Kingsland history teacher and senior class advisor Niki DeBuhr speaks to the Kingsland School Board about the proposed senior class trip. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
Kingsland history teacher and senior class advisor Niki DeBuhr speaks to the Kingsland School Board about the proposed senior class trip. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
The March meeting of the Kingsland School Board of Directors Monday, Mach 17, lasted three hours as the board dealt with numerous topics of discussion, with setting the calendar for the rest of this year and for the 2014-15 school year being key topics.

The winter's extreme weather has caused great disruption in the tightly-scheduled 2013-2014 calendar, leaving the board to ponder whether to extend the school year and release seniors as planned, or to retain the calendar as it was originally approved. After much discussion of different options, including an additional makeup day over spring break and extending school into the first week in June, the board decided to extend school just one day, making Friday, May 30, the last student contact day.

May 29 was set as the original last day of school for students, with May 16 as the only snow make-up day built into the calendar. The weather forced the district to close school three more times since the issue was last discussed, and the board considered whether to keep students until June 4, releasing teachers on June 5 in order to fulfill their contracts.

Kingsland High School Principal James Hecimovich pointed out that with the snow day situation as it stands, requiring staff to remain until June 5 would force them to create two different sets of finals - one set for seniors and another for students who would not be released until that same week. "This is Minnesota," he remarked.

Board member Gwen Howard expressed her apprehension about extending school that long, not only because of the need for teachers to draw up two sets of finals, but also because staff members have already made plans for the beginning of summer and graduation has already been set for the last Friday of May.

Board chairman Doug Plaehn acknowledged that the options for snow make-up days yet this spring are few. He inquired of Kingsland Superintendent John McDonald as to whether the students and staff will be meeting minimum instructional contact requirements, and McDonald replied that they will even if the school year is not extended.

A motion to use Monday, April 21, a day scheduled as part of spring break, failed unanimously.

A motion to make Friday, May 30, the final student contact day and June 5 the final teacher day passed.

Also a subject of great concern for staff this month was the planning for the 2014-2015 calendar, as this year's calendar was so tight due to the weather. A "calendar committee" had been formed to examine the ramifications of building snow days into the school year so that if the coming winter is the same as this one, students and staff know how the additional snow days will be made up.

For 2014-15, the first student day is the same as usual, the Tuesday after Labor Day, which in 2014 is Sept. 2. The last day of school for students is Wednesday, June 3. Graduation is Friday, June 5, moving commencement back from what has been common practice the last few years of the Friday before Memorial Day.

Five weather days have been built into the calendar: May 22, May 1, May 8 and May 15 will be non-school days in place of the unused weather days in that order. Students will have school on April 2, which is the first option, or June 4, which is the second option, if there is a need for a fifth weather day. Additional weather days will be at the discretion of the school board.

School will get out early on Wednesdays as has been the practice this school year.

In other matters, Kingsland history teacher Niki DeBuhr presented a proposal for a senior class trip, as she related that the seniors had asked if they could plan one, given that neighboring districts all allow their seniors to take a final field trip together to close out their high school careers with good memories. She stated that last year's seniors were given the opportunity to spend one day at the Kalahari waterpark in the Wisconsin Dells but chose instead to take a senior skip day, forfeiting their privileges.

The class of 2014 had been asking DeBuhr, senior class advisor, whether they could plan a longer trip to make it more meaningful, and DeBuhr tasked them with researching destinations in Chicago, chosen for its size as the nation's third-largest city, its distance from Minnesota and its cultural and educational opportunities. She noted that while they were first considering a trip within Minnesota, they inquired about where they might do community service, and that even though they chose to ask the board and administration to allow them to travel to Chicago, they still hold an interest in serving others while on their tour.

She listed that the itinerary includes seeing the Sears Tower - the tallest skyscraper in the country along with Navy Pier and Wrigley Field while also working at Feed My Starving Children to package food to be sent to hungry youngsters. DeBuhr assured the board that guidelines will be in place, as will chaperones, to handle behavioral matters and that any student found to be in violation of those guidelines will be sent home at their own expense. The board approved DeBuhr's request.

Kingsland Elementary Principal Chris Priebe reported that the annual "Read Across America" reading celebration, March 2 through March 7, was successful, and he thanked everyone who contributed to its success at both the elementary and the middle school. He reported the Knights of the Round Table (at Kingsland Middle School) raised over $600 for Pennies for Patients, the WatchDOGS program is going well - there are still opportunities for Dads to volunteer this school year - and the Whitewater trip for the fifth graders is coming up on May 21 through 23.

Hecimovich's report featured news about a committee being formed to address at-risk students. "There are a lot of kids not doing well when they come from the middle school to seventh and eighth grade, and we've worked to target and narrow down which kids aren't doing well when they come from the middle school," he told the board. "We're thinking of conducting several orientations with staff, students and parents, but we need to do research to figure out why there's such a high failure rate with these kids."

McDonald spoke about "achievement gap reduction" and increasing proficiency rates, the April "Purple Up" military family month celebrating the lives of military families and their children, and how the district is working to build a branding and marketing committee to market the schools and "maximize the resources using the talents we have around us."

Kingsland's business manager, Todd Lechtenberg, presented a 2014 budget review in which adjustments were made to the budget to reflect actual figures. A motion passed to accept the budget as Lechtenberg concluded "overall, everything looks positive."

Kingsland's tech connections have just become less expensive, thanks once more to the efforts of tech department head Bob Tieffenbacher, who coordinated with other districts to receive a group rate on monthly Internet service and also to double the bandwidth and speed at which the schools' Internet operate. He cited that the collaborating districts asked Mediacom for the best available bid and received a quote that then was dropped further, even as the service was improved.

"We have to remember, though, that this doesn't happen if we don't stay with the other schools," he added.

He went on to tell the board about the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program through which students could potentially receive a discount on purchases of laptops, tablets or other school-friendly tech devices in cooperation with Minnesota-based Best Buy, which already has piloted the program in the Edina school district. The program would not replace the district's current one-to-one tech device program if a student chooses not to purchase a device, but the option would give families a chance to buy what they'd like to own and keep for students when they get to post-secondary education. Tieffenbacher promised to bring more information about the program to the April board meeting.

Personnel changes included accepting the resignations of van driver Lorin Hove, middle school cook Joanne Williams and Kingsland activities director Tom Speltz, hiring Angela Forland as a long term substitute for Erin Cady, Kyle Weinmann as a junior high track coach, Aaron Thauwald as assistant track coach, and approving spring coaching staff.

The board also expressed its appreciation to St. Jude's for a donation of $5,000, or full tuition, toward the First Robotics team's competition in Duluth earlier this month, a $325 donation to the trap team from Neal and Cindy Hinners - who are part of Pheasants Forever - the family of Tootie Foster for providing memorial scholarship funds in the amount of $2,500, and Ross Heusinkveld and State Farm for a $500 donation.

The next regular meeting of the Kingsland School Board of Directors is slated for Wednesday, April 23, at 6:30 p.m. in the Kingsland High School conference room. The public is welcome to attend. For more information, call 346-7276 or log onto the Kingsland website at www.kingsland.k12.mn.us.