Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 24-04-2017

img_2677Over the course of my nearly 21 years in Ellendale School I have had the fortune of getting to know and care for many kids.  Each has had their own story and have changed my life in some small way.

I would like to put a spotlight on this wonderful group that many of you may not know.  They are similar to all the other kids in our school in that they are joyful, caring, funny, determined, and hardworking.  They participate in sports and come to school eager to learn.  But, they are different in some unique ways and I think you should know their story.

I want to introduce to you Jude, Zach, and Luke (back row) and Lydia Taylor.  They are the adopted son’s and daughter of the Taylor family and they are all born in China.  Luke & Jude have attended classes in Ellendale School for about two years, while Zach and Lydia started the past fall.  They are all young people that inspire me.

This wonderful band joins Mrs. Fastnacht, EPS English Language teacher, each morning.  They come in almost without exception with the same smiles as you see here.  Because they are in my wife’s classroom,  like many other of her past classes, I get the opportunity to build a special relationship with them.  I remember when they first arrived.  Imagine it, they are 10-14 years old, moved to a new country with a new language, cultural changes abound around you, and now school too.  The spoken language, written language, everything is new.  This is what these kids faced and they are a shining example of success.  I recall attempting to communicate with Zach and Lydia this fall and it was apparent much of what we were each was saying was being “lost in translation”.  But over this year, starting with basic picture cards, then phrases, phonics and hard work with Mrs. F each morning they have excelled.  Today, Monday, April 24th, I must admit I was in tears as I had the opportunity to listen to Zack and Lydia read. Read English!  It was a simple story “Ann hit the ball”, and sentences like that, but they read it with pride and joy.  I really struggle to find the right words to share my joy for their accomplishments.  But, it was amazing and a blessing.

As educators we see kids make new accomplishments each and every day.  Now and then something a kid does just hits you, hits you straight in the heart.  That was today.  As I think about the challenges these four have overcome to now be these gleaming success stories touched me and I think it will touch you.  Luke & Jude are good readers and they work hard in social studies and math in the high school.  Their studies are not easy and with some great help from teachers they are excelling.  Luke & Jude also participate in sports (basketball, wrestling, and track).  Zack and Lydia are new to our country, community, and school and maybe that is why today’s experienced touched me so much.  To look back in the not so recent history and know they were just struggling to communicate verbally with us…. to now sharing stories, laughing, and READING!

Leaving the room this morning I was cheering on each of the kids for the accomplishments they have made and I commented to Mrs. F how impressed I was to have four kids in the school that know two languages, like this group.  They are so hard working and have overcome many obstacles with the help and guidance of their family, friends, and teachers.  In the past some, even myself, were concerned about what it would cost to educate EL students like these.  How could we provide the needed services they would need to allow them to succeed.  Where would the teachers, programs, and money come from.  I regret those thoughts and comments now.  Because, now I cannot image a school without them.  They are a blessing to so many in so many ways.  I would hope that more get to know them as their story should be an inspiration of what hard work and determination can do.  If you have not met them, reach out and say “Good Morning”.  They may even teach you how to say it in Mandarin “Zǎoshang hǎo” like they did to this old teacher.



Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 13-04-2017

budget_bucketofmoneyCutting expenditures, particularly when that means the loss of teaching positions, staff, or programs, is always difficult.  These types of cuts affect employees in many ways. Just wondering how working in a school with less sections, or options will affect teachers.   Around here it is apparent they are grieving and trying to adjust to what is a new normal at Ellendale Public School.

These types of cuts also affect kids, and parents.  It is a small town and people are rightfully concerned for their school and the programs.  I shared previously how appreciative I was of the few parents that stopped to talk about the budget reductions.  It is important for me to have those conversations and to hear your concerns.  I also know that your Board members feel the same way as they have shared similar thoughts with me.

Now we are in recovery mode, but the wounds are still very fresh and it will take time to heal and feel “better”.  Nobody wants to appear to take these loses lightly or appear to benefit from the loss of another.  These are right and justified thoughts.  At the Board meeting on Monday several times members shared concerns about perceptions of their actions in the aftermath of these budget cuts.  Specifically, it is hard to approve updating a set of old text books, or purchase a new bus, or make improvements to facilities while balancing the unknown perceptions community members will have.  They struggled with several of these decisions Monday night and I want to express to everyone they did not take them lightly.   They were painful decisions to make.

The title of this blog post is “Different Buckets” because I want to share with you something many don’t realize in regard to school finance.  In no way do I want my statements here to take away from the feelings many are sharing and going through.  I just want to clarify and my thoughts are stemming from a comment from one of our students I recently received.

A student caught me the other day as I was leaving my office and stated, “How can we purchase five new desks in the FCS room when we are cutting teachers?”  Wow, first that is an impressive question from a student and I appreciated him asking.  My response was that the funds to purchase the new desks came from a grant from the state Career and Tech Ed Department.  The grant was received in response to a CTE audit conducted in the fall that noted new desks in that room would afford our students better flexibility with the wide range of projects they are asked to complete.  The new desks and grant are not really my point, but the perception of buying something new, while cutting teachers or programs is.   Most patrons, including this student, do not know specifically where the funds these come.  So, they assume it is just one large bucket of funds causing him concern, which I understand.  This was not the case.  In this desk example, it was one time grant funds.

In addition to grant funds we also have other buckets of funds within the school system.  These other buckets include sinking & interest funds, building funds, and general funds.  All have different funding sources, purposes, limitations, and obligations.  Sinking & Interest funds are collected from taxation and used to pay off the bonds the school owes.  Funds in this account cannot be transferred to help with program cuts at this time, as we still owe on our outstanding bonds.  The next bucket are General Fund dollars, also gained from taxation and more importantly the state student payment.  This is the main bucket of funds for the district and the fund that has taken the most significant cuts due in part to declining enrollment.  It is the fund that teachers and staff are paid from.  This fund also buys buses, books, fuel oil, supplies, and much more.  General fund dollars can be transferred to the building fund if a school board desires, but not the other way around.  The last bucket is the Building Fund.  This fund receives its revenue from taxation and is used for building repairs and construction.  This is where it gets sticky, and the buckets matter.

The Board took action on several summer projects at the meeting on Monday.  The facilities & transportation sub committee had reviewed a projects list, prioritized it and recommended several projects to the full Board.  The work within these projects they knew never ends as we must continue to maintain and update facilities.  Just like our homes the “honey do” projects never seem to end.  However, they fretted considerable about their actions, because of the perception the public may have.  They fretted about the exact same question that my student posed.  Despite knowing that the projects they would approve would be paid from a completely separate bucket that could not be used for academic programs.  I say this because they talked about the perception and the belief that many would not understand the restrictions on each of the fiscal buckets.

The Board on Monday approved several summer projects including:
Replacement of a fuel oil hot water heater ($40,000) – It leaks and has to be replaced;
Replace one basket mount in the old gym ($6000) – the old wobbly on the north side of the old gym has nearly hurt a custodian so we thought best to replace it before it did;
Demo the Redmond property ($5,000) – this property was gifted to the district so it was felt the need to remove any hazards there was a high priority; and
Install a fence around the high jump area at the track ($3,400) – we still have some driving over the new track and we need to protect that investment.
Each time the Board weighed these projects, and others not yet approved, they struggled with “perception”.  Perception by you, our patrons, to spending monies on these project while cutting programs.  I can assure you they do not take these decisions lightly.  I can also tell you that the funds they are cutting in one action and spending in another are in different BUCKETS.

I thought you would just like to know.


locksmith-brick-mortar-560x315Recently in the FORUM I found two separate editorials that depicted differing views on education that I feel are worth shedding some light upon.  What is education, a singular process of gaining knowledge or is it more than that?  Is education an experience?

The first was from a March 31st FORUM editorial entitled “Letter: Maple Valley gymnasium project would be ‘boondoggle’“.    It is obvious in the editorial that they are frustrated with the high per pupil cost at the Maple Valley School and their desires to complete a gym construction project.  However, what I gleaned from the editorial was from this statement:

“Internet technology is ravaging the days of bricks and mortar at warp speed. The big box stores are closing while massive numbers of college students are earning their degrees having never stepped on a campus. In fact, right here in the Maple Valley School District, students have been able to electronically earn dual credits from Mayville State University while more and more families are homeschooling with the enhancement of the internet. The writing is on the wall. Who will read it?”  by 

Who will read it?  I read this to mean they believe our local public schools are blind to the future they see coming.  A future where students are free to take their learning exclusively from the internet, ditching the brick and mortar schools of the past.  A future where kids and families can freely direct their interests and learning down their path.  A path with little time for distractions, divergent thinking, opposition of philosophy, or more importantly experiences.

Is that really what we want for our kids?

Today I found the second editorial by Mike Jacobs also in the FORUM entitled “Mike Jacobs: Campus life provides experience, not just knowledge“.   What I found interesting in his editorial is that education is not just “knowledge transfer” it is also about the experiences that teach our young people about leadership, the arts, and how to assess knowledge.  The educational experience needs to include interactions with those of a similar viewpoint but also differing viewpoints.   The process of refining our knowledge and beliefs cannot be done in isolation.  Being challenged by others during our learning makes us defend our ideas, improve them, and even broaden our view of the world.  Young people both in our K-12 system and in our colleges and universities, gain from participation in band, participating in a sport, being a member of a student group, and also from being a daily member of the societies these intuitions provide in their hallways.  Learning can take place exclusively online in seclusion.  But, is that the best means of providing for the future leaning and socialization of our young people?

Public schools are not and should not be a monopoly on education.   Modern high schools can do more, we need to broaden our course offerings and learning pathways, much of which can in fact be done with technology.  We need to endeavor to personalize learning for our students meeting them where they are at in their learning process.  But, we must also not forget that public education is about experiences that a child cannot get in front of a computer screen or in isolation  or in like minded groups.  These experiences students receive at a brick and mortar school or on a campus bind them together, enlightening their educational experience.

In my view, this notion that we can all move to an exclusive, secluded, online education is the first step in the demise of our democracy.