Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 23-10-2017

community-meetings-graphicWith the completion of now two parent meetings and one business leaders meeting, all concerning the educational direction of the district, a few themes have come forth.  Before I share these “take-aways” I want to thank each and every person that attended one or more of these gatherings.  Your insights and wisdom are very much appreciated and will be fundamental in setting our pathways for the future.

When asked “What skills will our students need to meet the demands of our changing society”, each group was almost identical in their responses.
CommunicationCollaborationCreativityCritical ThinkingCitizenshipCooperation – and a strong Work Ethic.   It did not matter if they were parents, teachers, or owned a business in town each of these skills was held in high regard as needed by our kids to succeed.  It is not that reading and math were not important it was that these skills were equally important.  In my view these skills have always been part of our educational process.  However, during the 14 years of NCLB much of it was overshadowed by the driving force of accountability in reading and math alone.  Schools around North Dakota and around the country were forced to put valuable and almost immeasurable resources to ensuring kids could read and compute, just to make the grade.  The responses from those attending the meeting reinforce in my mind that we need to continue to stress strong academics but these skills are needed to ensure the academics can be used properly in the work force.  The 6Cs need to be part of our plan.

The business leaders and the second group of parents honed in on the transition from school to work.  Many of you will remember, I do, a time when more resources were directed to helping students find a career path and plan to achieve that career.  In the past 20 years with the ever increasing and changing job markets, along with a significant push to get all students to post-secondary, I believe we lost our way.  It is true that the need for post-secondary education is greater than it was in 1980, true.  However, in the face of soaring student loan debt and a job market craving more laborers for skilled technical jobs I think we need to take a step back.   We need to enhance our school to work programs providing more opportunities for our students to explore career options.  This allows them to make better choices as to where they wish to continue their education.  This also allows students the benefit of being more laser focused as they progress through high school and onto a 2 or 4 year college.  Parents in both sessions agreed they hoped their children would be better prepared to choose a college wisely to reduce the chance of drop out and significant student debt.  So we need to enhance our work – school connections, partner more with businesses, and enhance our career exploration programs.

One final take-away was the need to help parents guide their children in their academic planning.  Several parents shared frustrations with not being knowledgeable about courses, online coursework, dual credit, and other academic options for their children.  Along with enhancing our career exploration programs this is another area we can improve to assist families as they plan for their future.

Again, I wish to thank all those that participated in the meetings.  Your input was greatly appreciated.

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 10-10-2017

schoollunchtray_406x250At the start of the school year, with good intentions, the kitchen staff and I discussed ways we can ensure efficient, affordable, and appealing meals.  At that time I stressed the need to bring our meal planning in better alignment with student enrollment and consumption.  At the end of last year the cost per plate, including all expenses, was $2.84 and the hot lunch account had to deficit spend over $10,000 as compared to revenue.  This is unsustainable and would eventually result in either cutting labor costs or increasing lunch charges.  Both were not appealing options.

In addition to being efficient we had plans to do menu planning in more classrooms to build interest in the options we serve, as well as educate them on nutrition planning.  We also had good intentions to survey kids and ask them what changes they would like to see so we could cater more to their desires.

Good intentions sometimes go astray.  In our efforts to get our production numbers closer to actual consumption we have had a few instances this year where we have run out of, or run low, of our main entree.  This is our mistake and we take full responsibility for it.  When this happens it then compounds the troubles of trying to plan for future days consumption because our number are not accurate.  This has caused us to then trip again.  We rely on knowing how many kids actual eat a given entree so we can plan according the next time we serve that entree.  During a given month we can fluctuate from 250 to 320 meals served in a single noon meal.  So preparing every meal to feed 330 kids is terribly inefficient.  However, running out of food is worse.  I do wish to extend our apologies to any and all students and families affected thus far.  We are sorry and are working to correct it.

So what are we going to do about it….

  • Starting today, I have directed the kitchen staff to over-produce.  Yes, it is inefficient but we need to feed our kids and allow them ample opportunities to fill up with seconds or thirds if they desire.   While we do this we are going to do a better job of keeping accurate records of actual consumption.  In the future when we feel we have a better understanding of entree consumption patterns we will try to build back in efficiency in meal preparation.
  • We are surveying our 9-12th graders this week to obtain their opinion on the quality of our meals but also get their feedback on what they would like to see served.
  • Our food vendor will be providing us some new sample entrees which we will provide to student groups later this fall.  These samples will be an opportunity for our students to give us their opinion on what they would like to see served.
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 03-10-2017

As adults many of us remember learning to read.  It was accomplished starting in kindergarten and took place with many of us reading chorally (all together) from a Dick & Jane type text.  We probably also remember classes where the teacher would randomly call on us to read out loud to the class.  This practice could quickly and easily separate the good readers from the poor ones and often set our hearts into shutdown mode.  Anyone else remember it this way?  I am sure most of us 35 and older do.

Things have changed I am happy to say!  I want to share with you a sample of a text as it may look completely foreign to most of you.  It is a sample book that is part of the Reading Mastery system that is used at Ellendale Elementary.  This system has been in place a couple years and is designed to improve success for those that may be challenged learning to read.   It is not the main line curriculum used for our students in the classrooms but part of an intervention program.  Regardless, I want to share it with you today because I believe it will cause you to pause….. I also hope it allows you to appreciate how education has changed since the days you may have been in school, and changed for the better.

Before you begin reading from this selection think about the following:
1. What is different than the Dick & Jane type books you may have used to learn to read?
2. Be watchful of different fonts and symbols and why they may be being used?
3. Would this have helped you or your child to learn to read?


Teaching today, in your school and many around the country, is different than 20 years ago.  Reading Mastery is a scientifically proven system that has been very successful in re-mediating reading challenges for our students.  It is different than Dick & Jane, yes, but it works!  I am sure many of you looked at this with initial confusion.  Let me help you just a bit.

Why the different font?  Notice the word NEAR on the 6th line.  Did you notice the little “a” in that word.  It is little because the letter is silent.  You can see other examples of this in the words “side, goes, and game”.

Different font for “B” and “D” – These two letter have caused significant confusion for early readers for decades.  The subtle difference in the font allows students to better visual perceive the difference and speak the sounds correctly.

Why are the letters “Ch” in cheering combined?  Letter blends create different sounds.  By tying them together it is a visual cue to the new reader to create this different sound.

Why are there no capitals?  The visuals cues within the font of the text are the key.  The capitals change those font cues and would create a second set of cues the developing reader would have to master.  By removing them they can more easily master the structure of the word and speak it correctly.  The rules of capitalization can be addressed later or within a separate portion of the day.  This program is designed strategically to address the skills of decoding and comprehension.

Please know that this program is again designed to address specific difficulties for those learning to read.  Students in the primary classrooms continue to learn to read with a strong phonemic program in texts that are more similarly comparable to “Dick & Jane”.   But, even those are not the same.  If you have had a child or grandchild progress through elementary education, in any school, you will have noticed an increased level or vocabulary as compared to when we went to school.  Kids are learning to read at a younger age and many things are contributing to this outside of formal schooling.  My desire to show this to you today is because I know many of you would find it interesting.  Schools are changing.  We are doing things differently.  We are purposefully more driven by data and addressing learning issues in scientifically proven ways.

Have a great day.