Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 24-05-2016

15 Things to do this summer in North Dakota

A guide for North Dakota students

I will be honest this is an adaptation from the work of Cesare Catà of Bon Bosco High School in Fermo, Italty. In 2015 he proposed a similar list for his students departing his classroom for their summer break.  This list, set in North Dakota, is hopefully an inspiration to Ellendale Public School students, and others, to make the most of their summer.  Because learning is not just about the core subjects but also about expanding our horizons, experiences, and nourishing our souls.

  1. Take a walk and enjoy either the sun’s rising or setting: In North Dakota we have the opportunity to watch the sun’s travels from horizon to horizon with hardly any manmade objects interfering with that view.  Take time to reflect upon the glory of the sun, and while you do so open your mind and allow yourself to be happy.
  2. Read: During the school year you have to read books.  Take time during the summer to choose books that inspire you, or light your imagination.  “Books are uniquely portable magical places” – Stephen King.
  3. Avoid people and situations that don’t build you up:  Seek others that stimulate you and make you better, find people that understand you and care about you.
  4. Go fishing: The summers in North Dakota allow many great outdoor activities.  But, fishing is one that will cause you to calm yourself long enough to allow the fish to bite.  Embrace that peace.
  5. Give back to your community: The heart of our rural communities is the value of giving back.  Together we all make our communities thrive.  Find an organization or event that you can volunteer to help.
  6. Teach yourself one new skill: It may be crochet, or whip making.  It could be a new language, or how to make and fly a kite.  Regardless, teach yourself one new skill that you did not possess at the end of the school year.
  7. Take a road trip: This may require some parental assistance but take one day to visit a new place in our great state.  You have learned about many of these places in ND studies but you may have not visited them.  Take a day and pick one to see.
  8. Play sports, get outside.
  9. If you feel sad, that is ok: Summer is a wonderful time to reflect upon ourselves.  Write these thoughts down in a diary, or share them if you are willing.
  10. Watch a film with meaning: in order to broaden your view of the world.  Pick something that you would normally not watch and then reflect upon its meaning to your life.
  11. Go stargazing: Our night skies are beautiful.  Gather up a blanket, lie down, and simply gaze up.  Then ponder about your place in this great universe.  Set a goal for your future.
  12. Say thank you: Reflect upon someone that has made a difference in your life over the past year and write them a thank you.  This should not be an email or facebook post, but a real handwritten thank you.
  13. Don’t sear.
  14. Work up a sweat: North Dakotans are known for our strong work ethic.  At some time during the summer work up a good sweat and enjoy it.  Think about the power you have in your bodies that can move mountains.
  15. Be Good.


Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 23-05-2016

I had the wonderful opportunity to engage in some solid educational discussions about today’s kids and schools.  For those of you that were at the Bakery on Monday, thank you.  These sort of discussions help me be a better educator and I do listen to your concerns.  In one small part of our discussion we talked about the new things in our education that have slowly pushed out the 3 R’s.  It is true, schools today are dedicating more time to other topics then schools did in 1920-30.  To help explain here is a list.  I took this from as I heard him speak about this same subject this last year.

** Disclaimer **  I am not getting into who actually mandated these be taught but in short it does not matter if it was federal or state.  Each of these is being driven by changes in our society and each of these changes is expected to be addressed in your school. It is just our reality.  At the same time, the actual length of a school year has changed little since the mid 1900’s (175 days for us).



———– from ————-

In the 1950s, we added:.

  • Expanded science and math education
  • Safety education
  • Driver’s education
  • Expanded music and art education
  • Stronger foreign language requirements
  • Sex education (Topics continue to escalate.

In the 1960s, we added:.

  • Advanced Placement programs
  • Head Start
  • Title I
  • Adult education
  • Consumer education (purchasing resources, rights and responsibilities)
  • Career education (occupational options, entry level skill requirements)
  • Peace, leisure, and recreation education [Loved those sixties.]

In the 1970s, we added:

  • Drug and alcohol abuse education
  • Parenting education (techniques and tools for healthy parenting)
  • Behavior adjustment classes (including classroom and communication skills)
  • Character education
  • Special education (mandated by federal government)
  • Title IX programs (greatly expanded athletic programs for girls)
  • Environmental education
  • Women’s studies
  • African-American heritage education
  • School breakfast programs (Now some schools feed America’s children two-thirds of their daily meals throughout the school year and all summer. Sadly, these are the only decent meals some children receive.)

In the 1980s, the floodgates opened, and we added:.

  • Keyboarding and computer education
  • Global education
  • Multicultural/Ethnic education
  • Nonsexist education
  • English-as-a-second-language and bilingual education
  • Teen pregnancy awareness
  • Hispanic heritage education
  • Early childhood education
  • Jump Start, Early Start, Even Start, and Prime Start
  • Full-day kindergarten
  • Preschool programs for children at risk
  • After-school programs for children of working parents
  • Alternative education in all its forms
  • Stranger/danger education
  • Antismoking education
  • Sexual abuse prevention education
  • Expanded health and psychological services
  • Child abuse monitoring (a legal requirement for all teachers)

In the 1990s, we added:.

  • Conflict resolution and peer mediation
  • HIV/AIDS education
  • CPR training
  • Death education
  • America 2000 initiatives (Republican)
  • Inclusion
  • Expanded computer and internet education
  • Distance learning
  • Tech Prep and School to Work programs
  • Technical Adequacy
  • Assessment
  • Post-secondary enrollment options
  • Concurrent enrollment options
  • Goals 2000 initiatives (Democratic)
  • Expanded Talented and Gifted opportunities
  • At risk and dropout prevention
  • Homeless education (including causes and effects on children)
  • Gang education (urban centers)
  • Service learning
  • Bus safety, bicycle safety, gun safety, and water safety education

In the first decade of the twenty-first century, we added:.

  • No Child Left Behind (Republican)
  • Bully prevention
  • Anti-harassment policies (gender, race, religion, or national origin)
  • Expanded early childcare and wrap around programs
  • Elevator and escalator safety instruction
  • Body Mass Index evaluation (obesity monitoring)
  • Organ donor education and awareness programs
  • Personal financial literacy
  • Entrepreneurial and innovation skills development
  • Media literacy development
  • Contextual learning skill development
  • Health and wellness programs
  • Race to the Top (Democratic)

Whew.. that is one heck of a list.





Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 19-05-2016

Have you ever opened up an utility bill for your home or business and been shocked at the cost?  I have to believe everyone has had this feeling.  Electricity, water, sewer, telephone, internet all cost money and for your school district these are big ticket items within the budget.  During the 2015-2016 school year the following amounts were projected to be spent in these areas:

  • Telephone (DRN) = $8,600
  • Sewer, Water & Garbage (City of Ellendale) = $8,290
  • Electricity (MDU) = $130,000
  • Heating Oil (Farmers Unio) = $3,249

Since the installation of an electric boiler to replace one of our two aging fuel oil boilers in 2008 the districts fuel oil costs have declined dramatically, however electricity costs have continued to rise. Additional, the square footage added in 2011 and improved HVAC systems have increased electrical usage.  When your school is budgeting nearly $150,000 dollars a year on these utilities it was a wise course of action to see if there were ways to save.  Late last year the Ellendale School Board agreed to use the services of the CTS Group.  CTS provides site wide energy efficiency studies to schools, counties, and cities.  Over the winter CTS has been reviewing utility usage and bills.  They have completed lighting, heating/cooling, and site surveys.  All of these with the goal to find ways that the district can save money.

This week the Ellendale Public School Board agreed to formally hire CTS Group to manage a multi-faceted energy efficiency improvement project.  This project will begin in the summer of 2016 and take about 12 months to complete.  The elements of their recommendations are:

  • Energy Management & Controls – Every heater and AC is operated by a control system.  At the present time much of the high school is operated by a pneumatic system that could be improved to provide more customization in heating and cooling patterns.  Additionally, some of our newer systems were found to be heating/cooling during unoccupied times, wasting electricity used to heat and also run fans.  Together these inefficiencies were calculated to cost the district $30,746/annually.  The CTS project proposes updating the old pneumatic system, adding occupancy sensors, and calibrating systems to ensure energy efficiency.
  • Lighting System Improvements – Your school in 2014 used 1,626,850 kWh of electricity.  Obviously, a great deal of this is for heating, but much of the energy inefficiencies found were in AC and general lighting.   First they easily found the gym lighting in the south gym as highly energy inefficient.   The CTS Group has proposed changing out the terribly inefficient lights in the south gym to new LED fixtures.  Then they focused on general lighting. The shear number of lights in our school is immense.  All classroom, emergency, and hallway lights would be retrofitted to accommodate LED bulbs.  LED bulbs (6-8 watts) consume less electricity than an incandescent (60 watts) or even fluorescent bulb (13-15 watts).  They also have a considerably longer life span, LED (50,000 hrs) versus fluorescent (8,000 hrs).  The energy savings is calculated to be near $20,199 annually just with these two changes.
  • Boiler Replacement – Ellendale School is a community sheltering area in the time of emergencies and the Board was very interested in ways to ensure heat could be provided during extreme cold/blizzard conditions.  At the present time the school has an electric boiler (2008) and a backup fuel oil boiler (best estimate 45-55 yrs old).  The concern was updating the backup fuel boiler to ensure there was proper heat in the event of a significant electrical outage.  Replacing a backup boiler does not have much energy savings.  However, the proposed project will replace the old boiler and leverage the significant energy savings from the previous two projects and reduced maintenance ($1,086/yr) to help pay for this improvement.

All together these three projects, along with fixing some minor building envelope air leakage issues, will cost $1,087,012.  WOW that is a big number.  The intriguing part of using the services of the CTS group is they use a portion of NDCC that allows schools to lease purchase these improvements, at little to no cost over 15 years.  This is contingent upon the energy saved can exceed the capital costs to pay for the project.  Ellendale School is leveraging this program to complete these improvements with little to no new costs being added to the budget.  CTS Group shall monitor energy savings for the 15 years and if at such a time that projected savings fall below their estimates they are bound to reimburse the district the difference.  Thus ensuring the quality and sustainability of these improvements.  Ellendale School has secured a 15 year lease with an attractive interest rate of only 2.55%.  The district will pay for the majority of the annual payments for these improvements with funds presently allocated in the budget for energy expenditures.


Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 09-05-2016

Since April 3rd, and the end of the NDGOP Convention, the center of all education news has been the perceived ditching of the common core standards.   Political and educational leaders in our state, in my view, succumb to the political pressure of the few in making these policy statements.  But, did they think of the cost?

If they are tossing out the present standards what is the guide for our teachers next year?  Standards are simply a guide for all teachers.  They ensure that all grade-level or subject area instruction are similarly focused on the same points of light, thus ensuring students in one school are receiving similar instruction to students in another school.  In the absence of standards we would devolve into what we had in the past where teachers could pick and choose what they thought was most important.  This may seem like a nice idea but was a failure to our kids.  If you have not taken a look at what they are proposed to do away with take a look at Here are two examples from English Language Arts:
• Gr 1 – Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words.  Part a – Know and spelling-sound correspondences for common consonant digraphs.
• Gr 11-12 – Demonstrate knowledge of 18th, 19th, and early 20th century foundational works of American literature, including how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics.

For those detractors, I ask you, what is wrong with these?

The second cost is the unintended holding pattern such a statement puts on all good things going on in our state in regard to education. Programs for English Language Learners, Response to Intervention (RtI), School Improvement (AdvancEd), and even re-writing the rules for the new federal ESSA program screech to a halt in the environment where we are blindly tossing out our standards.  Each of these programs builds upon the foundation the standards provide for us and waiting for a full re-write of both ELA and Math will cost North Dakota, schools, and our kids millions.

Lastly, and often not seen by those outside of education, is the power of unified tools within the education world.  In manufacturing you agree upon a set of standards and all your drafting, engineering, milling, and production systems align with those standards.  Imagine part of those systems using US standard measurement, some metric, and then one something just made up by the systems maker.  Your business would grind to a halt.  A unified set of standards has provided education instructional tools, textbooks, technology systems, and yes even tests that all speak the same language.  In my 25 plus years in education only recently can we transition a child from multiple intervention tools and feel very confident that they are all addressing the same instructional goals.   Again, blindly tossing out our standards, just for political sake, will cost our students the most precious gift we give them, knowledge.

On Thursday, May 5th Mr. Joel Heitkamp on his show “News & Views” interviewed North Dakota Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler to clarify her view on this subject.  Listen to that interview Parents, community members, proponents, and opponents of the common core.. Supt. Baesler is right on this.  I fully support the idea that this is a good and proper time to review our standards.  But, if any think we should toss the baby out with the bath water you are not considering the costs this will have on your schools or your kids.

Even by reviewing the standards it is costing education.  Every school is having to hold on programs as this takes place.  In Ellendale we will have to hold back on progressing with standards based report cards for K-3.  At the state level the good work of the assessment task force will have to be put on hold till the review is done.  Let’s have North Dakota teachers review them, adjust some of the items that need tweaking, but for the most part keep the standards we have been using.  They are working.  In the end maybe we can all agree that our standards are sound and the proper direction of our children’s education.  Maybe we can even depoliticize education a bit!  Then we can work together to achieve the ultimate goal where every student is prepared for post-secondary, the working world, or the military.