned whether district officials know why students choose to leave the district.  Another questioned open enrollment trends of those who open enroll into the district compared to those who leave the district.  The implication behind the question “do you know why kids leave the district,” seems to be that there is an effort to hide information from the public.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  We certainly protect the privacy of all of our students, and cannot report information that allows people to identify specific students, however, the general statistics for students leaving the district were reported to the school board in open session at the October 2022 regular meeting.  Any district patron who wishes to see the report can have access to the information in the board packet on the school’s website.  

The second question is the easiest to answer.  The SD Dept of Education keeps statistics for each district with open enrollment in compared to out.  The following chart shows the enrollment data for the Garretson School District since 2000.  Data regarding open enrollment in vs. out was also included, since 2010.  


Total Students

Total Students510526518494475474463477480.43494.34465.34465444.12
Total Open Enroll In50514947485048525958656562
Total Open Enroll Out75708478686673525481847475
Source: SD Department of Education

As we look at that data, there is a positive trend with respect to the number of students who choose to open enroll into the district.  In 2018, the GSD had more students coming in than going out.  While the trend of increasing students coming to the district continued through 2022, the COVID years also saw an increased number of student open enrolling out.  

One can also see that our overall k-12 student population has seen peaks and valleys in the past.  

As far as why our students are leaving, we can talk about the students who left the district from the 21-22 school year to the 22-23 school year.  There were 38 students who left the district.  Twenty two of those students’ families moved out of the district.  Of the remaining students, one student left our school for alternate instruction (home school).  Ten students open enrolled out of the district.  That number is different from the total in the chart above because students only need to open enroll one time and then they are allowed to stay in that receiving district as long as they would like.  Five of those students open enrolled to other larger schools to participate in certain activities.  Five of those students left the district for personal reasons, which may include social issues or conflict with peers, conflict with certain staff members or other personal reasons.  Two students returned to their home district and three students left the district to attend other unique programs based on their specific, individual needs.   

While the district does not have a distinct and formal exit interview process, we do know why our students choose to leave the district.  It’s not a mystery.  They generally tell us.  They leave for a variety of reasons, some of which are easy to understand, and some of which are more complex.  The most common reason that people leave the district is that they move to another community.  Sometimes it is job-related on the part of the parents, sometimes it has to do with other factors.  The majority of students who open enroll out of the district do so for activities.  A much less common reason for leaving are social issues or conflict with peers, and sometimes a student or parent may have an issue with a particular staff member.  There have been times when a student or family wants to keep their reasons for leaving the district private, but more often than not, either the student or the parent tells us why they choose to leave in the case of open enrollment.  

Our goal is to be transparent with our community.  Our books are open.  The entire board packet is placed on our website before each board meeting, including all written reports.  In this case, we could have easily pointed interested patrons to the October 2022 board packet.  That being said, we also need to balance our transparency with the need to keep our students’ private stories just that – private.  Often times, people would like information specific to certain kids, and we simply cannot release it.  Other times, the information is freely available, if you know where to look for it and we would be happy to help anyone find what they’re looking for.