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Brainerd Public Schools: Board learns of special ed math initiative

Patty Wallace, science and math integrationist teacher, and Tim Murtha, director of teaching and learning, tell Brainerd School Board members about an initiative to improve special education math curricula in the district during the board's Monday, Oct. 8, meeting at the Washington Educational Services Building. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Brainerd School Board members heard Monday, Oct. 8, about district efforts to improve math curricula for special education students.

The plan in place is part of the district's continuous improvement plan created as a result of the Every Student Succeeds Act, recent legislation holding school districts to high standards in academic achievement, progress toward English language proficiency, academic progress, graduation rates and consistent attendance. The entire district's continuous improvement plan, along with the plans for each school site, will come before the board next month. But because time allowed before then, Tim Murtha, director of teaching and learning, said he wanted to tell the board about a specific math initiative.

Patty Wallace, of the department of teaching and learning, said the district began the initiative last year because data showed special education students—especially at the elementary and middle school levels—were not achieving consecutive years of high progress in math. The Paul Bunyan Education Cooperative and Sourcewell, Wallace said, teamed together with a program called Carnegie Learning to provide staff development training to special education teachers.

Carnegie Learning is an adjunct program of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, specializing in staff development.

Last year, 10 teachers in the Brainerd School District took part in Carnegie Learning staff development training, nine of which were special education teachers, with Wallace as the 10th. Teachers representing five elementary schools, Forestview Middle School and the Lincoln Education Center joined 10 teachers from other school districts to receive five days of coaching and instruction from a Carnegie Learning coach. The training covered both classroom content and instruction method, with the Carnegie Learning coach observing teachers in their classrooms.

Teachers spent eight additional days—four during the school year and four during the summer—focusing on math content, as many special education teachers aren't trained specifically in math. The teachers took pre-tests on math content at the beginning of their training and post-tests at the end. Post-test scores showed significant improvements over the pre-tests.

At the beginning of the training, a lot of the teachers—in Brainerd and other districts—Wallace said, felt they didn't have the same quality curriculum resources as regular classroom teachers. After a year a training, many districts were encouraged to look into curricula specific to special education students.

Eight of the 10 teachers trained last year are continuing that training this year, with three days dedicated to math content and monthly coaching sessions, twice with a Carnegie Learning coach and the rest with Wallace and Forestview Middle School special education teacher Kristin Tomonovich, who also went through the training.

"Just like we expect our students to get better, we want our teachers to get better as well," Wallace said. "We want to continue to close that achievement gap that we have with special ed."

Murtha said he estimated about one-fifth of the district's special education teachers have undergone to the Carnegie Learning training. The reason that number isn't higher is because not all special education teachers work with math.

Murtha said Sourcewell is paying the vast majority of the cost for the Carnegie Learning training, with the district's cost about $20,000.

In other business Monday, the board:

Approved the hiring of: Thomas Getty, special education educational assistant at Forestview; David Lembcke, special education transportation employee at Washington Education Services Building; Dana Ramig, custodian at Nisswa Elementary School; Patrick Wilson, custodian at Brainerd High School.

Approved the resignations of: Rhonda Gandy, food services at Baxter Elementary School; Paige Hoffbeck, library assistant at Nisswa; Kristina Stone, food services at BHS.

Accepted gifts and donations to the district: Backpacks from Costco for the elementary schools; school supplies from Cub Foods, Minnesota Health Insurance representative Melissa Ferrier and staff, Hal Leland, Jessica Smith-Crow Wing Power and Co-op, and First Presbyterian Church; $200 from Curtis and Sandy Nielsen for community education; and $500 from Tim Thompson Plumbing for books at Riverside Elementary School.

Approved a license agreement with the city of Baxter granting the school district permission to access Lots 2 and 3, Block 1 in the city center of Baxter for the purpose of testing and survey work. The district is considering purchasing the property for the new elementary school in Baxter but wants to first exercise due diligence and conduct surveys and soil tests.

Approved a three-year lease agreement with Mount Ski Gull for the district's downhill ski racing program for $6,000 a year. Competitors and coaches from other teams participating in race events at Ski Gull will be required to purchase lift tickets to ride the lifts. The cost of these tickets is not included in the annual payments by the district.

Heard the 30-day comment period for the board's property acquisition process is open until Oct. 24. The board is expected to vote on the issue at its Oct. 29 meeting.

Board member Bob Nystrom agreed and said there was nothing being withheld from the public.

Was reminded the board's next meeting moved from Oct. 22 to 6 p.m. Oct. 29.

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