School board hears reports on facilities updates

Jessica Stölen-Jacobson
Montevideo American-News

At the Montevideo School Board meeting Thursday morning, Adam Spray gave a presentation on summer projects and facilities. “He kind of walked through all of the different things that were done over the course of the summer. To see the number of things that were done was kind of fun to see. Anywhere from the parking lot at the high school, to the removal of the broken-up blacktop over at Sanford and replacing it with green space, replacing the retaining wall at the High School, to little things like replacing backstops at basketball courts,” says Montevideo Superintendent Wade McKittrick. The board also walked through a demonstration on how to use new software called Board Book which will be utilized beginning next month on the school’s website. “People will be able to go onto the district website and click on Board Book for the school board agenda. There will be links built into that with supporting documents as opposed to having to go through a bunch of PDF files,” McKittrick says.

The School Board also reviewed enrollment numbers for the ’21-’22 school year.  “Enrollment is up this year over last year which I don’t think will be surprising to anyone due to that with the distance learning things there were a lot of people who chose to do online learning with different providers,” said McKittrick. This year is up 73 students in Early Childhood through 12th grade for a total of 1,410 students enrolled. In K-12 alone, the district is up 53 students this year over last year’s 1,337. The school board was informed of advancements in the COVID testing plans that the state has put together for schools involving voluntary COVID testing on site. “We were able to order a COVID test kit for every student in the district,” says McKittrick. “We haven’t received them yet, but they’re coming. It’s going to allow us to send a kit home with every kid in the district so that if Mom and Dad are seeing symptoms at home they are able to use the kits.” The kits are a rapid result test that allows for results in 20 minutes. The idea is to help limit exposures through more opportune testing abilities at home. “That should help give parents another tool,” says McKittrick. “We were also able to order a CUE test which allows us to do testing at school. So if a close contact situation comes up or someone is experiencing a lesser symptom, we can call home to mom and dad and ask if they’d like us to give them a COVID test. If they say yes, we can call them back and have that result in 20 minutes. If they say no, we really don’t want that, then that’s their choice.”

The school district’s upcoming application for the Fiscal Learning Year (or FLY) program must be submitted soon, and so the board discussed the requirement for three public meetings to be held before submitting the application. Montevideo Schools are a part of a nine-school consortium that applies for the FLY program together in order to pool resources for training and professional development days. McKittrick notes that many people misunderstand the FLY program as dictating the school's start dates, though that isn’t actually the case. “This allows us to pool our resources to provide professional development for our staff that we wouldn’t necessarily be able to afford if we weren’t pooling our resources,” McKittrick explains. “One of the benefits of FLY application approval is that we can start before Labor Day if we want. In our consortium, some of the districts start a week before Labor Day and some start two weeks before Labor Day. It doesn’t tell us when we have to start.” The public meetings were held throughout the last week and this week, and McKittrick is also planning to address the matter in a Superintendent Stream, which is a new YouTube video series McKittrick does to keep parents and interested parties in the district informed on issues. He says they are also planning as the district is going through the strategic planning process this year, to do a survey to gather stakeholder input. “I think it makes sense to ask that question of parents - do they like our current calendar year where we start before Labor Day and make sure we’re out of school before Memorial Day? Is that in line with what the community wants or would you rather have a calendar that goes into June?” he says.

When asked about plans for the Fine Arts Center which was closed last year due to potential health issues in the aging building, McKittrick noted that there are currently no plans for a tax referendum to be presented to the community for the construction of a new facility. He noted that he has also been working with focus groups of 8 to 12 people at a time to ask questions of what the community's desires are as far as facility needs and other related topics. “That type of information will help drive what our facilities needs are,” he says. The district has no foreseeable plans to ask for another referendum. “According to that vote, it was clear the community didn’t really understand what the district was asking for and they want to see a comprehensive plan, so that’s where we’re at now. We’re going out into the community and asking what they want and then we’re building a plan around that,” he said. “If that includes new facilities, that includes new facilities and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.” That includes the Fine Arts Center. While it’s not able to be utilized anymore, the school has come up with temporary plans for this year for band and choir concerts. “They’re not good plans, I’m not going to mask that for anybody. It’s never good to do a choir concert in a gym. Doing the school play at the Hollywood, it’s a great use of the Hollywood but that’s not what that facility is set up to do so it’s going to be a very scaled-down performance with minimal props and costume change. We’re going to make the best of what we have. We’ve got to come up with a solution and I’m hearing from a lot of people that’s a priority area for a lot of people. What the actual solution is, there’s not as much consensus on that.” McKittrick currently has conducted around thirteen focus groups to discuss ideas and the community’s desires for how the district can handle the issue. 

The board also heard reports on student happenings, including a note about fourteen students in the Senior High building who are participating in work experiences this semester. “They’re completing work experience anywhere from Friendship Homes to CCM, to Ametek, Peterson’s Electric. There’s a wide array of areas where kids are going to go out and get experiences,” McKittrick said. It was noted that Minnwest Bank recently conducted a grill-out fundraiser in which the dollars were donated to the school’s Angel Fund. The Angel Fund is set up to receive donations to help students that have financial situations such as the family being in between insurance companies and having financial hardships and then finding out that the student needs glasses. “Accessing the Angel Fund as a way to help pay for glasses is one example. We’ve received some support to put dollars in that fund that’s sole purpose is to help kids,” says McKittrick. Additionally, the board heard a discussion about a donation by Old National Bank in which the bank conducted a drive for school supplies for kids. “Those supplies were delivered and distributed among the district,” says McKittrick.

The school board meets again for their work session meeting on September 27th.