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Verndale school board exploring improvements in student's math scores, building, food services

The Verndale School Board fielded a pitch from several of their teachers, learned about an efficiency program and reviewed a recent visit from ARTI Solutions at Monday's February meeting.

As divergent as the three areas appeared they all came down one thing - a better educational experience in Verndale.

"We never sit stagnant," Verndale Superintendent Paul Brownlow said.

Math instructors Sheri Breuer and Chris Bounds and third grade teacher Rachel Johnson were on hand to ask the District 818 school board's help in filling a need by some Verndale students for more math help.

Minnesota Department of Education figures show that Verndale is below state average in math scores in grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 11. Only in grade 3 was Verndale above the state average.

The seven-teacher group represented by Breuer, Bounds and Johnson suggested hiring a full-time instructor to help students who are below grade level but do not yet receive special education.

"It's more of a preventative measure," Brownlow said.

Verndale has applied for an Alternative Delivery Specialized Instructional Services (ADSIS) grant that would pay for 66 percent of a math instructor's salary.

A clue to how effective supplemental instruction came be have come from a reading program spearheaded by Gena Sperling. The former full-time Verndale teacher has been serving part-time as a reading interventionist. With the boost Sperling has given the efforts of other teachers, Verndale's reading scores have risen. It is hoped the same kind of supplemental help can help students with math.

The Verndale administration will begin looking for a full-time math instructor.

Dan Folsom, the vice president of Design Tree, an engineering and land surveying corporation operating out of Alexandria and St. Cloud, told the board about PBEEP.

The Public Building Enchanced Energy Efficiency Program is offered through the state of Minnesota's Department of Administration. Design Tree is just one of the engineering firms they have partnered with in looking at public institutions that could benefit from an upgrade.

Three items which Brownlow outlined as areas of concern are the school's windows, heating system and lighting system. While Brownlow said he believes the school's windows are still in good shape, he noted that the school's boilers have been operating since 1994, and the lighting in both the small and large gymnasiums is dated.

ARTI Solutions recently spent two days with Verndale Cook Manager Barb Brown and her staff observing the school's food service operation.

Verndale students who eat their midday lunch at the school have requested a second entrée. Because the school has a closed campus during the day, students are not able to leave the building for their noon meal. Students can bring their own lunch but 60 percent of the study body receives a free or reduced price lunch.

ARTI (Assess, Recommend, Train and Implement) Solutions made several observations about Verndale's existing food service operation. Consultants Sherilyn Moen and LaLonnie Voll found the school's nutrition program to be performing at a satisfactory level but a summary of their 15-page report recommended two entrée courses and four fruit and vegetable choices daily.

Brown pointed out that her staff was upset that the consultants did not meet with them to review the report. That fact surprised some members of the board.

"I would really like to see everybody have some unity on it, some buy-in," School Board Chairman Marc Edin said. "We need to look at the whole picture and there are probably are some really good things that could be implemented by looking at this."

Edin joined board member Bill Blaha in asking Brown and her staff to come up with their own report.

"We want to help you be successful," Edin told Brown and later added, "show us what we can do."

Action on the ARTI Solutions report was tabled.

The board was presented with a letter from Teacher Donna Waldahl announcing her decision to retire at the end of the 2011-2012 school year. Waldahl has taught at Verndale for 28 years.

A school calendar for the 2012-2013 school year was approved. School will begin Sept. 4 with commencement exercises scheduled for May 31. Students will put in 173 days and teachers will put in 181. There will be 18 days of vacation or no school.