Schools better despite tight budgets

?I believe we are doing a better job of educating our students than we ever have. And we aren?t going to let decisions from Topeka hinder what our goal is, which is doing a better job every year for students.??Lee Leiker, USD 408 superintendent
?I believe we are doing a better job of educating our students than we ever have. And we aren?t going to let decisions from Topeka hinder what our goal is, which is doing a better job every year for students.??Lee Leiker, USD 408 superintendent
Florence-Marion USD 408 continued to thrive in 2015 even with ongoing budget limitations, said Superintendent Lee Leiker.

?In our district, I believe we are doing a better job of educating our students than we ever have,? he said. ?And we aren?t going to let decisions from Topeka hinder what are goal is, which is doing a better job every year for students.?

Leiker cited achievements in technology at nearly all grade levels, sixth graders merging into middle school, the Pathways program, the Olweus bullying pre??ven?tion program, online enrollment and swimming pool curriculum.

Technology

One of the good things Leiker said is the addition of Chromebooks.

?We have now implemented Chromebooks from third through 12th grade,? he said. ?Our students and teachers are corresponding completely outside the school day and it has been a step in the direction of almost anytime learning, which is where we want to keep heading.?

Using the Chromebooks also means students are turning in their work electronically and being graded electronically.

?We are one-to-one computers in almost the entire district,? he said.

High school students are allowed to take their computers home, but the computers stay in the classrooms at the middle school and elementary school levels.

Marion High School seniors (from left) McKenzee Remmers, Kayla Kroupa and Brittany Hett said they enjoyed the cooler weather while giving curbs on Main Street a fresh coat of yellow paint during the MHS community service day in late September.
Marion High School seniors (from left) McKenzee Remmers, Kayla Kroupa and Brittany Hett said they enjoyed the cooler weather while giving curbs on Main Street a fresh coat of yellow paint during the MHS community service day in late September.

Sixth-grade merger

Another big step last year was moving sixth-grade students to the middle school.

?It has been a very positive step,? Leiker said. ?Some people were nervous about it (at first), but I commend our elementary staff and especially our middle school staff for the great job of making it work.?

Leiker said he believes it helps the middle school by giving it more size. Prior to the change, the middle school was for students in seventh and eighth grade.

?It also gives students more time in the middle school before having to transition to the high school, and it?s good educationally as well,? he added.

Career pathways

Leiker said career and tech education pathways have been established at the high school.

?We continue to expand our pathways programs at a rate the staff are comfortable with and students are engaged in,? he said. ?We have a lot of career and tech ed pathways, and we have tried to get a lot of those classes to better fit the needs of our students.?

Pathways is a great example of how the district is catering education to help students, Leiker said,

As the district continues to build on those programs, Leiker said, investments will be made in equipment and other resources to make the program successful.

Bullying prevention

?We have expanded our Olweus Bullying Prevention Program in K-12 grade,? Leiker said.

He said the district is doing whatever it can to address bullying.

?It is a concern, and we always want to do as good a job as we can,? he said. ?We don?t want anybody to not feel comfortable here.?

What is important about the program is that it isn?t just something for a principal and counselor.

?It is for all teachers and is an in-depth program that we are proud of,? he said.

The program is now being used at all grade levels with the high school the last to come on line.

?It was difficult to get everything organized because of scheduling and because it takes class time,? he said. ?Teachers have a core group they work with and there are various topics and activities centered around bullying prevention.?

Leiker said the staff wants to prevent bullying, and now there?s a means of addressing it.

Swimming pool

?The swimming pool continues to be positive for the district and community,? Leiker said. ?We are utilizing it well with our elementary, middle and high school physical education curriculum, too.?

Although the elementary school children are included, Leiker said the idea is helping students become comfortable in the water.

?We are between two lakes?the county and reservoir,? he said. ?We are not giving lessons, but we encourage students to do that.?

Another positive regarding the pool is the school and community relationship, he said. A lot of people use the pool early in the morning with a variety of communities coming in for lap swim, and aerobics.

?Along with the pool, we have a walking track, which is well used especially in the winter time,? Leiker said. ?It?s a positive relationship with the city and people in the community.?

Coffee shop

The coffee shop in the library at the high school is open in the mornings and shuts down during the school day.

?It is going very well,? Leiker said. ?The shop is run by students through our business program and offers coffee, cappuccino, cookies and pastries.?

Students bake the cookies and pastries in a small oven there, he said. Some afternoons the coffee shop will open for a special event, but it?s mainly a morning thing.

?We strive to create as many positive atmosphere spots as possible, and this is one of those,? Leiker said.

Top 500

For the second year in a row, Marion High School was named one of the top 500 schools by Newsweek magazine, Leiker said.

?In fact, we were the highest ranked school recognized in Kansas,? he said.

Newsweek?s criteria include enrollment rates, graduation rates, identifying which high schools do the best job of preparing students for college and several other comparisons.

Online enrollment

This was the first time the district had 100 percent online enrollment, Leiker said.

?This was a big step for us, and it went well,? he said. ?Credit goes to all the people who help get it organized, and Kristi Mercer, who was instrumental in getting this to work well.?

The district incorporated online payment, too, for school lunch or other programs and activities can be made online. Leiker said it should be a convenience for parents and others.

Goals

Leiker said he and the board of education have not talked about goals for the 2016-17 school year as yet.

When the time for goal-setting does arrive, though, Leiker said he will consider where the district can improve, what the needs are, and what to accomplish.

Another plus for the district is that its facilities are in ?great shape,? he said, because the district addresses issues before they become problems.

?If we let something go, it is much harder to get caught back up,? he said. ?Instead of letting that happen, we have done work on facilities to maintain them.?

The same thing is true with transportation.

?Our fleet of vehicles is older, and we have some with a lot of miles,? Leiker said. ?We will probably try at the end of this year to upgrade a couple.?

The district has 14 buses and 14 cars and suburbans for a total of 28 in the fleet.

At the start of the 2015-16 school year, enrollment was up by 15 students, he said. This year the number was at 514 compared to 499 students the prior year.

?Maybe we made the turn and we think we are starting to grow,? he said.