Looking ahead to the second semester, Pine River-Backus School Board members shared many parents' concerns for graduation in May.

During the Monday, Dec. 21, meeting, board chair Chris Cunningham and board member Wanda Carlson said they have gotten questions from parents regarding attendance and credit recovery.

Some students this semester have not been logging in and attending their classes virtually and as such may have a difficult time earning all the credits they need for graduation, but Superintendent Jonathan Clark and High School Principal Chris Halverson said it is not for lack of information regarding class requirements.

Last spring, students had classes that did not function like regular in-school classes with no specifically scheduled time and no direct interaction with teachers, but as of September when the school district adopted a hybrid policy, PR-B's high school students attending classes online treat them just as they would have treated in-person classes. They have a specifically scheduled time, and their teachers are online with them at the same time to directly provide instruction and answer questions.

In the beginning, some high school students were able to attend class in person, if the virtual classroom didn't suit them. But PR-B High School changed to a completely digital model for those same classes around Thanksgiving due to increased COVID-19 infection rates in the county and quarantines in the school.

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Some students have not reacted well to that transition. Classrooms are still during regularly scheduled times and the teachers are still guiding the classrooms digitally, but some students have not been "attending" class.

Clark and Halverson said the district started calling students who weren't logging in to attend class only days after the district made the change, so those students have been informed what is expected of them. However, the school district doesn't have many options when it comes to encouraging digital participation in class and depends on parents a great deal to encourage attendance.

Still, the district is currently planning to combat credit deficits for students.

Cunningham asked what pressure there will be for credit recovery. Halverson agreed there is going to be a lot of pressure for credit recovery.

"It's something we're going to be driving towards in the spring," Halverson said. "I think graduation rates in any school will take a hit."

Board member Dave Sheley asked if there might be an option for providing in-person classes for one grade level per day to give students more personal contact with teachers. Clark said the district had reviewed that option, but certain obstacles made it more difficult than it seems.

Organizing transportation is one barrier. In addition, limiting classroom sizes and keeping students distanced means teachers would have to hold the same class several times a day to provide instruction for all their students and have no time to teach their other grade levels.

As of Jan. 4, the district will be able to start bringing some students back into the classroom, including those students who were attending classes in person. Many changes are being made to the education system and Clark is working with the Minnesota School Board Association to bring concerns to the Minnesota Department of Education. Among other suggestions was the suggestion that the department consider school and classroom size in making new guidelines.

In other business Monday, the board:

  • Certified a final levy of $1,748,714.27, which is $26,708.58 less than the September preliminary levy of $1,775,422.85. This represented an approximately 2.18% increase over the 2020 levy of $1,711,389. The board traditionally approves the maximum allowable preliminary levy with a lower certified levy in December.

This year the district benefitted from a decrease to the debt service levy thanks to a refund to the 2012 bond, which saved the district $26,000 for the year. The district will continue to benefit from that savings going forward.

  • Submitted an advertisement for new bids for the auxiliary athletic buildings. Board members Dawn Rubner and Katy Botz were opposed with all other board members in support. The board required new bids because the first round of bids was higher than the district was willing to spend.

  • Approved new policies regarding a tobacco-free environment, student medication and goals of district curriculum and instruction.
  • Scheduled a reorganization meeting at the Jan. 18 regular meeting.
  • Decided to look into changes to the board policy concerning superintendent evaluations. Instead of requiring the board to provide an evaluation on a specific date each year, traditionally in November, the board would determine the date of the evaluation in November.

This would allow the board to decide the date of the evaluation based on the circumstances of that year. For example, the evaluation for 2020 was interrupted by the COVID-19 situation, thus putting the board out of compliance for the year. The newly proposed policy would allow the board to roll with the punches and schedule evaluations more appropriately in relation to contract negotiations as well.

  • Agreed to amend the board's policy on special board positions. State statutes require the board to appoint different members as clerk, treasurer and chair; however, the board has been combining clerk and treasurer recently. This amendment would separate those positions.
  • Approved hiring Jennifer Anderson as speech coach, Jacob Burkman as assistant speech coach, Isaak Anderson as Knowledge Bowl adviser, and Mike Shetka and Andrew Rudlang as robotics coaches.
  • Accepted the resignations of Jackie Nelson, custodian, and Kim Johnson, paraprofessional.
  • Approved leaves of absence for Autumn Loge and Laura Neuman.

Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Travis.