USD 410 still on cutting edge

Steve Noble realizes that 2013 likely will be remembered most as the year USD 410 became a Class 2A district after more than 40 years in Class 3A.

But the Hillsboro superintendent said the move to a smaller classification ought not overshadow the more significant accomplishments and challenges of the past 12 months.

A drop of some 52 students over the summer, most of which was unexpected, not only resulted in a change of classification, but also resulted in several budget cuts to accommodate the accompanying reduction of state funding?beyond the limitations already established in Topeka.

?We?re 2A?that?s a big change for Hillsboro,? Noble said. ?I?ve probably heard more questions about why we are 2A than about why we had to cut down to one social studies teacher. We tried to hide the other; we can?t hide the 2A very well.?

To accommodate the loss in funding, the board decided to eliminate the activities director position for next year, plus an administrative assistant and a mechanic position. The board also approved merging the high school and middle school into one ?building? for greater efficiency.

Noble said the enrollment situation did result in at least one good outcome. About 165 people attending a ?community conversation? public meeting co-sponsored by the district and the city in December. The key topics were declining enrollment and the future of the community.

?We had a pretty good turnout for something like that,? Noble said. ?When you think about it, who wants to give up a Monday evening to talk about that? People?s lives are so busy, but we had about 125 people in the audience, plus we had about 40 panel members.

?That speaks volumes about our community, that they come out and participate.?

Project-based learning

In the midst of that ?thorn in our flesh,? Noble said patrons of USD 410 have a lot to be proud of about 2013.

?We continue to operate great schools,? he said. ?We continue to have state championships. We continue to have scholars that go on to great academic achievement in secondary education.

?We continue to be a leader in the career and technical education offerings at Hillsboro High School?we?re very proud of that,? he added. ?We offer courses that prepare kids for the world of college, offering higher education courses right here at USD 410.?

On the career and tech education front, Noble said USD 410 has more than 20 state-approved ?pathways,? which he defined as ?a program that has courses that build upon the previous year?s course.?

Upon completion of a pathway, a student will receive a recognized credential that will ?elevate that student into the world of work, or perhaps even provide them some opportunities in college.?

Another achievement in the project-learning movement was that the district is in its first year as a member of the national Project Lead the Way program, which focuses on the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

?Project Lead the Way is a comprehensive program that involves intensive development for our teachers, which actually ends in a Project Lead the Way certification,? Noble said. ?You have to be certified to teach it.

?It is connected to higher education extensively across the country. Universities and colleges across the country recognize Project Lead the Way completers. That completer is Wichita State Uni?versity, which is our nearest university partner.?

He said a student who completes a single course through Project Lead the Way can receive a $500 scholarship to the college of engineering at WSU.

?The program is very prestigious and very rigorous,? Noble said.

Last summer, three district teachers were certified to teach PLTW courses, and two to three more will take the training to be certified this summer.

In 2014, USD 410 will be the first district in the state to be registered to extend the PLTW program to the elementary school.

?We are looking to expand the Project Lead the Way program clear down to first grade,? Noble said.

He said PLTW and the career and tech pathways grow out of the district?s goal of equipping students to be productive members of a society that ?has a strong need for science people, tech people, engineers and mathematicians.?

Noble said, ?To me, being productive means getting them to the middle class, where they can earn a decent wage, have a career, be connected in their community, give back to their community.?

More highlights

Noble cited additional highlights not only from 2013, but looking ahead to 2014. Those included:

? being one of the first districts in the entire state to host a VEX-certified robotics competition last winter; another one is schedule for this winter.

? expanding the district?s technology program beyond providing laptops for every student in grades six through 12. The next step will be to provide 40 iPads for the elementary school that students can check out and use in classrooms. The project is funded through a grant connected to Project Lead the Way.

The district also used grant money to acquire its first 3-D printer for PLTW curriculum at the high school

? became one of the first districts in the state to launch a Walking School Bus program. Because of weather, the program operates from the start of the fall term to mid-November, takes a break for winter, then begins again after spring break.

?Our goal in this program is not only to provide a safe route to school, but to change the culture of how kids go to school,? Noble said.

This fall, Tabor College education students have been participating as bus chaperones as a community-service requirement for their major, Noble said.

?We?re well staffed now,? he said about the volunteer leaders that also includes senior citizens and parents.

? participated with the city of Hillsboro to achieve a $250,000 grant to build new and larger sidewalks as part of the Safe Routes to School program. The funds were received in 2013; construction of the new sidewalks along a designated route will begin this summer after school is out, Noble said.

? initiating a new ?school farm? project based at the elementary school. The idea was launched last year. Once the city changes its ordinance to allow educational institutions to house farm animals in city limits, fund?raising will begin in earnest

Except for the cost of some initial site preparation, Noble said he expects all other costs?including the construction of a ?barn? that can serve as a classroom as well as for storage, and a greenhouse to grow plants year round?will be covered by grants and donations.

?We think it?s an investment in our future because we think it will attract families to Hillsboro,? Noble said of the project. ?There?s an interest in school farms not only in central Kansas but across the country.

?We need to be on the front end of this, not on the back end. If we get on the back end of this, we could potentially lose families that want that experience for their children.?

Noble said he expects to have the school farm operating when the next school year begins in fall. An eight-person committee has been appointed to guide the project and coordinate fundraising.

? refurbishing the playground at the elementary school by removing the old mulch-based base and replacing it with a rubber base made from recycled tires. Noble said the entire project, which will cost between $20,000 and $30,000, will be funded with grant money.

The goal is to complete the project before the fall term begins.

?This project has been one of our top needs as identified by the board over the past several years,? Noble said.

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