2012-08-23 / Front Page

Board votes on variety of changes

Hot lunches, Little Explorers, handbook to see adjustments

MANISTIQUE – The school year is fast approaching, and as students and parents ready for the back-to-school chaos, they will also be preparing for some changes. Hot lunches, the Little Explorers preschool program, and the student handbook were among the items discussed and adjusted during Monday’s meeting of the Manistique Board of Education.

According to the new Manistique Middle/ High School principal, John Shiner, the changes to the student handbook involve both discipline and exams. Since the beginning of August, Shiner explained that he and a group of teachers have been meeting to streamline the handbook, and make changes they felt were important.

Among these changes was the addition of the “Saturday School Program”, funded by a recent donation from Shopko.

“The Saturday School Program will be used for two means. It will, first of all, be used for punitive measures for students,” he said. “There’s another component that I’m hoping is used equally, if not more, than the first part, and that is for academic assistance.”

The program will use a rotation of qualified teachers, who will be available from 9 a.m. until noon. Students visiting the program for academic assistance will be able to attend at various times during that period.

“It’s a time for them to perhaps come and use some school resources or have access to a teacher that they might not have over the weekend,” he said. “It’s nice, particularly, for example, for the juniors, around the time of the ACTs.”

Another change to the handbook will involve the discipline of students. Shiner explained that from now on, transgressions against the student code of conduct will be broken down according Above, a sample of the portions the USDA Food and Nutrition service is promoting under new federal nutritional guidelines given to school lunches nationally, including Manistique. to groups – Group A, B, C, D, E, F and G.

Group A will be the highest level of offense, and involves a student bringing a weapon to the building, committing arson or criminal sexual conduct, or the sale or distribution of drugs, tobacco or alcohol, he said. Even the first time a Group A violation takes place, that student will be recommended for expulsion, Shiner added.

First offences in the Group B category – making a bomb threat, false alarm, attacking or striking a school employee, etc. – would result in long term suspension or possible expulsion. Group C violations will not result in the possibility of expulsion on the first offense, Shiner said, and Groups D, E, and F consist of more common violations which would likely result in Saturday School or a one day, out-of-school suspension. Group G is a classroom offense, and will be subject to that teacher’s penalties, he added.

“I like this rubric because it gives a lot of pretty clear, concise examples that can be fitted to these categories, and it demonstrates how it moves up the chart,” Shiner explained. “This is a major step away from what is current used at Manistique Middle/High School,” he said.

Outside of the disciplinary changes, Shiner said he and the group also decided to change the existing exam policy. The policy had stated the first semester exam was mandatory for each student, but those who had three absences or less would be awarded a 10 percent bonus on their grade. In the second semester exam, students who had six or less absences throughout the school year were able to opt out of the exam.

“We figured that doesn’t really tell us how well our kids are doing,” Jessica Vitale, one of the teachers involved in the group said. “We decided for that second semester exam exemption, the only way that a student will be exempted … is if they have a 90 percent or higher as their second semester grade by the Friday before exams.”

Using this grade-based approach would be a significant difference from the old policy, she added. However, Vitale noted students who kept their absences to six or less during the school year would be able to take advantage of the 10 percent bonus for their second semester exam as well.

District-wide changes involve the lunch menus at both the elementary and middle/high school. These changes, handed down by federal and state programs, will be mandatory for every school throughout the U.S. in the 2012- 13 school year, explained Rob Ryan, food service director.

“It means that our hot lunch is going to look a whole lot different than it has in the past,” he said. “The menu that we have been recommended to follow is very specific.”

Ryan noted the new lunch menu is required to take into consideration the content of: whole grains; sodium levels; specific grams of sugar; specific caloric intake, depending on what age group it is; fiber content; and fruits and vegetables.

“Our lunch staff must physically serve students minimum amounts of fruits and vegetables,” he said. “Even if they say they’re not going to eat it.”

In the past, Ryan said the students had the option of getting their own fruits and vegetables from a salad bar and fruit bowl. The students also had the option of choosing from other main course items – this, however, will also no longer be an option. Since complying with the regulations is too burdensome, the main item listed for that day will be the only one served, he added.

“Bringing their own lunch is an option, just as it’s always been, we’re not forcing this on students,” he said. “We do have a significant population, I believe over 50 percent, that qualify for free or reduced lunch, and now these students are going to get a very nutritious meal.”

Because of the increased amounts of fruits and vegetables, as well as a formula the school is mandated to follow to determine cost, the district will be raising its hot lunch prices, Ryan said. The new prices will be $2.25 for elementary, $2.50 for middle/high school, and $3.50 for adults/staff.

“We’re going to try to do this as best we can,” he said. “We’re going to try to spin this positively. We’re going to try to make the foods as appealing and tasteful as we can, while still complying with the state and federal mandates.”

At Emerald Elementary, Superintendent Kathy McDonough explained the newly instituted Little Explorers program will be undergoing some changes of its own. The “restructuring” is the result of a MESPA grievance as well as the ratio of registrants.

“MESPA felt the assistant caregiver should have been a MESPA position,” explained McDonough. “Staff in the new 4-year-old program is paid through a third party vendor, PESG (Professional Education Services Group, LLC). This allows the district to keep program costs down, and charge a minimal tuition fee to our parents.”

Since the union and district were unable to come to an agreement involving the position, it was eliminated, she added. Also contributing to the restructure is the number of 4-year-olds enrolling. According to McDonough, the Head Start program, which had been running a separate 4-yearold program through a cooperative agreement with the district, does not have adequate enrollment to justify their use of the inkind room Emerald had been providing. As a result, the district has decided to use that extra room to split the Little Explorers 4-yearolds into two sections.

“The proposal is two 4-year-old programs meeting the restrictions of daycare licensing, which is 12 (students),” she said. “It does change the fee structure from $1 an hour to a flat $5 instead for the 4-year-old program part. For the extended care … would change to $1.50 (per hour) for the remainder of the afternoon.”

Since the 4-year-olds would be filling both rooms, McDonough noted that they would be eliminating the 3-year-olds from the program. There were 11 applicants for that section of the program this year.

“This is a great opportunity to really focus on 4-year-olds in the program,” Erik Mason, new Emerald Elementary principal explained. “It’s a very focused classroom of 12 students with a lead caregiver.”

He noted that, according to research, more 4-year-olds are taking advantage of these types of programs, while conflicting research about 3-year-olds shows that they may benefit more from at-home education.

“Preschool is a great advantage for students,” he said. “It’s a great investment that our community and our school district is providing for the families here.”

The program currently has 19 applicants for the 4-year-old program, but they are hoping for five or six more, he said. The extra room is expected to be licensed soon, Mason added, and the parents of the 3-year-olds who enrolled would be informed that their children would have a guaranteed spot in the 4-year-old program in the next school year.

The handbook, hot lunch, and Little Explorer changes were each unanimously approved by the board.

In other business, the board also unanimously approved to place the request for their Operating Millage Renewal on November’s ballot. According to Administrative Assistant Donna Winkel, this would save the district money by avoiding conducting a stand-alone election in February 2013.

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