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Board cautious about Marathon blended grades proposal

Board cautious about Marathon blended grades proposal Board cautious about Marathon blended grades proposal

The Marathon Board of Education last week Wednesday reacted cautiously to a proposal from Marathon Area Elementary School/Marathon Venture Academy principal Sarah Budny to create a “banded” fifth and sixth grade class, as well another “banded” seventh and eighth grade class.

School principal Sarah Budny proposed the blended fifth and sixth grade as a way to make it easier for elementary school students to make their way into middle school.

“We want to create a softer entry to sixth grade,” she said.

The principal said MAES fifth graders score above the state average on the Forward standardized exam, but she has noticed signs of students struggling.

“This is a way we can help our students,” she said. Budny said that grade banding would allow teachers more opportunity to collaborate on behalf of students.

“We don’t teach in grade level silos, but, instead, we take a collaborative approach,” she said. Budny said she wanted to implement grade banding in 2021 after a year of staff planning. Board members, however, were not so sure. They said the concept could be explored, but acted upon only with reliable research. Board member Jodi De Broux said she needed more information before making a decision.

“I have some concerns,” she said. “Before we get to an answer, I’d really like to see some longitudinal data.”

It was not quite clear how the blended grades concept would work.

Should the plan go forward, it’s uncertain how Marathon Venture Academy, a grades 6, 7 and 8 charter school, would function and, further, if Marathon Public School could remain an Expeditionary Learning school.

DeBroux said she saw some potential benefit of ending the district’s ongoing contract with Expeditionary Learning.

“We are in a deficit budget,” she said. “We could cut the Expeditionary Learning contract and keep a teacher. It’s about our students.”

Budny said her school could continue with the Expeditionary Learning approach and curriculum without the contract.

“We would build class modules into expeditions,” she said.

MAES fifth grade teacher Carolyn Haelke said she was skeptical about the proposal.

“I am not excited about it,” she said. “I have been a fifth grade teacher for 20 years and I know the students like the back of my hand. This is not the best thing for 10 and 11 year olds. I think you’d be pushing them beyond what they are developmentally able to handle.”

Budny said she hoped to receive a grant that would permit teachers time during the school year to plan for blended grades.

In other school board business:

_ Board members approved a Spirit Squad as a new school club. The squad, as proposed by high school students Vanessa Krueger, McKinley Marks and Julianna Thurs, would perform halftime routines at boys and girls varsity basketball games. The squad would be co-ed. Other members of the squad could boost school spirit by leading school cheers, make student section signs and decorate athlete locker room lockers.

The trio told the school board that the Spirit Squad would be “positive and pro-American.”

School board member Ted Knoeck said he liked the idea.

“This is fantastic,” he said. “It is a long time coming.”

_ Sixth grader Claire Riesgraf talked to school board members about a school ambassador program. Twelve Marathon Public School students recently were trained in how to curtail bullying and otherwise keep schools safe, she said.

_ Principal Budny announced Marathon Venture Academy has received a $3,000 Beyond Pencils, Beyond Crayons grant to send seventh graders to a Milwaukee Black History Museum as part of a “Civil Rights, Civil War” expedition. Students will stay the night in the Harbor Side Academy gymnasium.

_ Board members discussed public access to Marathon High School for exercise and settled some but not all issues.

District resident Jim Karlen questioned why he couldn’t walk the school hallways in the winter as he has for years.

District administrator Rick Parks said this could be easily remedied and promised Karlen that the school would be re-opened for pre-school walkers soon.

Board members were not, however, able to figure out how to safely allow families to play basketball in the high school’s new gymnasium.

Parks said magnetic locks on doors might be necessary. The cost for locks on two doors, he said, was $5,700. Other board members said security cameras might be needed.

Board president Brian Gumtz said the overriding issue was supervision of students in the gymnasium.

“My concern is the safety of the children,” he said.

_ School board members agreed to use $96,000 in a retired teachers health benefit account surplus to lower this year’s school tax levy.

_ Marathon High School principal David Beranek briefed school board members on safety planning. As part of a school plan, students are to gather at Marathon Fire Station. Emergency bags are stored at the station, he said.

_ Administrator Parks provided school board members with a 10-year history of school levies and general state aid. Since 2000-01, school property taxes have increased from $2,213,938 to $$4,517,385, a difference of $2,303,447 or 104 percent. In that same period, state aid has stayed relatively flat. The district received $3,186,780 in 2000-01 and $3,699,556 in 2019-20, an increase of $512,776 or 16 percent.