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Graves hopeful for slight increase in enrollment

Ready or not, says Superintendent Joe Graves, school starts today in Mitchell. "If we're not ready by now, it's too late," he said. "But we've got a lot of things to be excited about this year." District officials won't have a clear idea on stude...

Ready or not, says Superintendent Joe Graves, school starts today in Mitchell.

"If we're not ready by now, it's too late," he said. "But we've got a lot of things to be excited about this year."

District officials won't have a clear idea on student numbers until a few weeks have passed, said Graves, "but we're hopeful there will be a small increase this year."

One cause for optimism is the addition of two new kindergarten classes--one at Longfellow Elementary and one at L.B. Williams Elementary.

Deb Olson, in her 13th year as LBW principal, said Friday, "It's looking great. Wednesday's Open House was a success and the kids are ready to come back to school."

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LBW will be adding a new kindergarten class, bringing the total to five classes. There also will be a Begindergarten class, for students whose parents feel their child is not quite ready for a full day of kindergarten.

Olson said her school has about 470 students right now, including 30 new students. About 20 more enrollees are anticipated. Numbers are tough to pinpoint during the first week of school, say district administrators, since not all parents sign up children in advance.

Mary Wilson, in her 12th year as Longfellow Elementary principal, said her school will have about 233 students, up from last year's number of 217. It also will be adding a new kindergarten class, bringing the total to three.

"It's been wonderful," she said, "and students are anxious for school to start."

Wilson said staff members have been training in Boost Up, a student program designed to make the brain more alert to learning. The school also will continue its walking program. In the past, students figuratively walked, as a group, across America and to Iraq. They will choose a new destination this fall.

At Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary School, Principal Marilyn Forst, in her sixth year, said student numbers are around 360. That's about the same as the end of the last school year, she said.

"We're still waiting to hear from some parents," she said.

GBR is the only district school with no new staff members. The only change, said Forst, will be the return of district veteran Loretta Asbenson, who has been working in the South Dakota Reads program. This year, Asbenson will teach fourth grade at GBR and language arts and the middle school.

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"I'm happy to have everyone back; I've got a great staff," Forst said. "We're resting up and getting ready to greet students."

At the middle school, Brad Berens enters his fourth year as principal. As of Friday, student numbers were at 562, down from about 600 last year, but Berens isn't concerned.

"Last year at this time, the numbers were equally low." More students likely will sign up this week, he said.

While eighth-graders already have laptop computers, the rest of MMS students have yet to receive theirs. They will be distributed in three evening sessions on Aug. 29 and 31, said Berens.

Teachers are excited about the laptop program, Berens said, and are becoming more decisive about the use of the new technology.

"There's an expectation that technology will be used as a learning tool, and not replace good instruction," he said. Besides new teachers and the previously mentioned Asbenson, Michelle Mebius will be moving to MMS from the high school to teach Spanish.

At Mitchell High School, Dan Muck, the district's chief information officer, has been helping Principal Yvonne Palli with the distribution of more than 750 Gateway laptops in 11 sessions during the past week.

"It went fabulously," said Muck. "We had only 50 to 60 students who were unable to pick up their computers this week."

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A total of 1,238 computers eventually will be distributed to staff and students, he said.

There was one glitch, however. A Thursday estimate of 40 district-owned Dell notebook computers with defective lithium-ion batteries proved low.

Muck said Friday that "at last count" 225 district computers have batteries affected by the Dell recall. The computers were distributed last year and are held by this year's eighth-grade class. Muck said the district was notified by Dell that the batteries will be replaced.

"A Dell special projects team has been assigned to work out the details" he said, "but we've been given no firm timeline so far."

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