Combination class coming to CAES?

By Clay Schuldt
Special to The Argus

Interim Elementary Principal Jane Morken addressed the Caledonia Area School Board on a proposal to create a multi-age classroom that would combine kindergarten and first grade next school year.

The reason for the discussion for a combination classroom is that projections for the total number of kindergarten and first grade students next year is 108. This year there are 96 students in kindergarten (53) and first grade (43).

Last year the school board spent quite a bit of time discussing if this year’s kindergarten with 53 students could be fit into two sections or be put into three sections. The decision was made to go with three sections and the district had five teachers handling kindergarten and first grade.

“I am continually reminded of a budget crisis and thinking about how to help our students have smaller class sizes,” Morken said.

Morken’s proposal is that since the school cannot increase enrollment it was felt that the school could save on the budget by having one teacher serve as a kindergarten/first grade teacher.  The proposal would call for two kindergarten classes, two first grade classes and one class that would combine the two age groups between kindergarten and first grade. This would eliminate a class and save the school money, as well as balance the student to teacher ratio.

Morken pointed out that multi-age classes have been done in the past at Caledonia.  Morken felt the multi-age class would be best filled with students who had abilities that allowed for more individual learning. In order to get the benefit of the multi-age class the kindergarten students would keep the same teacher when moving on to first grade.

However, Morken commented that these were just suggestions at this point. The school could continue to have three sections for each class or two of each class with a student aid, but Morken felt the multi-age was a better route, saying “In my mind the highest qualified teacher with the fewest number of kids is the best way to go.”

Morken submitted a newsletter to parents and several parents who attended the board meeting to discuss the plan.  Many parents were concerned about how a multi-age class might divide the students.  Others worried that it would hold back the first graders. Some felt the multi-age class could work, but would be better suited for older students as the range of abilities between kindergarten and first grade is too wide.

Morken commented that schools nationwide have done this and some entire schools are built around multi-age classrooms, but admitted the program works better if done with a purpose rather than from low enrollment. Parents are allowed to have their students opt out of the multi-age class if they submit a request to the school.

No real plan for action was put in place as Morken felt it was better to wait until kindergarten roundup was finished to allow the school to have a firmer figure on the number of students coming into the school.  An informational meeting will be scheduled for parents before anything is decided.

Personnel issues

The school board moved to approve the employment contract for Benjamin Barton as the superintendent/elementary principal for the 2012-2014 school years. The school board officially welcomed Barton to the school district. Barton thanked the school board and said he plans to get to know the school staff and members of the community, as well as familiarize himself with school programs when he takes over the position on July 1, 2012.

The board moved to accept the resignation of Theresa Lauden as special education teacher effective Sept. 24, 2012 with thanks for her 32 years of service and dedication to the school district.

In addition the board accepted the resignation of Scott Sorenson as head girls’ basketball coach effective immediately, with thanks for his years of service.

Laura Eglinton was approved as licensed teacher substitute in the fourth grade classroom during the Maternity leave of Becky Newgaard to begin around April 26, 2012 and continue through May 25, 2012 or until the return of Newgaard at $90 per day.

The board passed resolutions placing Zachariah Hauser, Tina Fruechte, Lindsey Meyer, Becky Newgaard, Julia Erchoff-Costet, and Cheryl White on unrequested leaves of absence.