Chesterton Tribune


Superintendent warns Fiscal Cliff could impact Duneland schools

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National headlines warning Congress is heading toward a “fiscal cliff” has Duneland Schools Superintendent Dirk Baer on his guard in case spending cuts cause education programs to take a hit.

Baer, in his comments portion of Monday’s Duneland School Board meeting, said it is something school officials need to monitor.

“It’s something that that could influence us and become (a problem),” he said. The “fiscal cliff” may signal deep cuts for hundreds of government programs and could significantly affect the school district’s Title 1 and the free or reduced school lunch programs, which receive federal funding to aid low-income students and families.

“It’s a situation where a lot of lines are being drawn in the sand and it’s kids that are the lines,” Baer said, emphasizing that school officials will fight for the welfare of their students. “Here (at Duneland) we are all about the kids,” he said.

Last month, Baer also asked board members to be aware of discussions in the upcoming 2013 Indiana General Assembly since it will be a budget year. The State House and Senate are set to assemble on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, but already there have been some organizational meetings.

In a related matter, school board member and former state representative Ralph Ayres said the Porter County Retired Teachers Association will host its annual legislative forum for the public to address questions to their local representatives at the Chesterton Town Hall on Saturday, Jan. 26.

Technology grows in Liberty classrooms

To start of the meeting, the board welcomed Liberty Elementary Principal Christy Jarka and a few of her staff for a presentation on how the school is applying technology in their classrooms at each grade level.

Crystal Ridley’s kindergarten class is using Mimio Interactive to learn math interactively using a “smart board.” Her students are learning to use LeapPad, or “Kid iPads” as she calls them, to learn their letters.

In second grade, teacher Chris Smith demonstrated TurningPoint “clickers” to take quizzes on a PowerPoint which can also gather data easily to better assess student performance.

Meanwhile, Martha Hiestand’s fourth grade class is using iPod technology to help students with reading fluency and to connect with other classes. The older students record their voices onto the iPod while reading from books and first graders follow along reading with the recording.

Fourth grade teacher Jason Conway explained how technology is helping students sharpen their math skills. Through the website, the class holds double elimination tournaments with other fourth grade classes in the Duneland school corporation with games such as “Division Derby.”

“Competition helps the students learn their math facts and they want to do much better,” Conway said.

Students helping out with the presentation were first-grader Lucas Lauzon, third-grader Madelynn Chestovich, and fourth-grader Kelly Lahaie, who Conway said was recently awarded the Young Citizenship Award by the Duneland Exchange Club.

The technology was purchased with the help of Media Specialist Heather Lowe and the Parents and Teachers Organization, which paid for about half the items including a third computer lab with 30 new desktops at Liberty Elementary.

“We thank the staff and parents who are willing to take a risk and give the (technology) a try,” Jarka said.

She said the new computers will be used by all grades. The third and fourth grade classes will soon be using the computers for their ISTEP exams when it moves to an online format.

Parent Teacher Conferences/Personnel

Assistant Superintendent Monte Moffett presented a report on the 2012 Parent Teacher Conferences, which were held on Nov. 7 and 8 for grades K-8.

For grades K-4, 1,904 conferences were held, 97 percent of those scheduled.

For Liberty Intermediate 5-6, 335 conferences were held, 91 percent of what was scheduled.

For Westchester Intermediate, 318 conferences were held for fifth grade and 410 conferences were held for sixth. Eighty-one special education conferences were held.

For Chesterton Middle School, 568 conferences were held for seventh grade and 408 conferences were held for eighth grade. Conferences at the CMS were held in open format. If a parent meets with three teachers, that would count as three conferences so the number of conferences in seventh grade outnumbered the number of students.

Total seventh and eighth grade conferences were 1,272, Moffett said, and 58 conferences were special education.

Moffett said he thanks teachers who went beyond what was required and held conferences throughout the week to accommodate parents’ schedules. “It’s so beneficial to the parents and the children.”

Trout added thanks since teachers are not reimbursed for their time as they were years ago. Moffett said neighboring school districts have dropped their parent-teacher conferences as a result.

In his personnel report, Moffett said two teachers have taken child care leave. CHS English Teacher Diana Gill will return Jan. 7 and Yost Elementary first Grade Teacher Karen Hicks will return on April 1.

2013 Health Insurance

In business matters, the board unanimously approved a recommendation by the Appropriations and Insurance volunteer committee to keep the current employee benefit policy and premium costs as they were set last year.

Premiums for singles will remain at $7,890 and $18,270 for families. The school district pays 80 percent of the cost while employees pick up 20 percent ($1,578 for singles, $3,654 for families) on an annual basis. Those figures are six percent higher than what the school district saw from 2007-2011.

Assistant Superintendent Dave Pruis said Duneland had a good year for claims ending with a balance of about $5 million in reserves. Pruis said a consultant complimented the committee on their selection of a policy which has held down costs.

“That’s fiscal responsibility” Baer commented.

Reorganization meeting

While the board traditionally meets the first Monday of the month, the board honored Baer’s request to move the date for the reorganizational meeting to Tuesday, Jan. 8 due to the return from winter break.



Posted 12/4/2012