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Brainerd School Board: Committee looks at school goals

The Brainerd School Board's Curriculum Committee Thursday got an update on the continuous improvement plans the district uses to set goals for its schools.

The Brainerd School Board's Curriculum Committee Thursday got an update on the continuous improvement plans the district uses to set goals for its schools.

Tim Murtha, director of teaching and learning for the district, led the committee through the different changes the plans have gone through recently.

The plans are broken down into four goals: math, reading, science and gap closure or response to intervention. In the past, the RTI goal stated 80 percent of students needed to be proficient in Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, Murtha said. It was a strong goal because it focused on student achievement, but it was "difficult to meet because it covered all the tests with the same language," he said.

The other three goals weren't measurable, so last year staff decided to focus specifically on student achievement in math, reading, science and gap closure, Murtha said. Gap closure goals are based on the school's own data, and reflect the ultimate goal of reducing gap closure by one-half by 2017.

Some of the goals are "very significant stretch goals," Murtha said.

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"But I'd rather have someone come up short on a stretch goal than exceed a minimalist goal," Murtha said.

Specifically, the district looks at reducing achievement gaps for three different populations: students receiving free and reduced lunch, special education students and students of color, Murtha said. As a district, the achievement gap for special education students is the largest, around 30 percent.

"It's increasing, not a significant jump, but a little bit of a jump this year," Murtha said.

The continuous improvement plans need to be submitted each year to the Minnesota Department of Education, Murtha said.

Also Thursday, the committee heard an update on student participation in extracurricular activities from Derek Hendrickson, head of Forestview Middle School Activities, and Charlie Campbell, Brainerd High School activities director.

The 2014-15 school year "was another strong year in overall participation" at Forestview, Hendrickson said. There were nearly 1,600 participants for the academic year, he said.

"We've really come a long way with our numbers in the last three years," Hendrickson said. "I'm very happy with it."

One reason for an increase in the participation numbers is the "energy and enthusiasm behind activities and the importance of doing it with your friends and trying something new," Hendrickson said. "That message has been pretty loud and clear at the team meetings I do with each grade level."

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In addition to traditional sports offerings, Forestview also offers science, technology, engineering and mathematics-based activities, Hendrickson said. A recent program using Sphero technology was a hit, he said.

"Students were able to use their devices, and were able to teach a ball how to move and direct itself in various ways," Hendrickson said.

This fall, the school is also participating in the Lego Robotics League, which began in the Twin Cities in 1999, Hendrickson said. Forestview is one of the the first greater Minnesota schools to participate in the league, he said.

"It'll be very cool," Hendrickson said.

At BHS, activities showed a net gain of 46 participants over the past year, Campbell said, despite 100 fewer students at the high school. Some of the data does reflect two- or three-sport athletes, though, so an overall total might not be fully accurate, he said.

"It's not a true, unduplicated number, that number would be somewhat less," Campbell said.

For the 2014-15 school year, there were 1,151 participants in BHS programs, Campbell said.

"We're pleased with that, despite the drop in enrollment," Campbell said.

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SPENSER BICKETT may be reached at 218-855-5859 or spenser.bickett@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/spenserbickett .

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