Achieving excellence in challenging times

USD 408 Superintendent Lee Leiker
USD 408 Superintendent Lee Leiker

One of the sustained goals at the Unified School District 408 Marion-Florence during 2014 was producing a quality education for students while supporting the staff?s efforts to meet those needs.

According to Superintendent Lee Leiker, probably the greatest highlight last year was the ?outstanding job? that teachers and students did and continue to do.

National ranking

Marion High School was ranked in the top 500 nationally from more than 100,000 schools.

?Recognized by News?week magazine as one of the top high schools in the nation last year was a phenomenal accomplishment for our district,? Leiker said. ?We ranked 131st in the nation for schools with a high level of at-risk students (and 339th overall).

?This is a credit to our teachers working hard with students, and students responding to that and doing their best.?

Newsweek based its ranking on a combination of standardized test scores, graduation rate, student-to-counselor ratio, enrollment data and the socioeconomic demographics of the students.

In recognition of the honor, Leiker said the entire staff was acknowledged at halftime during a recent basketball game.

?Everyone (at USD 408) is important to us, and everyone makes a difference to the lives of students,? Leiker said. ?That?s what was so special about (the honor). It took everyone to make it happen.?

Only five other schools in Kansas ranked in the top 500 Newsweek list. Four of those schools were in the Kansas City area and one was in Lawrence.

?We were the smallest school and had the highest at-risk population,? Leiker said.

Marion High School also scored high marks with Niche.com. The Niche rankings included academics, health and safety, student culture and diversity.

Opportunities in 2014

Leiker said USD 408 has maintained staff stability.

?We have very little change in our staff,? he said. ?They are the best people in their field at any level, but teachers, especially, do a great job for our children.?

The city of Marion was also making changes in 2014, he said.

?A goal of ours for a long time has been to have a partnership with various entities in town,? Leiker said.

City Administrator Roger Holter and Mayor Todd Heitschmidt, he said, have both made this easy.

?They realize entities working together become a stronger group in accomplishing things,? he said.

As 2014 came to a close, Leiker said he is glad to continue working with the city and expanding goals in 2015.

?St. Luke Hospital is another great entity.

?It?s an exciting time because of the cohesiveness we have with these various employment agencies in our community,? he said.

Another partnership

Butler Community College has formed a partnership on the USD 408 campus, using a classroom and office area.

?It?s been a great deal and (BCC) has been wonderful to work with,? Leiker said. ?We hope for this to be a long-term partnership.?

One of the advantages of having the community college close by is that Amy Kjellin, BCC site director, can talk with the students.

?This partnership started in 2014 and is carrying over into 2015,? he said. ?We want to keep it going because it is another one of those things that is tremendously beneficial to the students.?

Even though the high school still has engineering, English and business classes in the Hill Building, which is where BCC is housed, Leiker said there was still enough room for both.

?There was a natural area for office space attached to a classroom,? he said.

Concerned about losing BCC?s presence in Marion, Leiker said an offer was brought to the college and it was willing to take a chance.

?It worked out great,? he said.

Tabor College in Hillsboro also formed a partnership with USD 408 for its swim program, Leiker said.

Rusty Allen, Tabor?s athletic director, and Nathan Duell, swim coach, have both been good to work with.

?We are also trying to work out something with the city of Marion by expanding use of how our pools are used with the summer program,? he said.

Leiker said Holter and Gene Winkler, also helping with the food program, ?did a great job of getting this off the ground.?

Facilities, vehicles

Leiker said the district?s facilities are in good shape.

?I think we have some of the finest facilities in Kansas for a school our size, and we continue to show our facilities to outside groups that hear about us,? he said.

Leiker said it?s a good testimonial for USD 408.

?When I know our facilities are being talked about outside of our community, and people are willing to travel several miles because they have an interest in doing something in their community, it says a lot for the district,? he said.

Leiker said the facilities are in good shape because of the staff.

?We have always tried to maintain our (buildings), because in my opinion if we get behind, it is almost impossible to catch back up,? he said. ?It is much easier to maintain the facilities.?

Leiker said the district?s vehicles are aging.

?Hillsboro (school district) understands, too, the value of parking buses and other school vehicles inside will make them last longer,? he said.

The goal has been to take care of the fleet so the district can maximize use.

Depending on the budget, and what the greatest needs are, Leiker said the district might consider trading in a couple of buses for new ones.

?We should know more in May,? he said.

Other new things

In the area of technology, Leiker said the district purchased Chromebooks for all students in fifth through 12th grade.

?Everyone has a Chromebook, which was started in the 2014-15 school year,? he said. ?It took a big chunk (of money), but we decided we could buy them.?

Leiker said students are doing a ?great job? taking care of them.

The Chromebook allows students to access assignments and complete homework while off network.

?They can be utilized without Wi-Fi so students can work on homework,? he said. ?We are enhancing the educational experience with technology and we will continue to do that.?

Even with technology, Leiker said he remains proud of the fact the district has been able to maintain its music and fine arts program.

?It is important to us even as (finances) get more difficult,? he said.

At Marion Elementary School, Leiker said Justin Wasmuth, principal, and the teachers there have been doing a lot of hands-on learning.

?Utilizing the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program, gives students visual learning,? he said. ?This is an important part of education.?

Sixth-graders moving

Leiker said for the 2015-16 school year, sixth-graders will be moved from the elementary school to the middle school.

?The middle school was seventh and eighth grade, and now it will be sixth, seventh and eighth grade,? he said. ?The timing is right for this, and we believe the education just matches better.?

One innovative program that will continue as it has is Lucas Kings? industrial arts class.

Leiker said King and his students will be doing a remodel this spring on the house across the street from the school?s wood shop.

?Lucas King does a good job and he has a strong program,? he said.

Megan Thomas, business, computers and yearbook teacher at MHS, is another example of a strong hire for the district, Leiker said.

?We do our own yearbook in-house,? he said. ?We do all the design and she then sends it out for binding.?

In addition, Thomas and her students do all the printing of programs for all activities.

?This is a great learning experience for our students,? he said. ?It teaches them responsibility, a skill, the importance of deadlines, accuracy and creativity.?

Financial challenges

It will be a unique spring for all schools in Kansas, as well as schools in Marion County, Leiker said.

?We all suffer from some of the same dilemma, which is declining population in Marion County and across the state,? he said.

Fewer students mean fewer dollars, which creates a challenge for schools.

?The state is in a very difficult position with huge challenges, and certainly a part of that will be school funding and the state?s obligation to it,? he said.

Leiker said he believed Gov. Sam Brownback initiate some cuts in K-12 education that will affect Marion schools.

?But our goal here is not to worry about that near as much as worrying about the daily success of our kids,? he said. ?The governor?s allotment is to take $42 per student at this point for current year base state aid per pupil.?

Although funding is a concern, Leiker said, the district is more concerned about the job it is doing for its students.

?In 2015, we want to continue to support our staff and to meet the needs of students.?