School, city to pool resources

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN LAURA CAMPBELL
Providing consistency in the classroom was a top priority for the administrators at both the public schools and community college in Marion last year.

For United School District 408, a budget boost from new school-finance legislation provided the means to implement new academic programs and start planning major upgrades to enhance other areas of student activity.

And for the Marion campus of Butler Community College, another year of its reputably solid instruction on a flexible schedule led to a May graduation of its largest class ever.

USD 408

The magic number for schools this year was 65, said USD 408 superintendent Lee Leiker, as the percentage of the budget that the state supreme court and legislators agreed should be spent on classroom instruction.

Marion schools were not far from meeting this mark in previous years, Leiker said.

And because Kansas legislation passed a new funding formula that increased the district’s total budget by more than $400,000 last fall, even more dollars were available to focus on the classroom.

“We’re focusing very carefully on what we’re spending money on,” Leiker said. “We’ve implemented some new strategies.”

Specifically, a couple of new supplemental programs have aided Marion teachers in their classroom instruction, he said.

Elementary students are enjoying great success with “Pathways to Reading,” Leiker said.

And in all levels, students are as well with PassKey, a computer-based learning program.

“It’s kind of an enrichment program for students that are maybe scoring below proficient in some areas,” Leiker said.

“It’s to enhance an area that we want to become stronger.”

The district is attempting to achieve the same goal with all-day classes for its kindergarten students, Leiker said.

“This is our first year for all-day kindergarten,” he said.

“We look forward to what that’s going to do for us in the future as those students go through the school system.”

Leiker said kindergarten students were not required to participate in the all-day program but that parents have all opted to include their students this year.

“Parents are very comfortable that things are going very well for their child,” he said.

Leiker noted a few more highlights of the last year:

  • A teaching staff of USD 408 veterans. Other than three new elementary teachers, Marion’s staff has sustained few changes over the last year.

    And that’s pretty normal, Leiker said.

    “Characteristically in our district, we’ve had very little staff turnover,” he said. “It’s a pretty stable staff.”

    But new or old, the district’s teachers are making Leiker proud both in and out of the classroom.

    “We’re very pleased with the staff that we have, both with our new and veteran staff,” he said. “They’re doing a great job.”

  • Recognized achievement in three academic areas. The district celebrated achievement of the state’s Standards of Excellence last year in three areas: fourth grade math, fourth grade science and 10th grade math.

    “That’s certainly a focus of ours,” Leiker said. “And academically, that’s certainly a highlight for us.

    “It’s also a highlight in how close we came to meeting standards of excellence in other classes as well,” he added. “We’re excited about that.”

  • Plans to partner with city to build new athletic/performing arts facilities. Leiker said the district is also excited about its latest proposed project, an inter-local agreement with the city of Marion to construct a new gymnasium, auditorium and indoor swimming pool.

    The project is possible because the school board is finally satisfied enough with academic facilities and programs to turn its focus to another important area of student growth: extracurricular activities.

    “There’s always been an upgrade to maintain great educational facilities,” Leiker said.

    “We’ve been concerned for a long time on the academic side, and we’re at the point that we feel good about what we’re doing academically.”

    The timing seemed right, then, to pursue a partnership with the city to share the costs-an estimated $8 million-and usage of the proposed complex. Most exciting are the opportunities that will result from sharing the use of a new swimming pool, Leiker said.

    “The school’s going to utilize the pool as part of our (physical education) curriculum and our activities program,” he said. “We want to look at having swimming as a competition sport.”

    If voters support the project at the ballot box in April, Leiker said he hopes construction will start in late summer and be finished by fall of 2007.

    “What we feel is our selling point to this whole thing is that we can do this without increasing any tax levies to individuals,” he said.

    “We’re hoping that’s what our voters will feel good about-to say we’re going to do this without changing your obligation to the school district,” he added. “It’s going to be no different in future years than it is right now.”

  • What also will stay the same, Leiker emphasized, is the district’s overall focus on student learning.

    “Even though these projects are going to draw a lot of attention, we still remain focused on academics,” he said.

    “And we’re going to continue to find ways to serve our students better in the classroom-so when they leave, they will continue to be successful in life.”

    Butler Community College, Marion campus

    It’s steady as she goes for the Marion campus of Butler Community College, according to site director Pauline Holub.

    And that consistently excellent education paid dividends in May with the largest class of graduates in the site’s 15-year existence, Holub said, as the college handed out nine associate’s degrees and seven massage therapy certificates/ degrees.

    Otherwise it’s been business as usual, Holub said.

    “We’ve had a little bit of change in the enrollment, not much,” she said. “We remain pretty much the same from semester to semester.”

    Of about 250 students enrolled last semester, about 65 were area high-school students taking one or more of the college’s interactive TV classes from the convenience of their own school’s classrooms.

    But working adult residents wanting to complete an associate’s degree could also find the classes they needed to take-and often scheduled at the times they were able to take them, Holub said.

    “We try to offer as many classes as we can here,” she said. “Depending on the class or the field of study that a student would like to go into, they can get all of their credits here in Marion.

    “If they want to go into anything that’s technical-specific, they can take their (general-education courses) here, but then they’ll have to finish up over in El Dorado or Andover,” Holub added.

    “But we’ve had several girls who have graduated from here- they’ve never left our campus and have gotten everything right here in Marion County, USA.”

    The college’s latest attempt to serve area residents is the implementation of a non-credit course on basic computer skills.

    “That has been very successful,” Holub said. “Students come in for a class two hours a night once a week for a couple weeks.

    “It just gets people into the building,” she added. “A lot of times they take the class and they enjoy the companionship-and they’ll take another class.”

    And Holub said that’s what Butler’s Marion campus will continue to be all about-meeting the needs of the community one student, one class at a time as a full-service center of higher education.

    “For the convenience and for the cost, it’s a good deal,” she said. “They can do everything right there.”

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