Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 15-02-2018

ap18045839657957_10797348_ver1-0_640_360Today is another sad day for America, our children, and our schools.  I wish to begin by extending my deepest sympathy to the community of Parkland, Florida, and its schools.  The thoughts and prayers of many at Ellendale School are with you.

Tragedies of this nature shake us to our core and force us to confront even the unimaginable thought of “what if this was our school?”.   What happened in Parkland can happen anywhere.  I used to believe it could only happen in “those” schools, but over the years since Columbine (1999) I have continually been shown that it does not matter.  School shootings have taken place in urban and rural schools, small and large, diverse and predominately white communities like ours.  The need to ensure all schools are safe is something every school is addressing.

In Ellendale, over the course of the past 20 years, we have done many things to help ensure the safety of our students.  None of these are a 100% guarantee of their safety, but nothing is.  Here are some measures we take to ensure our students remain safe:

  • Physical Security
    • Exterior doors are locked for most of the school day to only allow entrance to the school in a controlled manner.  During school hours, visitors must enter Door #1 and be validated to enter using a door access system.
    • Video Surveillance is installed throughout the complex to monitor activity and is also available to law enforcement when needed.

** Physical security in my view is honestly the easy part and is in no way fool-proof.  It provides a simple line of protection but anyone could find a way into the school if they were determined.

  • Planning to Respond
    • Emergency Response Planning- Our school has an extensive emergency response plan that outlines how we will address not only actions like what happened in Parkland but also accidents, snow days, tornadoes, and even gas leaks. This manual was developed and is maintained in cooperation with Law Enforcement, Fire, EMS, DC Emergency Management, and other community leaders.
    • Response Team – More important than the plan is practicing the plan. The school has an Emergency Response Team that meets monthly to review aspects of the plan, practice scenarios, and make changes to the plan as needed.

** Nobody wants to think about any tragedy or accident occurring at a school.  Commonly incidents at our school have nothing to do with physical security measures.  However, severe weather, accidents on the playground, and student illnesses are common and the fact that we practice for these incidents is beneficial.


  • Relationships
    • The People – Ellendale School has many professionals in place to help students work through tough times. These are teachers, counselors, administrators, bus drivers, custodians, everyone.  Our staff receives training on how to stop bullying, identifying suicide risks, and how to create positive relationships with our students.  Our daily interactions with kids is by far the most import way to keep our school safe.
    • Kiononia – This is a program in our high school that organizes students into families. These cross-grade families then engage in team building and relationship building activities two times a month.
    • Positive Behavioral Support – These come under many names, but you may have heard of MTSS-B, Nurtured Heart, Love & Logic, or the Parenting Professor. All are tools and means we have deployed to improve our relationships with students and improve how we deal with students not making good choices.

Providing a safe school both emotionally and physically is an important task.  Being safe in our school is not as simple as locking the door or putting an armed guard on the sidewalk.  It begins by purposefully working to improve relationships between students and the adults in the building.  Students and families need to have strong support systems around them and not feel afraid to ask for help.  In fact, all students need to be comfortable sharing any concern with an adult.  That way we, the adults, can act before a tragedy like what happened in Parkland takes place here.

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 19-01-2018

have-a-good-oneThe phrase “Have a good one“, according to Wiktionary is a commonly spoken valediction, typically spoken by service employees or clerks to customers at the end of a transaction, particularly in North America.   When did this become popular?  Honestly, I hear it said all the time recently but I don’t recall it being said 2, 3, or more years ago.  Where did it come from because I would like to have it go away.

Have a good one“, a good what.  I understand that within the English language I am supposed to apply context to this phrase as it is being spoken to me to provide meaning.  I realize that when a teller says “Have a good one” they are just saying “Thank you for your purchase“, I get it.  I grasp that when a friend says “Have a good one” to me when passing on the street, they are simply saying “Have a wonderful day Jeff“.  Yup I got that too!  Even when officiating basketball I realize that the nasty basketball fan saying “Have a good one” is really saying “$*#^!@)$% Ref“, I didn’t miss the nuance of his message.

I just think we can do so much better than “Have a good one“.  I mean if I purchase a product from your store I just want you to say “Thank you“.  That is even shorter than “Have a good one” and means so much more to me.  It actually shows you appreciation for my business.  In school, my domain, I would expect a teacher to say, “Joey I hope you have a good day and good luck at the game tonight“, not “Have a good one!“.  The former conveys a deeper sense of caring and concern for the student.  Finally, in my personal life I hope I am telling my friends and family “I love you and look forward to seeing you soon” vs “Have a good one” when we depart.

I realize I am not a hip young person and this phrase is probably all the norm in those circles.  But, I hear more and more adults, old people, using it all the time.  My hope is it goes away like the Dodo bird.  Let’s broaden our vocabulary and spend just one extra second conveying more meaning and understanding with a few more words.  It can mean so much!

Have a good one“,  (see it just sounds bad)
Mr. Fastnacht

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 17-01-2018

I was recently reading a post which shared the SHARK and billionaire Mark Cuban’s views about the most up and coming job skills.  The piece entitled “Mark Cuban Says This Will Soon Be the Most Sought-After Job Skill” by Betsy Mikel uniquely characterized Mr. Cuban’s personal view that we no longer need kids to go to school to be coders or developers.  Which was somewhat surprising considering he is a billionaire in the technology world.  He predicted the “automation of automation” which was characterized to mean that computers would be coding and building computer language for us.  The article continued to share his views about what he thought were the professions that will be in high demand…

“I personally think there’s going to be a greater demand in 10 years for liberal arts majors than for programming majors and maybe even engineering,” Cuban said. He cited degrees such as English, philosophy, and foreign languages as being the most valuable. “Maybe not now,” Cuban acquiesced. “They’re gonna starve for awhile.”

Being prepared for the future can be a scary thing for young people and their parents.  Do we really know what kids are going to have to know to be prepared to succeed?  If you were to take out a yellow pad how long would the list be if you started writing the skills down, it could be worthy of a few pages.  I will guarantee to you this,  your list will not simply include getting a 29 on the ACT.  Being prepared for the future encompassing many things but in one regard Mr. Cuban is right.  Being prepared for the future will ask our student to have a broader range of skills and knowledge.  It will also include the need for our students to be skillful with a host of soft skills.  So what can we do to ensure our kids are ready for this?

Over the past two years I have been part of two wonderful experiences.  The first was working with the national AASA on the development of a program to redefine what it means to be ready.  Similarly it is called “Redefining Ready“.  Secondly, was having the opportunity to be part of the ND ESSA Committee and working to build a new accountability system for our schools that is less focused on one test.  This work has resulted in the marrying of Redefining Ready into what we have entitled “ND Choice Ready“.  ND Choice Ready is being rolled out to schools this month and you will begin to hear more about it in the coming months.

As a primer here is a little information about ND Choice Ready.  ND Choice Ready is an accountability component for high schools within the ND ESSA plan.  The choice ready matrix is intended to measure the readiness of our graduates as they leave EHS in the areas of Post-Secondary Ready, Work Ready, and Military Ready.  With the belief that when a student graduates, meeting the ND graduation requirements, they still must meet indicators to ensure they will be ready for school, work, and/or the military.  These ND Choice Ready indicators go beyond simply grades but measure soft skills, work based learning skills, and specific activities within high school.  Thus ensuring each of our students are ready to meet the needs that lie ahead for them in their future.  I will share more in future posts but please begin by looking at the new Choice Ready matrix.


Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 09-01-2018

b6e65773391975c7c601b3e2f58b1bfea365For the past fourteen years student/teacher/school success has been determined by the use of a single test.  This stemmed from the No Child Left Behind legislation which required all children in grades 3-8 and 11 to be tested once annually.  Those results were then paraded around every community, county, state, and across the nation as we rapidly categorized every school as failing during that time period.  The failing grade again based on the inability to get 100% of our children to proficiency in reading and math.  Many of you will remember the school report card that was published online and in our local paper each year reporting this data.

Today is a new day!  With the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act our school and schools across the nation can now build a new accountability system.  A system that will be broader than one single examination.  A system that will share student performance in a wide variety of areas.  A system that will share information about the students we serve, the resources provided to them, and unique challenges found in every school system.  ESSA is allowing the state of North Dakota to provide a portal for all to continue to see information on academic performance and so much more.  This new portal is called NDInsights and can be found at https://insights.nd.gov/


I encourage every patron in the Ellendale district to take 10 minutes at their computer to look at the NDInsights portal.  At this time it is sharing a wide variety of data about every school district and school in North Dakota.  But, soon it will be showcasing even more.  The Governor’s Office has proclaimed that this site will eventually be the location of accountability data for counties, state government, and other agencies, in addition to schools.  The site is easy to use.  At this time click on FIND MY DISTRICT or enter ELLENDALE in the search bar.  Both will provide you easy access to enrollment, academic, graduation, and demographic data about your school.  The key is using the + symbols on the left to open menus and refine your selections based on which school you choose to view.

Here is a sample of the type of academic information you can find.  This is the 2016-2017 state assessment data in math for Ellendale Elementary.


Dig a little deeper and you will find attendance data separated by ethnic group.capture


I encourage you to each take time to review this data.  You will not find an oversimplified Pass / Fail grade here, but those were never accurate in the NCLB era.  But, what you will find is a growing amount of information about many aspects of your school.  From that make your own determination on our successes and challenges.

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 15-12-2017

I am sure since the time of the very first child, parents have said “Just take the **** away from that kid”.  Every child has misused a pencil, scissors, toy, or something that has caused a parent to respond with these words.  Recent history has just added to that list these sometimes troublesome possessions: computer, cell-clipart-no_cell_phones_allowed_clip_art_16863Xbox, internet, and cell phone.  What are parents to do, it can be frustrating.

Kids mess up, it is a guarantee.  Commonly some of these mistakes are due to how and when students use their technology.  It is almost a given that in our schools every child 5th grade to 12th child has at their disposal, either at home or at school, a computer, an iPad or surface device, and probably also a cell phone.  It is mind boggling for parents to keep up with the ever increasing ways a child can access the internet or communicate online.  **Parenting Tip – heads up for that new game system under the tree **  Apps are being added to the online stores daily that make communication easier, quicker, and sometimes almost impossible for parents to monitor.  With these technologies also come opportunities for mistakes.  Kids may mistakenly use them to bully, cheat, or harass.  After that happens parents, in frustration, may say “Take those **** away”!  I get it, I have felt the same way.

In school we have had parents ask us to block Facebook, because a child has posted an inappropriate picture.  Parents have asked us to remove all ipads because their child went to a site that was not felt to be appropriate.  Fathers have come in and asked us to have every child drop their cell phone at the door when they come to school because of a harassing text.  I get it.. these are frustrating problems that want us to just pull the plug.  But, pulling the plug is not that easy and may not be the right course of action in the long term.  Banning a site in school, such as Facebook does not fix the problem when 99% of 5th-12th grade students possess a cell phone that does not need our network.

Now before you get to far ahead of me, I am not referring to disciplining a child by removing their technology as a form of punishment.  I believe a cell phone has a tremendous power over our kids so putting it on the shelf a few days when something goes wrong is not a bad thing.  What I am referring to is the belief that is we only blocked or disallowed a form a technology for everyone all the time, then these problems would not happen.  The problem of sending an inappropriate text may not take place but would we have taught our kids how to communicate properly.  Because commonly the ways kids make mistakes with technology are the same ways we could make mistakes without technology.  Regardless if it is a text or a paper note, kids can be mean and not considerate to others.  The post on imagesFacebook or the message scratched in a bathroom stall can both be equally inappropriate and hurtful.  The risque pictures on a web site are the same we used to find in magazines.   Kids will make mistakes, and when they do, we need to teach them.

Parents, educators, everyone needs to help our children understand the importance of acceptance, tolerance, and compassion.  When we teach our students about these values it does not matter if it is a paper note, a cell phone, or some technology that we have not even heard of yet.  The values we have instilled will adapt to every situation.  Parenting is a tougher job than it has ever been.  I cannot encourage parents enough to monitor their child’s online access.  I personally, believe a cell phone is like a closet in a bedroom – “It is my house, I bought it, so I will look in your (closet/cell phone) if I feel I need to”.  But, when you find something that is inappropriate and you will, remember that these are your opportunities to educate.



Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 30-11-2017

Tis the season for our annual letter from the Dickey County Auditor’s Office.  I know it brings all of us exceeding joy to receive those pink sheets in the mail with our tax statements.  In an effort to help you understand more about the schools request here is some information about where the local tax dollars are spent.


This information is for the 2017 tax season and the 2017-2018 school budget.

The major portion of the school tax request funds the General Fund which provides funding in combination with state funding to complete the majority of the school functions.  This year the GF expenditure is $4,295,762.00 which is a reduction from 2016-17 by $359,000.  The reduction is due in part from the elimination of two FTE positions last spring.  The GF request of $1,180,000 will equate to a mill rate of 70 mills and is actually an increase in dollars of $17,724 from what was received the year previously.   In part the reason for the increase in local funding is due to a reduction in state funding from the captureND DPI.  State per pupil formula funding in 2016-17 equated to $2,728,409.  This year 2017-18 that is expected to only be $2,484,389 or a reduction of $244,020.  This is due to a reduction in students enrolled and an increase in the mill deduct within the formula.

The second largest part of the 2017 tax request equates to 20.97 mills ($360,000) which funds the Sinking & Interest fund.  The S&I fund is the fund that pays off the bond for the 2010 construction project.

The final two parts of the request for this year are the Miscellaneous Fund and Building Fund.  The Misc Fund has a maximum request of up to 12 mills.  This year the Ellendale School Board has only requested 2.92 mills ($50,080) which will be used to pay for fuel costs for busing.  The Building Fund request will be similar at 2.95 mills ($50,600) to be used for building maintenance costs.


Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 17-11-2017

a9f0ed9fcdfae06a4c103e73c5329353One of the endeavors we have been undertaking this year is an exploration in how we can improve and enhance our school to work connections.  I became interested in this topic a couple years ago for numerous reasons:

  • A lingering resentment against the one-test fits all accountability for schools.  The NCLB era had set a high standard however put to much focus on one test.
  • Concerns that our society had put to much emphasis on every student attending a four-year college, not taking any regard for their readiness.
  • The increasing cost of higher education and how an extra year or two there can cost families $20-40,000.
  • Student disconnect as to why they were engaged in this process of K-12 education.  Students were losing focus as to why they were in our classrooms and what it meant for them and their future.
  • A belief that all kids have talents and we must do better in refining them and putting a kids feed on a path to use them in their future career.

In 2015 I began working with a group, at the national level, focusing on re-framing school accountability from a test driven system to something more broad and encompassing.  That work was part of the AASA Redefining Ready project.  You can find out more about Redefining Ready at www.redefiningready.org   During this process I became excited about the work in several schools around the nation that we renewing the focus on school to work connections.  What I mean by that is not pigeon holing students to a career early.  Contrary we need to create processes in our schools to help families and students better understand the many career options they have before them;  Create processes in our schools to assist student in determining their strengths;  Provide information to parents and students on course options both in our school and outside of the walls of EHS; And ensure we have critical conversations with students so they better understand how coursework here, connects to post-secondary options, which drive college/work decisions, and ultimately result in a career.

One would think this is a pretty easy process.  It is not, and the parents at our public meetings echoed that fact.  The path from school to work is filled with pit falls.

So Ellendale School began working with our parents and business leaders to begin a process of improving our school to work programs.  At this point it is still early, we have much to do.  However, we have started to align our academic programs to the new ND Choice Ready Framework.  We are working with our business partners to create a resource document for our families and students to help them navigate course and career options.

In the future it is my desire to see each and every HS course to have a community business partner.  This partnership would enable our students to get first hand information from business leaders, even their future employers, about the skills they need to compete.  We also need to work with our teachers and career counselors to ensure our career counseling activities are robust and aligned.

Making your way from 7th grade, to graduation, to post-secondary, to work is not easy.  But, I do believe with cooperation from our families, students, and business partners we can make it a smoother transition that may allow a student to see their future more clearly than they can now.

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 03-11-2017

2015april-needyousamYou know the old slogan, “We Need You”.  It was true during the war and it is true again.  Parents, community, volunteers… WE NEED YOU!

On an average day it takes about 60 people to operate your school.  This includes everything from administrators, teachers, office staff, custodians, to bus drivers between the hours of 7:30 to 3:30.

Now add in the number of substitutes we need every day to address teachers being out of the classroom for professional duties to sick leave.  A rough average need for substitutes (for all positions) is about 3-5 employees a day are absent for any given reason.  So the number now grows to 65.  After 3:30 when the final bell rings it is not uncommon to have one or two extra bus drivers to cover a route vacated by a driver who is now taking a team out of town.  That  now means we need 67.  During that same after school time we will have 5 to 8 coaching positions being filled by both on-staff and off-staff coaches.  Now we pass 70 ending up around 75.  Finally, have a game in town and we swell that number by 4 to 10 more when we include concession stand managers, officials, clock operators and ticket takers.  So on any given day we can run from 60 to 85 different people needed to keep our little world spinning without interruption.

This is why we need you.  This year we have had multiple instances where we have had to move teachers out of their normal courses to cover other classrooms.  Many times this is due to the comfort level of our substitute teachers.  So you end up moving 2 or 3 people to accommodate the willingness of a sub to cover a certain subject.  In fact this week, we just hired sub D, to cover for Sub C, who was replacing Sub B, who was covering a classroom during an extended leave.  Yes, four different people to accommodate one long term leave.  This does not include the time during the day when present faculty are also helping within that classroom during that very same absence.  WE NEED SUBSTITUTE TEACHERS.

We also need coaches.  I am sure you see the want ads in the paper and probably think “I am to busy” or “This won’t work for me”.  The need for coaches at the varsity and sub-varsity level is not as imperative at this time as it is in our JH and Elem programs.  At this present time we need 1 more JH BBB coach and 2 elementary wrestling coaches.  Without coaches to fill some of these positions the only recourse is to cancel the seasons.  We can’t have a team without a coach.  WE NEED COACHES.

Busing is almost a constitutional right, or it feels like it.  You have heard me preach this before that our shortage of bus drivers is critical.  It is!  Without substitute bus drivers, just this year, we have had to alter or combine routes several evenings.  On at least one night this year we were close to shutting down bus service to an elementary GBB game, because we needed the driver for a varsity event.  WE NEED BUS DRIVERS.

Fans coming to games we hope don’t see all that goes on to make those events such a success.  But, games don’t get played without officials.  This does not matter if it is football, volleyball, or basketball.  Fans may not always like them, but they are a necessary component to sports.  Many schools, including Ellendale, are finding it very difficult to find officials for all levels of participation.  The NDHSAA has shared concerns about the number of officials for all varsity sports and created new enrollment guidelines for new officials to help add more to the ranks.  However, even at our elementary and JH events we are very short of just people with a basic knowledge of a sport willing to grab a whistle.  WE NEED OFFICIALS.

Your school does not operate without help and many times these are the small jobs.  We need coaches, substitutes, bus drivers, and officials.  WE NEED YOU.



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.