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Mitchell teachers work up new instructional method

A teaching method piloted this year in the Mitchell School District is forcing both teachers and students to learn.

Four Mitchell Middle School teachers reported during a regular Board of Education meeting Monday at Longfellow Elementary they are pleased with the new mass customized learning system, but they added the technique takes adjustments.

0 Talk about it

MCL is designed to help students master learning tasks at their own pace, and it is different from traditional methods of teaching because it relies less on direct teacher lectures and more on teacher involvement with individual students. This is the first year it has been used in the middle school.

“This is an attempt to teach kids at their level, both in their interests and at their ability,” Mitchell Superintendent Joe Graves said. “We believe when we do that, students will learn more and learn better.

“I like the program and it’s a good alternative to have. I don’t know whether it’s the best option for all students. I know it’s a better option for some students, so we’re just going to see how it goes.”

Students elect the option to enroll in MCL classes or to stick with the regular method of learning.

“Depending on what they’re doing or what they’re working on, they may stay back or they may go further ahead with more advanced things,” said Kate Kramer, middle school social studies teacher.

Along with Kramer, other teachers who are using the program at the middle school are Tina Board, English-language arts; Ashley Schreurs, science; and Diane Way, math. The teachers who spoke Monday explained some of their students have expressed concern with “teacher pace,” meaning the time frame students are expected to know the curriculum by a certain mark in the school year. The teachers found they needed to be more flexible with pacing students while still making sure the students were all learning the necessary content, Way said.

“And that’s a minor concern, because we wanted to make sure our students are comfortable and not stressed,” she said. “I’ve taught for over 25 years, and I’ve had some really good years, but overall I love this school year. I just feel so good about the way things are going.”

Mitchell Middle School Principal Brad Berens said the MCL teachers have spent several hours adjusting courses and finding improvements. They meet at least once a week on Monday morning to discuss how the MCL program is working for their classes.

“They’ve done a lot of research and a lot of work,” Berens said. “It’s staggering how much.”

After hearing the teachers’ report, Mitchell Board of Education Member Dana Price said he believes the MCL teaching method will become more common in the future.

“I really want you guys to know how much I appreciate you leaving your comfort zone and being the first ones to do this for us,” Price said. “I really think that five years, six years, we won’t have the traditional method. I think this is the way the future is, and I really appreciate the time and effort you guys are putting in.”

Putnam meets with Noem

Neil Putnam  Board member Neil Putnam discussed his trip to the East Coast and the National School Boards Association Board of Directors meeting and said he met with South Dakota Rep. Kristi Noem, a Republican, recently.

Noem has introduced a bill to loosen the standards set by the overhaul of the school lunch program. Noem’s bill, the Reducing Federal Mandates on School Lunch Act, would eliminate calorie caps on meat and grain, giving schools some flexibility in what they can serve, especially for those in states such as South Dakota, Noem’s home state, where it’s expensive to get a variety of fruits and vegetables yearround and meet the overall calorie requirements.

“The National School Boards Association had sent out a national press release, saying this is definitely on our radar and there are callouts specifically for her support of this legislation,” Putnam said. “I intended to knock on her door, drop off a card and say, ‘Thank you.’

“Well, she answered the door and very, very graciously took the time to talk about her legislation and about the bill.”

Putnam, with some of his colleagues, also stopped at lawmakers’ offices from Idaho, Utah and Arizona.

Other business

In other business Monday, the school board members:

  • Watched skits from the Mitchell High School student organization Supporting Players Offering Opportunities for Educational Development (SPOOFED), under the direction of high school guidance counselor Erin Fowkes.
  • Approved a consent agenda that included board minutes from the Nov. 11 meeting, claims, personnel and open enrollment.
  • Approved on second reading placing existing employee procedures for dealing with exposure to potentially infectious materials into policy, and updating addresses in existing policies.
  • Approved a resolution to approve 20 percent of the funds, which would be $97,200, for a walking/bicycling path on and near the MTI campus if MTI receives sufficient grant funding for the project.
  • Declared a 1974 white Ford F600, a 1981 white Ford F800 and an orange Ditch Witch surplus property.
  • Heard Board President Thersea Kriese announce each board member needs to fill out the superintendent’s evaluation and return it before the next board meeting.
  • Toured Longfellow Elementary.