Mar
15
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 15-03-2016

This is never an easy discussion to have, no matter what time or what group I am speaking.  Reducing teaching faculty or staff immediately brings anxious feelings, rightfully so.  However, that does not mean it cannot be addressed.  So over the past several months the EPS Administrative Team (Mr. Herman, Mr. Girard, and I) have been discussing with the School Board the future size of our teaching faculty.

Our discussion focused on several keys points that all indicated that we should be strongly considering a reduction in our faculty.  The key points are:

  • Enrollment growth has steadied or has even declined in classes growing rapidly a couple years ago.
  • North Dakota’s economy is experiencing significant changes due to declining oil prices.
  • These economic challenges are causing cuts in state budgets, which could eventually impact schools.
  • In comparison to surrounding communities, of similar size, we have a significantly lower student:teacher ratio.
  • A slight change in our faculty we feel we can maintain a strong education system while controlling costs.
  • The best time to make a change is when it presents itself to you.

Here is a representation of our present elementary grades showing class sizes and sections for each.  On the top are present numbers for four schools including Ellendale Elementary.  You can see this year EES has a student to teacher ratio of 14.5:1.  This is significantly lower than all our surrounding schools.  Oakes, which is larger by over 100 students is situated between 2 to 3 sections per grade.  While, LaMoure and Edgeley, who are more closely aligned with us have transitioned to only one section per grade.  We have been stuck in the middle of these two configurations for some time and now with two teaching positions opening we feel it is time to only fill one.  This would result in our teaching faculty to look more like what is represented in the bottom row.

** NOTICE ** This is all based on projections.  If for some reason we would lose or gain a significant number in any one grade in our proposed plan.  Then good plans have to change.  Just saying.  **

Ultimately I believe a student to teacher ratio around 16-17 to 1 is still very good.  It is a wonderful perk of living in a small community and not in a Fargo or Bismarck that can commonly have 22-28 kids to 1 teacher.  However, everything has a cost and maintaining a low ratio takes teachers and that takes money.  So last night the Ellendale School Board endorsed our proposal and we finalized it with EES faculty this morning.  It is a challenge but I also know we have quality teachers that can be successful in this new configuration.  So I personally feel we have found a balance between exceptional educational services and fiscal responsibility.  I hope you agree.

 

Feb
23
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 23-02-2016

Many of us grew up in a generation where we were continually reinforced continually that if we just got an A in this class we would be happy.  Then it was, if we were just valedictorian, captain of the team, got into this college, got this certain job… each of these would make us happy.  Were we always happy?

I want to ask you to consider changing the lens of happiness.  Instead of being successful.. then happiness following let us turn that around. If we focused on our happiness first, we can be more successful in school and work.  This is a concept I had the opportunity to learn more about at the National AASA Convention in Phoenix earlier this month.  It is promoted by Shawn Achor author of “The Happy Secret to Better Work” based on his work at Harvard University.  I encourage you to take 10 minutes and watch his presentation on TEDx

YouTube Preview Image

After a life time of watching my generation chase after the American dream yet continuing to be unhappy, his message resonated with me.  Are we reinforcing the same industry, assembly line belief, that if we just get to the end we will be happy?  I think we do.  We say it and reinforce it all the time.  Just think about it in your own home.  I can find 10 ways right now that we do this in school.  But, what if we changed our focus on happiness first, success second as Achor proposes?

In his work he identifies three predictors of happiness.  They are:

  • Optimism – the belief your behavior will eventually matter)
  • Social Connections
  • How we perceive stress (as a challenge or as a threat)

He recommends five actions that we all can do for just 21 days that could change our happiness and success.  He proposes 21 days as it takes this long to make a new habit in our brains.

1. Bring gratitude to mind – write down three new things that you are grateful for each day.
2. Journal – About a positive experience you had in the last 24 hours.
3. Exercise – 15 min
4. Meditate – Just watch your body breathe for 2 minutes each day.
5. Random acts of kindness – write a positive email, compliment someone, etc.

My point in sharing this is lets try.  I am starting today – Feb 23rd, 2016.  I will let you know more after 21 days (March 15th, 2016).  I would like to know if you try and if it works for you.

 

Jan
14
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 14-01-2016

It is about this time every year I am questioned why Ellendale does not have a peewee wrestling program like other schools.  Well the answer is simple….

**DISCLAIMER** Before I tell you my answer I want to come clean and state I have a child that participated one year in peewee.  He is also now a varsity wrestler so I do have an interest in this program, and it being successful.  Yes, I am biased **

For Ellendale School to have a program similar to Oakes, or Webster S.D., or any place else really boils down to one thing – YOU!  Each of the programs mentioned benefits greatly from a few highly motivated and dedicated community members or parents willing to get the season started every year.  Some note that EPS has programs for little basketball or football players and chastises me for a lack of support for wrestling.  The peewee basketball program several years ago and now were run by volunteers interested in that sport.  The peewee football program is also organized and run by parent and community volunteers.  EPS stands ready to help, but again we need YOU!

At the present time Ellendale has a contract with our varsity coach to coach a peewee program but this is not feasible, within his limited time, until the end of the varsity season.  I realize many schools start as early as Dec 1st, but this is commonly due to the work of the aforementioned volunteers.  The EPS Athletic program and THUNDER are anxiously awaiting YOU or some other individual that would be willing to head up or assist with our program.  You don’t need a degree in coaching.  You don’t need to be a past state champion in wrestling.  You only need to have an interest, pass a back ground check, and a willingness to help some kids learn more about this outstanding sport.  Come on!  If people in the community want a program like (insert name here) then you must step up and take action.  We are waiting for you.

If you are interested please contact Mr. Matt Herman, Activities Director, at (701) 349-3232 today.

 

 

 

 

Jan
13
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 13-01-2016

North Dakota Century Code 15.1-07-2 requires school districts to conduct a long term planning meeting every even numbered year.  This is intended to provide an opportunity for the Board and community to review  and address the effects that demographics might have on the district in the ensuing three-year and five-year periods, and specifically addressing potential effects on: a. Academic and extracurricular programs; b. Instructional and administrative staffing; c. Facility needs and utilization; and d. District tax levies.

The Ellendale School Board has set this meeting for Monday, Feb 8th at 6:45.  The presentation given the Board and community at that time will also be published online for all community members to review.

 

Jan
06
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 06-01-2016

The need for teachers has been a reoccurring topic in both South Dakota and North Dakota for several years.  It was thought to be more significant in South Dakota, and that may be so, but according to a recent story in the FORUM it is a growing concern here as well.

“Halfway through the school year, more than 200 teaching jobs remain vacant in North Dakota’s public schools after a “community experts” pilot program aimed at easing the state’s teacher shortage failed to fill a single slot.” (Forum, January 5, 2016)

The story in the Forum focused on the lack of help from a one-year program designed to allow some without teaching degrees to fill specified vacancies.  What many don’t realize is that this list of possible positions is very narrow and does not include core subjects.  Thus North Dakota continues to have vacancies the following vacancies: 35 in CTE, 32 in Social Studies, and 28 in Special Education.   This in comparison to 65 teaching openings posted in South Dakota (www.asbsd.org Jan 6, 2016).   So neither state is flush with teaching candidates.

So what are some reasons for the shortage?

Promotion – How many parents today are encouraging their child to become a teacher?  Personally, I have had one of my children consider going into law enforcement.  My response, “Really, son is that what you want to do?” Then I turn on the news and reinforce that today’s society appears to have little respect or admiration for law enforcement, and by the way you will do that job for little money.  Isn’t that the same for the teaching profession?  Turn on the news.  How often is the profession raised up and admired enough by adults to cause their children to consider it as a career.  More often than not, parents are responding to their child’s inquiry to become a teacher as I did to my son about being a cop, negatively.

Autonomy – Almost everyone has a boss.  Even CEO’s have a board they must report to.  Yet, autonomy in one’s job is a strong indicator or happiness and satisfaction.  Educators today have lost almost all their autonomy to do the job they are trained to do.  Why would any young person look fondly on a profession that is significantly regulated from the top-down?  Kids in our high schools see teachers being threatened and disrespected more and more by students and parents.  They fully realize they have to be ready to plan for lessons but also bombs and active shooters.  They see teachers spending more time preparing for tests and frustrated.  Thus, that office job at Microsoft in Fargo looks better and better and they go for it.

Compensation – Some want to dismiss this but let’s be honest.  A student today can become a nurse and  earn on average $26/hr ($54,000/yr) or start as a North Dakota teacher for about $34,000/yr.  In addition that new nurses at Sanford (Modernhealthcare.com, Jan 1, 2016) will be getting a $20,000 signing bonuses.  Wow that would seem simple.  Knowing both will leave a North Dakota university with 40-60K in debt which would you choose?  In addition, unknown to many outside of the profession, North Dakota teachers will then contribute commonly 12% of that salary to NDTFFR.  That does not leave much left to pay the rent.

So what can we do?

The answer will have to be multi-faceted and it will not be corrected quickly.  I have proposed to several legislators a need to develop a program to pay off new teacher’s higher education debt.  I believe this would be enticing to some students and their parents.  Would you encourage your child to pursue a career in education if they could write-off their college debt after 5-6 years of teaching?  I also believe we need to promote the profession.  We need to work as earnestly as Sanford on shining the positive light on teaching and recruit the best and brightest like they do.  Schools don’t have the combined corporate presence that can be accomplished by Sanford or Microsoft but we are going to have to figure out a way to do it.  We need to start reaching our young people in elementary school, to get them to see the wonders and benefits of becoming a teacher.

Teacher shortage is a real concern and very shortly there will not be a school in North or South Dakota that is not feeling the pinch, cutting programs, or increasing class sizes.  It is going to be inevitable.  But, with some work today we can start to turn the tide.

** After Thoughts ** As a teacher myself it is a tremendously rewarding and enjoyable career.  I would not change it for the world.  I am just glad someone turned me on to it many years ago.

 

Dec
16
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 16-12-2015

Many of us today received our special pink letter from Dickey County informing us of our annual tax obligation.  In an effort to help each of you understand how your school is spending each of the dollars you are providing it I would like to offer you this letter.  Within it you will find a short explanation of how each of you dollars, sent to the school are split up and used.

The letter can be found at http://www.ellendale.k12.nd.us/2015-2016Budget&Tax_DollarSplit.pdf

 

 

Dec
14
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 14-12-2015

Earlier this month the US House passed their version of the Every Student Succeeds Act.  This passage moved to the President’s desk the first major revision to US education policy since the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2002.  It would appear, based on initial reports, that the Congress has been hearing the rising concerns about NCLB from teachers, parents, school administrators, and school boards.  With the passage of ESSA they are proposing some positive changes to education policy in our nation.  Some of the positive changes, in my view are:

  • States are now given control of setting their own goals for student performance.  NCLB set the ambitious goal of 100% of all children proficient in reading and math by 2014.  No state ever met that goal, and understandably so.  Now North Dakota officials will have to determine what success is in our schools and how that success will be measured.
  • Now not all schools are identified as failing.  The focus is now shifted to the bottom 5% of schools in each state.  This threshold will eventually be determined by the states but federal monies will be targeted more to helping that bottom 5%.  I am ok with this as the monies from the federal government should be focused on protecting civil rights of students.  If students are trapped in low performing schools these funds should be focused to change that.
  • States are now allowed to choose their own testing tools, even choosing multiple tools.  However, part of NCLB was not replaced and that is the requirement that mandated performance testing must take place in grades 3-8 and once in high school.  I am hopeful that in North Dakota we can have an honest discussion about what tests are best and eventually even give districts options as to which of several tests they would like to use and when.   These results must continue to be released publicly so stakeholders can follow the progress of their school.  I am ok with that.
  • It is my understanding that ESSA will put a great emphasis on identification and supports for homeless children.  This is not a rampant issue in Ellendale however we do identify students each year as being homeless.  Often this is due to multiple families living in one home.  By federal definition one of the families is considered homeless.  We will have to wait and see how the new legislation affects services for these students
  • The federal government cannot mandate a set of standards.  ESSA specifically provides that power to state and local entities.

I am very pleased to see that NCLB is ending and some legislation, perfect or not, is coming out of D.C.  The logger headed battles over everything on the hill has been frustrating since 2007 when the bill was to be reauthorized.  With the lack of reauthorization it has been a continual battle of the executive and legislative branch as to how to fix and re-write NCLB without actually doing it.  Passage of ESSA is a positive change, but if you allow me to look into the crystal ball, I am going to predict a few items that I believe will haappen before I retire….

  • State and locals will spend millions writing state standards only to have big business testing and textbook companies deep in the pockets of state level decision makers.  Not saying they are not in the same pockets at the national level now.
  • School will eventually be pressed by community stakeholders that students are too transient and need more regional or national standards. We will again hear the concerns that there are certain things every American child should know.
  • At some point a study will come forth showing a sub-group of American students is being under-educated.  It is eventual unless local school boards and state officials keep vigilant to ensure all students are getting a fair shake.

NCLB was a bipartisan bill promoted by a Republican President and administered by a republican Dept of Ed Secretary.  It lived through a Democratic President and DOE Secretary to eventually be re-reauthorized in a strong bi-partisan fashion this month.  Both sides made mistakes with NCLB.  I am just hopeful that maybe politics can be set aside enough, in the future, that we don’t have to wait thirteen years to fix ESSA this next go around.

 

Nov
23
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 23-11-2015

It is my hope that the title of this blog post will be shocking enough to get community members thinking and acting upon this issue.  Because without any action we could be facing the reality of not running buses due to a driver shortage.

During the 2014-2015 school year Ellendale School buses transported approximately 100-130 students daily.  That is nearly 1/3 of our student population.  During that same year our buses traveled a total of 120,509 route miles (688.6 day) and 41,304 extra-curricular miles.  The vast majority of these miles were run by six dedicated, highly-qualified drivers that many of you know.  But, they could not be here every day.  Even bus drivers get sick, take a vacation, or have to drive a team on an extra-curricular trip.  When these events happen we call on our short list of substitute drivers to come in and help us out.  However, that list of substitute drivers is dwindling and it is jeopardizing us providing the quality transportation service that many of us have become accustom.

As an example of how busy we can keep our subs here are some recent stats:
September = 11 sub routes – (drivers names left out) DriverA = 1, Driver2 = 3, Driver3 = 6, and Driver4 = 1.  These are actual drivers.  However of these four – two work for the school in other capacities and were helping where and when they could.
October = 25 sub routes – Driver5 = 3, Driver6 = 3, Driver3 = 15, Driver4 = 2, and Driver2 = 2.  Some of these helped us in September and some only in Oct.  The number of the drivers do correspond month to month.

Now comes the scary part.  In the information above Driver4 will not be driving anymore and Driver6 is obligated as a coach now and cannot drive during our busy winter months.  Secondly, we are just now heading into our busy time.  The fall can be busy but football is only one night a week and fortunately for us we have a coach that can drive the team to Edgeley/Kulm when needed.  This is not the case in the winter.  We are now heading into a season with 2-3 wrestling, boys basketball, and girls basketball events per week.  This is not including elementary and JH sports.  Now our A.D., Mr. Matt Herman, does a fine job ensuring we are only scheduling two away events per night.  But, there are times we can have three buses out at any time of the day to field trips, sporting, or fine arts events.  This causes extreme pressure on our driver pool as you can see.
So what happens if we don’t have enough drivers?  Commonly if we are short a two rural routes are combined into one larger route.  Students still get a ride home, but it just may take longer for them to get to their door step.  But, I know there are some out there that could help.  Even if you are not willing to drive twice a week, even three times a month can be very beneficial for us and ensure that all our buses are running normally.  If you can help, or would like to know more about the requirements to drive a bus, please contact me at jfastnacht@ellendale.k12.nd.us or call me at 701-349-3232.  This is a fragile dance we are doing right now and only one extended sickness or departure of one sub could put our bus routes in jeopardy.  The time to act is now and if you again can help, please contact me.
Nov
03
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 03-11-2015

The Dept of Public Instruction has issued a press release stating that the ND State Assessment results are out for ND schools.  If you recall these are the results from the new Smarter Balanced assessment that was conducted in the spring of this year.  This is the test that is more closely aligned with the common core instructional standards and is reported to show proficiency more aligned with the NAEP assessment (which means lower).

I thought you may be interested in these results as well so I am going to try to show them to you in a series of graphics that I have snapped from our testing portal.  The results are show as bars with with Red = Novice, Yellow = Partially Proficient, Green = Proficient, and Blue = Advanced.  Of course we would like to see all students in the green or blue categories.  On each image are both the results for the Math test (shown on the left) and the English Language Arts test (shown on the right).

The first graph shows the results for all students tested in North Dakota.  The state level result.  ** Click on the image to make it larger if you desire **

Next are the results for Ellendale Public School District.  These are all students tested in Ellendale Elementary, MR Elementary, and EHS.  Students tested last year were in grades 3-8 & 11.  Again, Math on the left, and ELA on the right.

 

Next are the results for each building at Ellendale Public School.

 

Here are the results for Ellendale Elementary – Grades 3 – 6th.  Again from the spring of 2015.

 

Here are the results for Ellendale High School.  Grades 7, 8, and 11.

Lastly, are the results for the Maple River Elementary School.  In several of these categories you will see that data was suppressed.  This is due to the small class sizes which can cause statistical and identification concerns for the students taking the test.

If you have made it to the bottom of this page thank you for taking interest in this information.  But, I again want to share my view on this data, and it contradicts what you may be hearing from state officials.  This is a valuable test, if you desire to take a one-time snap shot of student performance and use that to measure school success/failure and compare schools.  However, it is only one single event.  It is not a diagnostic that I use, or promote at EPS, to be used for classroom use.  Any test that does not provide its results till nearly 6 months after the fact has little benefit to a classroom teacher.  We will focus on assessment that we can provide us timely results to modify instruction and adapt our resources to fit the needs of our students and teachers.

 

Oct
15
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 15-10-2015

Each day as I open up the news online I am met with another article of a child that is being left in the cold, beaten, left in a hot car, starved, or even killed by a parent.  It is sickening.  It boggles my mind how this behavior can persist in our nation, in our society.  Parents, can we get ourselves together!

I realize this post will probably offend some, so be it.  I am writing this today, figuratively standing on my soap box, advocating for those in our community, in North Dakota, that do not have a voice.  So before I begin, I make no apologies if you are offended… I am speaking for these children.  Child neglect is nothing new, it has been around thousand’s of years.  We have dealt with predators, abusers, and delinquent parents before.  But why, does it seem to be more pervasive today than ever before?  Let me share some thoughts…

The middle class is shrinking in the US which is causing a larger number of kids to be categorized as children of poverty.  Research is clear that poverty is the single greatest threat to a child’s well being. (nccp.org 2015). In the US more than 16 million children – 22% – live in families considered to be below the poverty line.  Local-State & Federal policies need to begin to address this issue ensuring that families are given the opportunities to pull themselves out of this poverty cycle.  Children in poverty must be afforded health care, good nutrition, and educational opportunities to ensure they have every opportunity to break the poverty cycle.  However, I want to be clear… poverty should never be an excuse for any parent to neglect their child.  As a person that has visited a third world country poor in America is affluent compared to poor in Haiti.  As parents, poor or affluent, our financial standing cannot be a crutch for how we treat our children.

Drug use among parents does seem to be increasing.  The number of parents shown in the FORUM each week that are losing their children due to actions taken while under the influence is staggering.  Alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, you name it… none of these are making any parent better.  In my view, trust is a critical element for the parent/child relationship.  When a parent is an abuser of drugs children understand this at a young age.  They soon realize these actions are wrong but they must cover up the illegal activity in their own homes, on their parents behalf.  What implications does this have on a child.  Drugs use by a parent not only impedes their own lives but how can they provide a healthy, loving, nourishing environment when they are craving their next high.  There are avenues to get help… parents take the step.  Families get the help you need.  We cannot continue to have parents raising children while high.

*Stepping Up One Step*
Parents you can get mad at me if you wish.  You can post negative comments to this blog, so be it.  But GET YOURSELVES TOGETHER.  Each and every day members of our society must complete competency tests to drive, dispense medication, teach, practice law, or even coach.  But, parents you can conceive a child with little more than a desire.  Then take that precious gift, given to you by your creator, and neglect it for some no good reason.  Get help if you need it.  If you can’t care for your child get help within your family.  Ask a neighbor to care for the child before you beat it to death.  Stop using drugs today and if necessary get help.  If all else fails work with social services or another agency to find a family that is able to care for your child.  But, for heavens sake lets stop injuring and killing those that have no voice.  Lets stop this insanity of shaking and beating our children.  Please – Please – Get the help you need.  All of our futures.. depend upon it.