Vestaburg Community Schools anticipate higher head count

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 11:27 am on Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Jeff Beal

VESTABURG — The Vestaburg Community School Board of Education may not have to make additional budget cuts this year, thanks to better-than-expected student enrollment numbers.

In June, the school board approved a budget based on an estimated enrollment population of 650 students, representing a dip into the school’s fund equity of more than $600,000. The school board divided the cuts into Phase 1 ($240,000 in cuts) and a possible Phase 2.

For Phase 1, the school board voted on Aug. 13 to eliminate the intro to technology class, web design class, business communications class, advanced technology class and elective classes of child development and family consumer science. Some of the elective classes can still be taken at the Montcalm Area Career Center in Sidney.

Vestaburg Superintendent Jeff Beal is now anticipating an enrollment of up to 700 students. This additional revenue combined with $90,000 in savings from state retirement reform and a shared services agreement with Head Start worth approximately $52,000 has eliminated the need for Phase 2 cuts.

“The initial round of cuts were designed to have Vestaburg prepared for the worst and, at the same time, hopeful for the best,” Beal said.

The school board had previously approved spending technology funds on tablets for students. Beal put the project on hold until student enrollment numbers became more clear. He now hopes one-third of students will be using a tablet by the end of the year.

“Additional student enrollment has allowed us to move forward with the tablet initiative, although recent tablet releases into the market will allow us to stretch our technology budget even further,” Beal said. “We currently have 90 tablets in-district and will be adding another 90 to 120, depending on price, by November, as K through 12 students continue to grow their technology skills and teachers begin to take advantage of one-to-one learning models.”

At the Sept. 10 school board meeting, Beal showed school board members a new 7-inch tablet that can be purchased for less than $200 instead of the $500 tablet the board was looking at purchasing last year. The school district is also moving toward using online textbooks.

“It is important to note that our students will be familiar with a variety of technologies on a variety of platforms and that while we understand the models will change from year to year, the skills needed to engage the technology, whether it is Android, Apple or Windows-based, will be the critical ingredient that will allow our students to thrive wherever their path leads,” Beal added. “Technology is integrated into all of our classrooms and our teachers will continue to develop lessons that push the cutting edge of learning.”

 Graduation requirement changes

Also at the Sept. 10 meeting, the school board approved new high school graduation requirements after hearing a presentation from High School/Middle School Principal Brandon Hubbard.

Hubbard explained that the high school is moving from a modified block schedule back to a traditional six-period schedule. He said with a 90-minute block schedule, staff lose the attention of students.

As a result of the switch back to the traditional schedule, fewer credits will be earned and a class will last an entire year, instead of just one semester. The switch will also give eighth-graders the opportunity to take algebra I during their eighth-grade year.

“One of the benefits of moving from a modified block to a six-period day is that we are much more flexible, allowing students and teachers to more easily move between the high school and the middle school as class size and course offerings dictate,” Beal said. “Prior to this year, the two buildings were on separate schedules and sharing staff was very limited. As our staffing and elective offerings have changed, so have our requirements from 32 credits offered to 24 credits offered, mostly because of the elimination of elective classes.

“However, the switch avoids such pitfalls as a student earning a math credit their sophomore year and not taking another math class until their junior year, or having a student frontload their math requirements and not having to take math courses before college because they have already completed the requirement,” he added.

The new schedule will also increase contact time between teachers and students. A block schedule typically permitted 7,225 minutes of instruction in a semester. Students will now be taking classes over a full year, affording them closer to 9,600 minutes of instruction.

“I want to commend Mr. Hubbard and his middle school and high school staffs for their flexibility and forward thinking as they helped to put this schedule together,” Beal noted.

The next Vestaburg school board meeting is scheduled for Oct. 8.

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