Career and technical education remains a talking point

Belle Plaine Public Schools Superintendent Ryan Laager kicked off Monday’s lengthy discussion revolving around career and technical education (CTE) and the future of Belle Plaine’s curriculum by inviting to the floor, Joel Larsen, an agriculture education specialist with the Minnesota Department of Education and past Belle Plaine educator.

Larsen outlined the paths many districts are taking to facilitate effective career-track learning that gives students as young as eighth grade the chance to experiment with electives tied to potential career interests.

The conversation comes amid the ongoing school board discussion about the possibility of  constructing some sort of CTE spaces. Members of the school board Monday night voiced support for constructing such a space in an effort to both retain and attract students to the district.

Though the notion of building such a space seemingly had unanimous support from school board members, the board stated that they will need to have further conversations to determine the nature of those spaces and what career exploration courses they can or should offer in the future.

“We can’t offer everything, so we have to find our niche,” board member Terry Morrison said.

Funding such a space for the district remains an open case. Larsen stated that districts around the state have found success in offering career-track classes through partnering with local, state or locally-based national companies that would be willing to open their doors for internship programs or would give resources in exchange for workers down the line. Matters at the state legislature, such as levy restriction laws, could shape Belle Plaine’s approach to funding such a project.

The conversation revolving around CTE spaces comes at a time when companies around the state continue to have shortages of employees in the technical fields, fields CTE education by definition aims to fill, according to Larsen.

“My personal thought is that if you make an investment in career and tech ed., it will pay off,” Larsen said. “So it might be time to make an investment in career and tech ed.”

Financial items

District business manager Chuck Keller outlined several financial points to be voted on at next Monday’s business meeting. Key items included long-term facility maintenance projects such as three roofing projects totaling around $350,000, food service equipment upgrades and an outdoor storage shed.

Also highlighted at Monday’s work session were a capital request from the band program, who hope to save major money on massively upgraded equipment by purchasing Minnesota State University Marching Band’s lightly used gear, and talks of lunch costs.

After its likely approval at next Monday’s business meeting, the costs of school lunches   would remain the same next year as the 2018-19 school year at $2.80 for a senior high lunch. The move to keep costs the same, according to Keller, comes in response to a comfortable surplus in the district’s food service fund.

Belle Plaine High School Assistant Principal Mindy Chevalier proposed adding more “flex spaces,” learning spaces that combine computer access with collaborative work and leisure spaces. The spaces, Chevalier said, would include work booths, table tops and outlets in order to facilitate students’ cooperation in collaborative projects. One area proposed included a green screen for video production students.

Amanda Gregory proposed adding Apple TV’s or projection screens to one or more of the proposed areas, which earned an I-don’t-see-why-not response from those present.

Early estimates for the proposed spaces, of which there are five, hover around $20,000. That figure is not final, according to Chevalier’s presentation.

Personnel

With current BPHS Principal Dave Kreft having announced his acceptance of a principal position in the Becker School District, the board announced their support to move Chevalier from the assistant principal to the principal role.  

Laager noted that he polled the faculty for their recommendation for the position, and overwhelmingly teachers and staff named Chevalier, he stated.

None objected to the measure, which will be voted on at next Monday’s business meeting, but details surrounding backfilling the assistant position and the duties therein are to be determined.

The school board is seeking to save costs meanwhile not cutting faculty by rearranging responsibilities such as teacher reviews when considering an assistant principal. Other district positions could be involved in the back-filling changes.

Near the end of Monday’s meeting Morrison proposed an addition to Policy 413, the school’s harassment and violence policy. Morrison suggested adding language to the policy that expressly forbids sexual relationship between those with direct authority over district employees and those of whom they are in charge.

The language in the policy amendment adds that the purpose of the added language is to prevent issues revolving around favoritism and accusations of abuse of authority as they pertain to power dynamics.

Morrison noted that the language he proposed comes in response to “today’s and age,” in which sexual assault and harassment allegations are being brought to the fore at an unprecedented level, particularly in instances within the workplace and involving a lopsided supervisor-employee power dynamic.

Board Chair Terry Kahle vehemently opposed adding the language to the district’s policy, stating that no such language was suggested by the Minnesota School Board Association, from whom the district bases their policies.

The MSBA’s legal team reviews Minnesota and federal laws and derives language for school boards to be adopted into their policies. The Belle Plaine School Board pays for the legal research through membership costs and typically adopts verbatim the language the MSBA puts forward.  Kahle stated that he felt the board should not take that language lightly when considering potential future legal troubles.

“Just as a district, we can’t just adopt someone’s verbiage that they bring forward,” Kahle said.

“...I’m not going to allow that to happen.”

Morrison noted that he consulted with the lawyer of an outside school district who stated that the MSBA’s policy language serves as a guideline, and districts can adopt language as they see fit.

Board member Amanda Gregory stated that she feels it is likely that the MSBA considered Morrison’s concern when writing the language included in Policy 413 and that she agrees with Kahle that adding after-the-fact language could open the door for legal trouble.

“I’m sure it’s in there,” Gregory said, bringing attention to the list of legal cases noted in Policy 413.

But Morrison remained adamant about wanting some form of the language that he agreed would need refinement.

“We should all take harassment issues very seriously. I am just trying to make sure that our school policies reflect that we have zero tolerance for harassment of any kind,” Morrison later said to The Herald.

“We need to protect our district, and all of our employees from any harassment or bullying. Most importantly we need to maintain a healthy learning environment for our kids. There can be no room for harassment in our school--perceived or actual.”

Kahle stated that he would research the matter.

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