District welcome back among ’13 highlights

The following is a run-down of some of the top news from 2013 as it relates to the Elk River Area School District.

Parker finally remodeled

After nearly three years of planning, imploding bid climates and one last hiccup when news of a declining birth rate called the Parker Elementary School remodel into question, the Elk River Area School Board proceeded with the project in February.

The $6 million project converted the last open elementary school to one with classrooms doors that can be locked in a safety-conscious world. The renovated school also has more secure front entrance.

The media center was also remodeled and updated in addition to many mechanical updates.

Board authorized Handke bid process

The Elk River Area School Board authorized the administration on Dec. 9 to go out for bids for the remodeling of the Handke Center north wing.

The school district put out bid packages for best value methodology in 2012, but the bids that came back were too high and the project was put on hold.

The district worked with the architects to time the bids and with the state in preparation for inflation.

Bids will be due about the third week in January.

Handke is the district’s original high school and was built 1930. The north wing, added in 1951, houses the district’s Early Childhood and Family Education program, Early Childhood Screening programs and the Reach-Up Head Start classroom.

The renovation and remodeling project is proposed to replace the parking lot and create a new, more distinctive main entrance with a vestibule by remodeling the school’s media center where Adult Basic Education is located. This program will be moved upstairs into a classroom and will have access to a second room, as well. Community Education and Early Childhood administrative offices will be moved into the former media center space.

There are also plans for a conference and community room for meetings, events and parent discussion for parents taking Early Childhood Family Education and Early Childhood Special Education classes.

District 728 made security upgrades

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre on Dec. 14, 2012, the Elk River Area School District decided in January to launch a pilot study on security cameras and buzzer systems at the entrances of elementary schools across the district.

The first went in at Otsego Elementary School, and the pilot project quickly took off from there with wide acceptance and little resistance.

By the end of the school year, every school in the district, including middle schools and high schools, had the new security systems. They each cost about $6,000 and are funded out of a safe schools levy the district regularly uses. The last one was installed and activated three days before the end of the 2012-13 school year at Elk River High School.

Enrollment growth resulted in hires

The Elk River Area School Board added teachers at the start of the school year after experiencing some unexpected growth. The district grew by about 350 students, causing board members to add about 15 teachers to address large class sizes.

The new positions were to cost about $1.2 million, which would be more than covered by the increased student population’s funding.

High schools host college, career fairs

Elk River High School and Rogers High School held their first college and career fairs. Both were deemed a success, and plans to hold them again in 2014 are already in the works.

District welcomed all 2,400 employees

Superintendent Mark Bezek shut down schools and offices before the start of the 2013-14 school year for a couple of hours to gather all District 728 staff in one place. It was the first time, that he’s aware of, that the district had managed such a feat.

The 2,400-plus people, many of whom boarded buses to get there, filed into the stands. Much like high school students settling in for a pep fest, there was a buzz. Those there ranged from teachers, classroom assistants and principals to cooks, clerical staff and janitors.

Bezek said the reason for bringing everyone together was a recognition that all staff, no matter their position, have value and are needed to carry out the district’s mission to “educate, inspire and empower the district’s diverse learners, to shape their futures, to accomplish their dreams and to contribute positively to our local and global communities.”

Bezek’s hope for the 2013-14 school year is to move the school district’s mission forward — and faster than before. He titled his talk “Driving Faster: Moving the Mission Forward 2.0.”

Dads lend a hand in the classrooms

Fathers took on a higher profile at local elementary schools this year, thanks to the proliferation of WATCH D.O.G.S.

These Dads of Great Students, as they are called, and other father figures walk the hallways before school starts, helping out in classrooms and at recess, sitting down in kid-sized chairs to test children with flash cards and even helping out on the playground. And by the end of the day, if history repeats itself, they will be issuing high-fives to kids on their way out to the bus.

WATCH D.O.G.S. is the father involvement initiative of the National Center for Fathering that organizes fathers and father figures to provide positive male role models for the students and to enhance school security. As of this summer there were 2,811 active programs in 46 states participating in the WATCH D.O.G.S. Program.

Three schools (Rogers Elementary School, Parker Elementary and Zimmerman Elementary) in the Elk River Area School District piloted it last year, and the rest of the district’s elementary schools are implementing it this year.