Back to school: District has an eye on school safety

Andrea Johnson/MDN MAIN and ABOVE: Kids and teachers paint lockers at Jim Hill Middle School earlier this month.

Students at Jim Hill Middle School will be welcomed back to classes this week with brightly painted lockers bearing inspirational messages.

Jim Hill art teacher Ariel Hirzel and other teachers, former Jim Hill students and others from the community volunteered their time earlier this month to painstakingly paint and trace the letters of sayings such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s “The time is always right to do what is right” or book titles and the names of authors from popular books like JRR Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens.

Parents, teachers and kids alike all think the hallways look great.

They help start off the year on a positive note in a school district that is also considering some serious themes.

Superintendent Mark Vollmer said school safety is a top priority for everyone in the school district this year.

This year there will be two full-time school resource officers at the in-town middle schools, Jim Hill and Erik Ramstad Middle School, as well as at Minot High School-Magic City Campus and Minot High School-Central Campus. In the past, the middle schools had school resource officers there on a part-time basis. The school district contracts with the Minot Police Department for its school resource officers.

Vollmer said the district is also working to secure a school resource officer for Memorial Middle School at Minot Air Force Base, who would be offered through the Ward County Sheriff’s Department.

The Minot Police Department will be conducting inservices for all its staff at varied times throughout the year as well.

Earlier this year, Vollmer said, the district consulted with Don Moseman from the North Dakota Safety Council and used the consultation to rewrite its safety protocol and procedures. The guidelines cover what the district would do in the event of a crisis like a school shooting, but also with a weather emergency like the Souris River flood of 2011 or a train derailment like the one that occurred near Minot years ago. With the amount of oil being transported through the town, it is a good idea to be prepared.

In addition, Vollmer said the safety guidelines and training will help all buildings be consistent in their response and will get teachers used to using the same language for emergencies, so everyone has the same definition of what it means to go into a school lockdown or what it means to “shelter in place.”

Vollmer said the Minot Public Schools act in collaboration with local law enforcement. The Bismarck public schools recently decided to purchase assault rifles to have on hand, available for the use of its school resource officers. Vollmer said that is a common national trend but a step Minot would not take without following the lead of the Minot police department.

The district also monitors and follows state guidelines on what constitutes school safety. After every incident, experts learn a little more about what should be done and what should not to enhance school safety.

“There’s far too many school violence episodes, way more than we should have, but they’re still quite rare,” said Vollmer.

Teachers and administrators are also receiving training on how best to meet students’ social and emotional needs and help them to learn.

For instance, teachers receive training in Love and Logic, which Vollmer said is a program designed to help students take responsibility for their own behavior and to fix problems that arise as a result of their behavior.

Vollmer has been a trainer for the program for several years.

“It really works,” said Vollmer. “It’s good, good stuff.”

Teachers are also trained in methods to help kids who might have been exposed to trauma at some point in their lives. They learn how to respond to a child who might be acting out due to a traumatic event. For instance, if a child has an emotional meltdown in the classroom, teachers learn to gauge when they should touch a student or how to judge the difference between anger and potential violence. An anonymous survey of teachers in the district this year indicated many of them have been subjected to verbal or physical violence from students at some point in their careers. Vollmer said a committee made up of teachers and administrators will be formed this year to address school safety and he expects many good ideas will come out of those meetings.

Vollmer said the district uses Second Step, at the elementary level, a program that helps children learn the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behavior in a school setting and how to handle common feelings of anger or rejection. At the secondary level, Sources of Strength utilizes adult and student mentors to help identify kids who might be having a difficult time and point them toward people or programs that can offer help. Kids might not talk to an adult about what is bothering them, but they might be willing to share those problems with a friend. Student mentors also receive training to help fellow students deal with problems or when to clue in an adult counselor or teacher or administrator so their friends can get more help if they are needed.

Vollmer said it is important for students and parents to report concerns to school officials so they can be addressed.

Vollmer said the district has great kids. When he was at Ramstad the other day, he was impressed by a young student who quickly held the door open so that he could carry in items.

“Our our bottom line is pretty simple … be nice to people,” he said. “Nice matters in this world and you need to treat people with dignity and respect.”

Changes in gifted education in the Minot Public School District

There is a change in gifted education in the Minot Public Schools this fall.

Third and fourth-graders from throughout the district who require the highest level of gifted education services – the Journey Program – will be in a five day a week, full day gifted education classroom at Edison Elementary. To qualify for the Journey Program, students had to score at the 98th percentile or above in at least two areas of a qualifying test as second-graders.

Third through fifth-graders who scored at the 95th through the 97th percentile in at least two areas on the qualifying test as second-graders will go to Edison for gifted education services one day a week. They will be placed in “cluster teacher” classrooms at their home schools during the other four days of the week. The cluster teachers have received training in gifted education from the teachers in the gifted and talented program. Kids will not be expected to make up any work that is missed in the regular classroom on the days that they are at Edison.Kids who scored at the

95th percentile or above in one area on the qualifying test as second-graders will be placed in a “cluster teacher” classroom at their regular schools. The cluster teachers have been trained in how to provide a differentiated curriculum for kids who are gifted in mathematics or language arts.

Kids who scored lower than the 95th percentile will remain in regular classrooms. Cluster teachers will provide resources and strategies in staff meetings with other teachers regarding how to provide extension, acceleration and enrichment for students.

“This is the dream we’ve been working on all these years,” said Wendy Altendorf, the gifted and talented education coordinator.

At one time, this was the model for gifted education in the district. Then, in the mid-90s through today, gifted services was changed and teachers in the gifted and talented program traveled to district schools and provided education for classroom teachers and worked with kids there.

Altendorf said the reconfiguration of the program requires no additional staff or funding. Parents of the kids in the Journey and PACE programs will transport their own children to Edison, while Minot Air Force Base will bus in students who have been enrolled in the programs at Edison.

Altendorf said high ability students have the right to have an opportunity to learn new things in a program that will best meet their needs.

Mark Vollmer, school superintendent, said the district also plans to expand the program over the coming years to include programming for fifth-graders and at the middle school level.