By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN At last count, the Lester Prairie School District had 429 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Working toward the goal of having each of these students succeed and ultimately graduate from the district, the school board reviewed the absenteeism and graduation rates at last Monday’s meeting.
In 2015, Lester Prairie had a 100-percent graduation rate, with 32 students in the class. Last year, 22 students graduated, which was 88 percent.
“In a small district, you can see that our numbers can change very quickly, very easily,” Principal Nat Boyer said.
Despite that tendency, Lester Prairie’s graduation rate has been consistently above average for Minnesota, Boyer noted. In 2011, the state average was 84 percent, and in 2016, it was 87 percent.
Lester Prairie also tracks chronic absenteeism, which is defined as missing 10 percent or more days of school (excused or unexcused).
In Minnesota, a typical school has about 170 days of class each year. Therefore, missing 10 percent would amount to 17 days.
During the 2015-16 school year, 6 percent of Lester Prairie students were chronically absent. According to Boyer’s presentation, Watertown-Mayer Schools had 7 percent, Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted had 9 percent, Hutchinson had 11 percent, and Glencoe-Silver Lake had 12 percent.
Boyer said programs such as REACH have helped “a lot” in reducing chronic absenteeism in Lester Prairie. According to the Lester Prairie Bulldog Blog, teacher Blaine Walstrom heads the REACH program with approximately 24 students receiving support, guidance, and motivational leadership.
The program was developed with support from the Lester Prairie staff, administration, and school board, in conjunction with Chad Harlander from Hutchinson Public Schools, who supports a similar program.
Also at the meeting, the board approved hiring Matt Wroge as a junior varsity baseball coach, with a payment of $2,361 for the season. Wroge had previously been a volunteer with the baseball program.
Before approval, the board discussed if the program could get by with two coaches to save money, but it was decided that it would be difficult.
Currently there are 10 seventh-graders signed up for baseball, along with nine eighth-graders and 13 high school students.
“Personally, I think we need to have three coaches, and I think Matt Wroge would be an excellent coach,” Board Member Corbey Hentges said.
Special ed services
The board also approved a membership agreement with Southwest West Central Service Cooperative (SWWC) for the 2017-18 school year, at a cost of $211,863. (Membership for 2016-17 was $210,077.)
Board Member Steve Ziermann commented that the cost is quite high, and asked why the membership is needed.
Superintendent Jeremy Schmidt said the services are used regularly to help with reporting to the state, and for students with disabilities. The bulk of the cost ($191,580) is for special education services.
“It is expensive, but it saves us a lot of time, and it saves us a lot of issues,” Schmidt said.
Odds and ends
In other business, the board:
• approved a quote from Andy’s Lawn and Snow for two years of lawn-mowing service at a cost of $3,299 per season. The board has the option to extend for a third year at a higher rate.
• approved opening negotiations with the Lester Prairie Education Association for the 2017 through 2019 school years.
• heard that the senior class trip to Orlando, FL is March 26 through April 1, and prom is Saturday, April 29.
• approved the retirement of Diane Holsapple as computer operator in the lunchroom effective the end of the school year,
• approved the retirement of Betty Williams as kitchen supervisor effective June 30.
• heard that applications are still being accepted for a head volleyball coach, and that the district is working with Norwood Young America for a possible cross country co-op for next year. A golf co-op with Mayer Lutheran High School was recently approved.