With technology comes new possibilities for snow days.

The Tri-City United School Board agreed during its April 9 meeting to explore eLearning options for days that students and teachers cannot make it into the school building due to inclement weather.

“New legislation has created a statute that allows schools to have up to five eLearning days in order to make up school closures,” Superintendent Teri Preisler said.

The eLearning days are ones in which students and teachers are not physically in the school buildings because they have been closed due to weather conditions, but students and teachers are still using their time to learn and teach using technology.

Preisler and the board were brought this option after the district was forced to close schools for a fourth time this year on April 3.

“That’s the most (days closed) since my first year here,” Preisler said.

The school was allowed two days of closure in the calendar for students and for teacher contracts. The third day began as a late start and then moved to a closure, but some teachers were already at the school by the time the decision to close was made so the district allowed the teachers the option to stay and work which covered the district in terms of contracts.

The minimum hours for students to be in the classroom have already been covered and the district has actually gone over the minimum, so the board didn’t feel like they needed to make up the third day. But then the schools closed for a fourth time, so they had to make a decision.

In order to fill the student days, the board agreed to have them come back on Friday, June 1 and in order to fulfill teacher contracts, the board decided to have the teachers work on a plan for eLearning days for their respective classes.

“I recommend that we hold a pilot day for eLearning or blended learning days for the next school year,” Preisler said. “This pilot day would help us and the teachers figure out what an eLearning or blended learning day might look like.”

Preisler said that some classes would have an easier time with eLearning day planning as they already have lessons on Moodle or other online sources. But other classes would have a harder time converting their lessons to the internet or other technology.

Preisler said that a number of districts have already moved to eLearning days or begun pilot programs to prepare for them including districts like Jordan, Janseville-Waldorf-Pemberton, St. Peter and New Prague.

“We have not implemented eLearning days yet,” Preisler said. “But those (districts) who have moved to it have said that they would never go back.”

Having other districts to reference was helpful and many of the board members were happy to know that TCU isn’t the first district in the area to try the new program.

“I appreciate that when we look at a pilot like this we aren’t the first to do it,” board member Michelle Borchardt said. “We can learn from their mistakes.”

New curriculums

In other news, the TCU board also passed the district’s new art and social studies curriculums and its revised budget for the 2018-19 school year.

The new art curriculum will be based on choices for students and give them more options on what mediums they use to fulfill a project. In order to buy these new options as well as any necessary items to achieve the overall curriculum change, the art department will be given a total of $15,904.

About $2,000 is used for new supplies including an airbrush machine for the high school, a wood center, some fiber arts and a Wacom tablet. Another $3,000 was set aside for professional development and curriculum writing. The other $10,000 will be used for new printers, tablets, 3D pens and amplifiers for the elementary classrooms to keep order.

The new social studies curriculum will also have a choice element but will mainly focus on new texts and teacher training on Moodle. The social studies curriculum will also include six-year subscriptions to K-4 Scholastic News Weekly and sixth grade Minnesota Studies online tutorials and readings. All of this totals $90,618 for the social studies curriculum.

The district’s revised budget hadn’t changed too much from the adopted budget that was approved last June, according to the district’s Director of Business Services Jean Kopp.

“This would be the final numbers,” Kopp said. “There are some differences between the adopted budget and this one, but not very many.”

Kopp said that the three things that affected the budget the most from the approved to the revised were the fiscal year of 2016-17 audited results being updated from $13.3 million to $15.6 million, the inclusion of salary and benefit impacts of contracts that were settled and the inclusion of the two percent increase of the state aid allowance.

The district’s new budget now reads $15.56 million compared to $13.41 million from the approved budget.

Reach Reporter Ashley Murtha at 507-931-8572.

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