by Jim Boyle
District 728 high school activities directors recommended a litany of changes and improvements to their athletics and activities programs at an Aug. 18 work session of the Elk River Area School Board.
Their report was the culmination of a 2014 activities study. The list, spread out on a six-page document, includes goals and aspirations as they relate to activities programs, budgets, capital plans, coaching, game officials, supplies, facilities, transportation, booster clubs, administration of the department, adapted athletics, bussing, coaches handbooks, athletic fields and safety equipment.
Elk River Area School Board members praised the work of the activities directors and also asked them to single out their highest priorities.
Jaime Hilyar, the activities director at Zimmerman High School, said that’s a hard question to answer. In some cases, he said, things have to be done for the good of the whole district, like in the case of the School Board’s earlier action to sponsor lacrosse districtwide.
“What’s difficult is we’re just like kids,” Hilyar said. “We all have (different) needs.”
So directors were asked to say what was of highest priority of the activities department at each of their respective schools.
Mike Cunningham, the Elk River High School activities director, said the hope of beefing up the ISD 728 Cadets marching band program to model it after the Anoka-Hennepin School District’s program.
Hilyar, said for Zimmerman High School it’s transportation, namely a shuttle to keep kids in Zimmerman for their schooling.
Dan Ohlgren, the activities director for Rogers High School, said the one glaring need at his school is a fall play. The school had a director do it on her own last fall, but he would like to see the school support it with the normal complement of two paid positions.
The next step for the Elk River Area School Board will be take a closer look at the six-page document and attach cost to the recommendations in a formalized way.
School Board Vice Chairwoman Holly Thompson said one glaring need the school district has is the lack of an orchestra. She said there are 50 kids taking strings through District 728 Community Education, not to mention many more taking lessons privately, and the district still does not have an orchestra like most neighboring districts do, she said.
“A district our size should have an orchestra,” she said. “There’s a large population that could be served.”
Transportation got a lot of discussion at the Aug. 18 meeting. School Board members suggested the money it would take to have an afternoon shuttle between Zimmerman and Elk River and Rogers and Elk River would be worth it. One advantage is students could stay in their schools and access activities they might otherwise pass on because they don’t have a way to get around.
The idea of young students riding with other students who have their licenses scares many parents off, and the inability of parents to pick kids up and get them to a practice on time is also a hindrance.
“They could get to the school to take them home,” Thompson said. “It’s the getting them there that’s the hard part.”
School Board Sue Farber said the $40,000 would provide a crucial link for many families.
Cunningham said, “We as activities directors don’t disagree.”
More study will be done on this to examine barriers.
Activities directors also talked at the work session about a desire to do something for students with special needs.
Currently, the district does not have any adapted sports teams, unlike Anoka-Hennepin, Osseo-Maple Grove, Robbinsdale, Centennial and Spring Lake Park.
The recommendation is to start small with an adapted bowling program as “we gauge interest in adapted sports and struggle with indoor gym space,” Cunningham said.
If the bowling alley in Zimmerman re-opens, that could be the program’s home alley. Adapted bowling programs often exchange scores and then have a tournament in Monticello and a state tournament in Blaine.
“It’s like nothing you have ever seen before,” he said. “It’s pretty exciting to see the kids running up to one another giving high-fives.”