Medford board seeks to give students a math boost
Medford students will have access to more math help at the high school under a proposal approved by the Medford School Board on Monday.
Board members approved hiring an additional math teacher at the high school. This will free up one of the existing teachers to focus on math intervention.
According to Laura Lundy, director of curriculum at Medford Area Public School District, the idea of having an interventionist was in reaction to a downward trend the district is seeing in math test scores at the high school level. She noted that currently there are opportunities for students to seek additional help, but these opportunities are largely voluntary.
“We have done a lot of things to help our students do better in math,” Lundy said. One way is through the ability to retake math tests. However, she noted that many times the students want to redo the tests, but don’t do the necessary work to review or learn the material and end up with the same grade.
She said the district has created peer tutor opportunities and underperforming students are in guided study halls. However, as noted by high school principal Jill Lybert, the teacher in the guided study hall may not be familiar with the high school math being taught.
The math interventionist would be a dedicated teacher who would be available to students during the day and provide hands on, one-on-one assistance. The teacher would be able to require students to come to the interventionist during their study hall period for the additional help.
Lybert said the need for an additional teacher is that the current math staff is spread thin teaching their classes. Board member Dede Strama noted that it sometimes takes a different person explaining how to do something, especially with more abstract math concepts, for students to gain understanding. “I think it is a good plan,” Strama said.
“How will we know if this is working?”asked board member Brian Hallgren Lundy said the district will monitor grades and state test scores. She said one way to measure it will be to track the number of underperforming students in the math classes and see if the numbers are reduced.
Board member Oralee Dittrich noted that classroom grades may not be the best judge of how the students are doing. She questioned the group grading process in the math classes and how much of an impact that has on pulling a student’s grade down.
“We all know how group projects can be,” said board president Dave Fleegel, noting that if some members of the group don’t pull their weight, it can bring everyone down.
However, Lybert noted that group scores are only one part of the overall grading for the math classes.
Board member Barb Knight suggested more work needed to be done on math in the middle school to prepare incoming ninth graders for algebra. “Is something missing to get them to freshman work?” she said, noting that she felt it was a high percentage of students not succeeding in ninth grade math.
“Should we be doing something at middle school?” Knight asked.
“There are a lot of variables,” Lundy said, replying that the district is continuing to look at middle school math.
Middle school principal Al Leonard noted that not everyone taking ninth grade math is in ninth grade and it includes people who could be retaking it.
Hallgren asked what happens if it doesn’t work. District administrator Pat Sullivan said that if it does not work, the district could go back to having the current five math teachers. He noted that with possible retirement in the math department in the next few years, having someone in place now will be a boost.
Board member Mark Temme supported the idea of having the students forced into receiving the additional math help. “This will be the first time that it is something required for them to do,” Temme said.
Sullivan cautioned that there may be times the student needs to use that study hall time for other subjects, giving the example of a student who may have two tests the next day in other subjects and needs to use the study hall time preparing for those tests. “They better have a really good excuse,” Sullivan said, otherwise the student will be working on math.
Board members unanimously voted to approve the additional math teacher for the high school, which will allow one of the existing teachers to transition into the interventionist post.
One of the bigger challenges for the district will be with actually filling the position. Lundy said the district has advertised for the position, but has not gotten any applicants. However, she remained optimistic explaining that there are December college graduates and that they would be going to UW-Stevens Point’s upcoming job fair with the goal of hiring someone.
As far as budget impact of the position, finance director Audra Brooks said it has been reviewed and will work in the budget.
This is potentially a place the district can utilize the budget funds from insurance premiums being less than what was budgeted. The district had budgeted for a $400,000 increase in health insurance premiums for the district.
Sullivan explained the actual increase was $134,000 leaving the district with about $266,000.
At last week’s finance committee meeting some ideas were brought forward about how that money could be spent in the budget with an eye toward some larger facility needs. According to Dave Makovsky director of buildings and grounds, the middle school is now 20 years old and its roof is starting to show its age and require patches. Likewise, the elementary school east parking lot is decaying and needs to be redone. He said both of these are big ticket items that could cost around $300,000.
Fleegel noted that between the two, he would prefer to have a roof fixed before a parking lot.
Hallgren said the finance committee had a lengthy discussion on how the budget savings could be used and decided to take a wait-and-see approach to see if the projected savings actually are there. He compared it to the possibility of if there could be less snow this year and how the district could have a surplus in that line item.
In other business, board members:
_ Approved renewing the five-year Rural Virtual Academy (RVA) charter. The RVA is chartered to Medford but operates as a consortium of schools from around the region. In related action the board approved the agreement for Loyal to join the consortium. As part of the consortium, each school in the RVA is able to receive the state per pupil aid for students in the RVA who live in that district.
_ Following questions, approved the monthly personnel report. The report lists new hires, job transfers and resignations and is usually approved along with the other consent agenda items. Reuter had called for it to be acted on separately questioning what appeared to be the hiring of four new secretaries for the RVA. Charlie Heckel, RVA administrator, explained that those were on there as wage increases not new hires. He said the RVA currently has positions posted and will be asking the board for approval to fill those positions. He noted that with 600 students in the RVA elementary school they will be splitting the one secretary position into two positions to handle the workload.
_ Received an update on elections. Board members Hallgren, Knight and Temme are up for reelection this spring. Filing deadline for incumbents not seeking reelection is December 27 and the deadline for any candidate to file nomination papers is January 7.