More than two dozen Pine River-Backus School District community members filled the Early Childhood Family Education room chairs and lined the walls during the Monday, Oct. 21, PR-B School Board meeting.
Topics of interest primarily concerned MCA III test results and the acceptance of Lee Aimers on the school’s substitute teacher’s list.
Parents and teachers voiced their opinions over the 2013 MCA III test results, which showed PR-B students scoring lower than the state average. The discussion began with a comparison between third-grade scores in the 2012 MCA II test compared to fourth-grade scores in the 2013 MCA III test, which showed a drastic change from 86.2 percent proficiency in reading to 42.9 percent proficiency in reading.
“I was wondering if you guys have a response to my letter or in general how you feel about the test scores and what we are trying to do to get those brought up,” said resident and parent Liz Dahl. “A good part of the reason I’m concerned is I don’t think the iPads were a good idea.”
Dahl said the drop in test scores likely resulted from the use of iPads in the school district.
“I wouldn’t pin the test scores on the iPad one way or another,” high school principal Trent Langemo said.
“I don’t think it can be blamed on the iPads,” said school board member Garney Gaffey.
Gaffey said the iPads were never meant to replace teacher instruction, but were meant to be a tool to enhance teaching.
PR-B teacher Mary Rosenberg said the school could improve test scores by hiring more title teachers.
“This school needs a whole force of title teachers that goes down to the lower grades,” Rosenberg said. “We could use a title teacher for each grade.”
High school English teacher Katie Brennan said the scores might be a result of a disconnect between teachers and administrators.
“We as teachers need to be respected to make the decisions for the kids, and the power to make those decisions for the kids. Please trust us to know what we’re doing,” Brennan said. “I would really appreciate if we were more respected as professionals to make the decisions for kids.”
Retired teacher Sally Jones said scheduling had an impact on test scores.
“Last year one of those fifth-grade math classes missed 18 math classes — 18 hours of class — due to pep rallies, ROAR rallies, snow days, concerts,” Jones said. “I had several kids that missed hours of math for band lessons.”
School board chair Sandra Poferl said educational field trips and extracurricular activities are important for kids and has a positive correlation with performance.
“Mrs. Jones wasn’t attacking music or band lessons,” retired PR-B English teacher Nancy Aimers said. “She’s saying that scheduling is key. You can’t pull kids from core classes like math or reading and send them off to band or choir. I’m with you. We need arts. We have to have them for our kids to make their lives full and abundant, but don’t take them out of math class. Don’t take them out of reading. Those are basic concepts that they have to have in order for them to succeed when they get further down the line.”
Aimers also asked if teachers are brought into administrative meetings and asked for feedback. School Superintendent Cathy Bettino said there are teachers present at administrative meetings for that purpose. Langemo said PR-B has more teacher involvement than some other schools.
“I’ve been in three districts, none of which, in my opinion, have operated with the transparency in teacher involvement that this district does,” Langemo said.
Residents also spoke in support of retired teacher Lee Aimers, who had been left off of the school substitute teacher list at the beginning of the semester. Aimers was accepted onto the list before the school board meeting.
“A discussion that should have been done in the first place took place and Mr. Aimers has been put on our sub list,” Poferl said.
“Thank you for getting Lee back in our building. It’s the best place he could ever be,” Dahl said.
Aimers was present and offered his thanks to those who spoke out for him.
“I just have to thank a couple people for stepping forward. Katy and Jim. I appreciate it. Many staff members, community members, community leaders, parents, some people I really didn’t know, some students,” Aimers said. “It reinforces my faith in the community and what they have the ability to do. Pine River-Backus has been a great place to teach and a great community to live in. It wasn’t an easy thing for the community to step forward.”
“I really just wanted to sub,” Aimers said.