By: Eric Sandbulte, The Brookings Register

The school year might be winding down, but the Brookings School Board stayed busy Monday night approving and briefly discussing several smaller agenda items that concerned the district’s elementary schools.

First up was the topic of kindergarten enrollment numbers thus far, as reported by Brookings School District Superintendent Klint Willert. According to the latest numbers from kindergarten enrollment for the 2017-2018 school year, enrollment was down slightly at both Medary and Hillcrest compared to last year. In 2016, Medary counted 87 in their screenings while Hillcrest had 67. This year, those schools had 82 and 63, respectively, so far.

Dakota Prairie was the only elementary school to have an increase in screenings: 105 in 2016 up to 115 this year.

But enrollment numbers are far from final as more screenings can occur throughout the summer, making it tricky for the district to predict how things will end when the new school year begins this fall.

Keeping an eye on enrollment numbers as the 2017-2018 school year approaches will be crucial to what the school district decides in regard to a cut kindergarten teacher position.

As explained during the special April 12 meeting regarding the upcoming school year’s budget, that position would be added only if student enrollment necessitated it.

Not only has enrollment brought about those questions, but also it has once again highlighted the issue of school attendance boundaries for the district’s three elementary schools.

“When you look at the number of kindergarteners enrolled and the increased number over the past couple years at Dakota Prairie in relationship to Medary and Hillcrest, I think it’s pointing to some dynamics we didn’t anticipate when the original boundaries were established,” Willert said.

The current school boundaries were put in place in 2015.

In particular, the south end of Brookings in the neighborhood of the school building as well as Aurora, which is also assigned to Dakota Prairie, have all seen more growth than other parts of the school district.

If boundaries aren’t modified again to take this into consideration, the district runs into the possibility of quickly running out of space at Dakota Prairie.

“So we have to be very mindful that the attendance boundary discussion is something that we’re going to really not just revisit, but have some changes, too,” Willert said.

He expected the issue to be addressed and completed within the next 12 months, though any changes made would not be implemented for the 2017-2018 school year.

Pilot popular

Expectations are also high at Medary for the start of its mass customized learning pilot program this fall. The program will seek to bring a highly individualistic instructional approach that allows students to learn at their own pace and skill level.

As Willert presented in his report to the school board, there’s been an overwhelming response from families interested in the pilot program.

“We had approximately 145 families that came forward and indicated an interest in participating,” Willert said. “I think it speaks to how well the idea was to present it to the community, but I think it also speaks to how interested our community is in innovative learning opportunities like the mass customized learning pilot.”

Medary Principal Jessica Enderson later said she and her staff weren’t sure what kind of response to expect when they got the go-ahead for the pilot program, but they are thrilled with the results.

“We had great turnout at our two parent meetings that we held. I also met with each kindergarten family when they came in for kindergarten registration,” she said. They also posted information through the school’s messenger system, ClassDojo, and sent emails. “That was kind of our methodology for getting information out to families about mass customized learning.”

She believes it’s the program’s ability to meet each student’s needs and to create lifelong learners that has captured the interest of so many local families.

Unfortunately, there is limited space in the pilot program, restricted to about 80 students based upon the number of teachers who are qualified to teach there and the desire to have similar student-to-teacher ratios as in the rest of Medary.

The school board was pleased with the public’s enthusiastic response and expressed a desire to see capacity increase to better meet the demand in future years should the program continue.

Thankful for the support of the community, the school board and Willert, Enderson encouraged those parents who weren’t able to have their kids enrolled in the program this time to try again next year. By that time, she hopes that it will expand into the other elementary schools, too.

“Hopefully by that time at Medary alone, we’ll have doubled the opportunities. That’ll be neat to see,” she said.

Accessible playground

It wasn’t only Medary’s classrooms that gained board attention on Monday, but also the school’s playground. Bidding came to a close for a project there that needed board approval.

The board OK’d the purchase of 5,323 square feet of poured-in-place rubber surfacing of the playground by Cunningham Recreation, which has done this kind of work before for the district. Priced at $14.55 per square foot, the total purchase price came to be $77,449.65.

Poured-in-place rubber treatments have been done elsewhere in the school district. Dakota Prairie’s playgrounds have it, and Hillcrest had it done in the last few years.

Replacing playground woodchips with this rubber is an important method of increasing accessibility to school playgrounds.

“It’s really important that we ensure that all students have those opportunities,” regardless of their mobility, Willert said. “We value that.”

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