Tonasket approves school day extension plan

TONASKET – It won’t happen all at once, but the Tonasket School District will begin the process of lengthening its school day after its board of directors approved superintendent Paul Turner’s proposal at the Monday, April 23, school board meeting.

Turner had been given a May 1 deadline by the board to commit to either adding 45 minutes to the school day or scrapping the plan. This was the last school board meeting before that deadline.

Thanks in large part to the legislature taking until recent weeks to approve a state budget (including education funding), Turner recommended a two-year process to implementing the extension.

Turner said a two-year process would prevent the district from having to make a significant dip into its reserve funding, since the new state budget and recently-passed levy numbers won’t go into effect until halfway through the next school year. The longer process would provide more time for the district to work with transitioning with parents and staff and it would allow time to get work done on capital projects that will be required to accommodate the expanded schedule.

There would be some changes that will take place in the first year of the transition. They include adding an elementary Physical Education teacher and a middle school Language Arts teacher; resolving the sharing of staff between the middle and high schools; and working with high school staff to maintain current advisory courses while adding enrichment courses. It allows time to work in a new elementary principal while assessing increased demands on the facility.

The school day won’t actually be extended by 45 minutes until the second year of the plan. Four additional teachers will be added (in addition to those hired in Year 1), including high school and/or stim math, and elementary art and music. High school and middle school schedules will be altered to reflect enrichment programs.

“Are we talking about enrichment or electives?” asked board member Lloyd Caton. “That can mean different things to different people.”

“An elective is just something you don’t need to graduate,” Turner said. “I want enrichment…. we’re extending the time so we have more opportunities for kids.”

Caton said he’d hoped to implement the extended day next year, but understood Turner’s rationale for the two-year plan.

“For me, the most important thing is to add opportunities for the students,” he said. “I think it may look different than what some people think. I can support this, but I have to see 28 credits (up from 24). It needs to give the kids more opportunities that they don’t have now … if they want to track four years of music, or whatever, this schedule would allow them to do that. That’s why we’re here, to give as many opportunities as we can with the dollars and personnel we have.”

“There’s some weighty things here,” said board chair Jerry Asmussen.

“There’s still some decision-making to be done within this plan,” he added later, noting that after the immediate action items that involved hiring new staff, “This is a road map.”

“What it is doing, though, is taking the step of hiring staff … some of these issues may change a bit,” Turner said.

“We need to take steps to begin this process,” Caton said. “I understand it’s not a hard and fast plan. But I can sleep tonight with this.”

Caton and Ernesto Cerrillo voted in favor of the plan. Catherine Stangland and Ty Olson were both out of town for the board meeting. Olson is serving his first term on the board, but Stangland has long been a proponent of extending the school day.

Principal search progresses

In personnel matters, the search for a new elementary school principal is progressing. Turner said the district received 17 applications, which have been whittled down to four that will be offered interviews and two alternates.

The board approved a special board meeting for Tuesday, May 1, to review the applications.

The board also accepted three resignations: Jera Donner as special education parapro, effective May 11; Jay Aitcheson as seventh grade basketball coach; and Hanna Kliegman, district technology coordinator.

Kliegman’s resignation isn’t effective until the end of the 2012-13 school year in order to give the district time to transition to a new coordinator.

“That’s a bummer,” Caton said. “I’ll be sad to see her go.

“Can’t we reject (her resignation)?” he added, tongue-in-cheek.

“Every jack in the wall that is not a plug in the district, she built,” Asmussen said.

Also, ASB representative Melody Wolen reported that the Junior Prom, held April 21 at the Community Cultural Center, was successful despite it being the first prom ever held at an off-campus site.

Wolen also reported that after last week’s ASB elections, executive officers for the 2012-13 school year will be President Alicia Edwards, Vice President of Programs Wyatt O’Brien, Vice President of Publicity Brisa Leep, Secretary Christa McCormick, Treasurer Claire Thornton and School Board Representative Megan Beyers.