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K-W plans alternative events to honor students' accomplishments

With social distancing restrictions and the extension of school closures until the end of the academic year, Kenyon-Wanamingo school leaders are working on alternative ways to honor students’ accomplishments.

At the April 27 Kenyon-Wanamingo School Board meeting, Kenyon-Wanamingo Middle/High School Principal Matt Ryan shared some virtual alternatives for important events normally held in May.

To honor the high school music program and allow the seniors to be recognized, staff collaborated to host a virtual and drive-in style music concert/awards ceremony to take the place of the previously scheduled band/music concert May 7.

The event will be hosted by band director Claire Larson and choir director Stephanie Schumacher, along with the help of Gordy Kosfeld at KDHL radio. The concert will feature performances, previously recorded in March, from the high school band and choir on the radio, followed by student awards and recognition.

After many meetings, two of which included senior class officers and student council members, Ryan says they will continue refining the plans for senior recognition night, NHS induction and commencement, and send communication out to seniors and parents once plans have been finalized.

For senior recognition night, originally scheduled for May 20, Ryan said they are working on a way to inform scholarship recipients of their achievements, have those recipients record a video “thanking” the scholarship donor and compile the videos and share them publicly for everyone to view. The National Honor Society induction ceremony — which also features the seniors recognizing their most influential teacher — is something that may follow a similar approach, but in a video format.

Ryan says commencement — scheduled for May 31 — is a “very” special day at K-W each year.

“We’ll do our best to make it as special as possible for seniors,” said Ryan. “Our goal is to recreate certain parts of [the ceremony] that make it what it is.”

A tentative plans is for an outdoor ceremony conducted similar to the traditional graduation ceremony held each year, while adhering to the social distancing parameters. Ryan has spoken with Kenyon Police Chief Lee Sjolander about the KPD leading a caravan of seniors and their families throughout town to be recognized by the community.

Class of 2020 signs will be distributed with caps and gowns for families to place in their yards. The large area of space in front of the high school could be used to their advantage so everyone is able to spread out. Microphone amps could be used throughout the space to provide good coverage. However, Ryan said they will need to develop an inclement weather plan, since the proposal is “very” weather dependent.

Board member Tonya Craig said it would be a good idea to figure out how to make it work outside.

“What I’ve just shared falls in line with what some of our neighbors are doing,” Ryan said. “We will continue to develop more ideas and take ideas of what other schools are doing to create a plan that best fits our needs.”


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Some miss their friends and classes; students and teachers adapt to distance learning

Following the news of Gov. Tim Walz’s extension of school closures for the remainder of the academic year, teachers, parents and staff are buckling down to prepare for another month of distance learning.

While the closure’s extension didn’t come to much of a surprise to anyone, Kenyon-Wanamingo High School Principal Matt Ryan said that didn’t make it any easier.

“I am appreciative of staff on how they flipped the way we do things at school, and the communication with families and staff,” Ryan told the K-W School Board during its April 27 meeting. “Schools are built for kids, without them it’s a different feel.”

Staying connected

Since the distance learning measures were implemented March 30, school staff have strived to focusing on connecting with students, rather than worrying so much about the content.

K-W Interim Superintendent David Thompson said the K-W staff, students and their parents have all been heroes throughout the pandemic.

“It’s been a difficult time,” said Thompson. “Everyone has been supportive, from students, staff, parents, the community and school board members.”

A survey of both parents and students has let them weigh in on distance learning so the district can use the feedback to strengthen the measures. Thompson said the survey responses ranged from frustrated to bored to great and wanting to be back in school.

K-W Elementary Principal Katy Schuerman said she is happy with the high attendance of students, and how parents and teachers are working together to form a strong partnership.

“I cannot say enough about the commitment I see on both sides,” said Schuerman at the meeting during her report. “Teachers are enjoying that deeper sense of relationship with parents.”

Due to the cancellation of class trips many students look forward to, staff have tried schedule things regularly so students have something to look forward to. More recently, students received the news about the cancellation of their Eagle Bluff trip. Teachers have already began brainstorming different ways on how they can still give students the environmental experiences they would have at Eagle Bluff over a digital platform.

School Board member and parent Tonya Craig said she has witnessed some “fantastic” approaches, as parents and teachers continue to be creative and have one-on-one time with students.

Keeping students engaged

Inside the virtual classroom second-grade teacher Renee Hildebrandt said distance learning has been the “most challenging” thing she has done in all her years of teaching, especially since there was not a model for teachers to follow.

“Using a digital platform such as Google Classroom was something that I was not familiar with, but thanks to wonderful co-workers and their technological expertise we have been able to do more than I thought was possible at the beginning of all this,” said Hildebrandt. “It has also been challenging to have our second graders learning on a platform that we hadn’t even practiced using before!”

Hildebrandt says in second grade, they have their Google Classrooms setup in a way that gives students a similar experience as in school. This includes following familiar routines such as the morning meeting, calendar, read alouds, music, art, physical education and the media center as well as completing reading, math, science and social studies lessons

By using resources such as short videos, they have tried to make lessons more interesting. A real positive about distance learning, Hildebrandt said, has been the way staff are working with parents and families.

“I feel like that’s been such a good thing, visiting more often with parents and students about their learning,” said Hildebrandt. “We have really appreciated the support the parents have given to their students.”

To keep the connections with students strong, Hildebrandt says they keep the connections going by visiting with them on Google Meets or on the phone, and sending postcards or letters to them each week. While technology has been beneficial in being able to connect with students through various platforms, its also proved to be a challenge. Hildebrandt says sometimes it has been difficult for all students to use technology successfully and getting it to work in all circumstances.

“It will be a challenge to wrap up the year in the ways we normally would,” said Hildebrandt. “But we are thinking of creative ways to continue to engage our second graders with their lessons as well as our end of the year camping and dinosaur units, and make the best out of this whole experience. It is definitely something we will never forget.”

Embracing distance learning

Fifth-grade teacher Cheryl Dahl said some things she has enjoyed about distance learning are the extra time available to meet individually with students and doing things together such as playing games and other fun things. Through having more one-on-one time with students, Dahl says she has listened to students play their instruments, talked about their day and helped them with their assignments. She also says it’s nice to be able to focus on one student at a time, something she previously didn’t have.

Dahl says it is also fun to see students in a different setting.

“Sometimes siblings join us for a game or a pet joins us for class. Just like at school, you never know what might happen,” said Dahl.

While Dahl finds some students doing very well from the distance learning environment, since they are able to work at their own pace with fewer distractions, other students find they have more distractions at home.

“My biggest frustration is trying to get in contact with students I want to talk to or who need help with an assignment,” said Dahl. “It is pretty easy for them to reach out to us and for us to respond, but it is harder to reach out to them if they haven’t initiated the contact.”

In those cases, Dahl says she reaches out to parents first. Even though it makes things a little more complicated, she says parents have been helpful and understanding in those situations, and for that she is grateful.

Some students are missing their friends and school atmosphere. Dahl says her reading curriculum made it easy to transition to an online platform and she has been able to use most of the same resources she did in the classroom, which has also helped ease the transition for students. In addition, some publishers have quickly made online materials for teachers to use.

“Most students and families, have really embraced [distance learning] and have had wonderful attitudes and are giving their best efforts toward making this the best possible situation it can be,” said Dahl. “I am so proud of our students for putting in the effort and for embracing this change. Together we will make it work.”


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Three K-W superintendent/elementary principal candidates selected for 2nd interviews

Macrafic

Mortensen

Boysen

Following the first round of interviews for the superintendent/elementary principal vacancy at Kenyon-Wanamingo School District, the Kenyon-Wanamingo School Board narrowed its search from six finalists to three.

Bryan Boysen, Brandon Macrafic and Michelle Mortensen will be interviewed for the second time on Tuesday, May 5 via Zoom.

The K-W School Board deliberated Thursday, April 30 following the first round of finalist interviews held that evening and the evening prior. Board members listed their strengths and areas of growth for each candidate, then decided if they would like to see that candidate in another interview during the virtual meeting. Board members strived to reach a consensus on which candidates they would/wouldn’t send forward.

Bryan Boysen

Bryan Boysen is the superintendent and elementary principal at Lyle Public School.

In his application, he states his objective is, “To educate and make a difference in all learners.”

He is working on a doctor of education degree and has earned a master’s in education, a bachelor’s in elementary education and an associate’s degree. Boysen holds a teaching license for K-6 and 5-8 social studies, a K-12 principal license and superintendent license.

Formerly, Boysen served as an elementary principal at DAC JCC Schools, an elementary special education EBD teacher at Austin Public Schools, an elementary and 7-12 social studies teacher at New Dominion School-Gerard Academy in Austin, a preschool and special education teacher at Lyle Public Schools and was a third-grade student teacher at Vilseck Elementary School in Germany.

Community members who participated through an audience input form read during the board’s deliberations, keyed in on Boysen’s strong background in finance, mental health and special education as well as his demonstration of strong leadership skills.

His experience with mental health resonated with board member Jamie Sommer, who said extra resources easily accessible to students something that could benefit students in many ways, including in their behavior and test results. Board member Debb Paquin also appreciated his part in sharing concern with mental health.

Board member Tonya Craig liked Boysen’s personality and time management skills, as he made sure he had enough time to answer all interview questions presented to him, as well as extra time to ask his own questions. Craig said it also spoke to good organizational skills. She also noted he seems like he’d be approachable with kids and families, and she could see him “high-five” a student while walking in the hallway.

Board members Kevin Anderson and Rod Woock liked Boysen’s interest in teaching a combination of new and old. Anderson said he appreciated his comment about teaching cursive writing, since it’s something “everyone needs to know how to do,” which also demonstrates Boysen’s belief in blending technology in with “old school” beliefs. Board member Marilyn Syverson said he has “a lot” of the things the board is looking for, and would be interested to hear more from him.

Woock agreed, saying, “You have to teach a combination of new and old at some point when technology fails and you have to rely on your wits. Some people fall short when they don’t have a phone in their hand.”

Brandon Macrafic

Brandon Macrafic is a principal on special assignment at Rochester Public Schools.

He has earned a superintendent license, principal license, master’s in curriculum and instruction, teaching license in secondary German education and a bachelor’s.

Macrafic has been a principal on special assignment at Rochester Public Schools for career and college readiness, curriculum and instruction, research and assessment and instructional technology. He also served as assistant principal at John Adams Middle and Mayo High School, 7-12 Hayfield High School principal, a German teacher at Pine Island High School and a German/ESOL teacher at John Adams Middle School, Kellogg Middle School, Willow Creek Middle School.

Many board members were impressed with the amount of time and research Macrafic had done prior to the interview, including the creation of his 100-day-plan for the district.

Syverson praised his confidence, his experience and the fact that he isn’t afraid to make tough decisions. She feels he can be trusted to tell it “exactly” how it is and also expressed a need to learn more about him.

The community expressed praise for Macrafic’s strong background in finance, confidence in managing school district budgets and serving as a principal and superintendent in a district that’s similar in size to K-W. Board member James Jarvis said Macrafic would “effectively” balance the district’s budget and “get the job done” as superintendent. Craig also appreciated his 15 years of experience with budgets, as well as the desire to be involved in the community.

Woock, trained as an engineer, praised Macrafic’s passion and energy, as well as the bluntness in his responses and ability to “sum up the district’s situation pretty quickly.” He also appreciated Macrafic’s use of the quote, “Leadership takes people to where they didn’t think they could go.”

Sommer also noted his honesty was very encouraging, because he didn’t try to bolster himself to make up for something he didn’t feel he was up to par with.

Michelle Mortensen

Michelle Mortensen is the superintendent at Renville County West.

Mortensen has earned a doctorate in education, a superintendent license, a master of education in teaching and learning, a bachelor of science in elementary education and educational specialist as K-12 principal. She also holds licenses in K-12 principal and elementary education in grades 1-6.

Mortensen previously served as Ivanhoe Public School’s superintendent of schools, K-12 principal, district assessment coordinator, curriculum director and community education director. Mortensen also taught as a elementary teacher at Albert Lea Area Schools, elementary teacher in Albion, Nebraska, and a elementary teacher in Long Pine, Nebraska.

She has also won the Richard Green Scholar Award from the Minnesota Association of School Administrators.

In her application, she describes herself as “dedicated, driven, ambitious…[and] instills strong community relations through visibility, involvement and communication.”

Mortensen’s strengths matched very closely with both board and community members expectations. The community praised her experience and knowledge in a dual role as superintendent and elementary principal, and strong background in school finance and referendums.

Sommer appreciated Mortensen’s creativity, and ability to writing and receiving grants, as well as her experience serving as a teacher in a one-room school house to the K-12 level and “everything in between.” Jarvis also noted her success of passing a referendum, in lieu of the district’s need to pass an operating levy this fall, as well as the combination of her experience and achievements which check “all the boxes” the board is looking for. Paquin also expressed appreciation with her desire to connect with the community. In regards to one of the questions asking candidates to decide how much time should be spent in both roles, Anderson praised her ensuring comment of “100% of the time.” Syverson said she grew more enthusiastic in her answers the more she listened to Mortensen’s responses, adding that she’d “really” like to see her come back for another interview.

Syverson, board chair, extended a special “Thank you” to the staff and community members for their participation in [the interview]process and with completing the surveys and providing quality feedback. She said input from the staff and community was “extremely” helpful and taken into consideration.

Other candidates interviewed Wednesday and Thursday were Christopher Anderson, superintendent and elementary principal at Woodbine Community School; Kevin Babcock, high school principal at Medford High School and Michelle Young-Lecoustre, high school principal of New York Mills Public Schools.


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COVID-19 fears keeping patients needing care away from ERs

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, local emergency physicians are raising concerns that Minnesotans are taking advice to stay home a bit too literally and foregoing necessary medical care.

Terry Nelson, manager of North Memorial Ambulance Service, says that even as the public health concerns have mushroomed, the Ambulance Service has seen a large decrease, not increase, of 38% in call volume.

“Initially when all of this started. the thought process was, stay home unless you have the COVID symptoms,” Nelson said. “I think a lot of people are scared to go into a facility due to the fact that hospitals or clinics may have COVID patients.”

Nelson said that despite what some patients may fear, the risk of contracting COVID on an ambulance ride is low. North Memorial takes rigorous steps to avert the spread of coronavirus, stocking every ambulance with ample PPE and conducting a thorough cleaning after every call.

Dr. Adina Connelly, an emergency care physician, said that patients can be similarly confident seeking care at a hospital emergency department. However, she’s seen too many patients waiting too long to come in for care.

As a result, she’s seen patients with chronic conditions face medical crises that could have been avoided with ongoing or preventative care. Oftentimes, those crises not only put heavy strain on the healthcare system as a whole, but are life threatening.

“Patients come in exhausted and extremely sick,” she said. “They’ve done their best to care for themselves at home and they just can’t do it.”

Connelly acknowledged that caring for patients with chronic medical conditions has become more challenging. Not only have regular checkups gone “virtual,” but procuring needed drugs and treatments can be a challenge.

Some patients may shy away from seeking care because they feel the need to avoid putting additional strain on the medical system at a time where medical institutions like Allina Health, Mayo Clinic and Northfield Hospital have postponed non-essential procedures to conserve resources. So far, the state’s projected surge in COVID-19 patients has not yet occurred. Although several recent outbreaks at meat processing plants have helped to drive the state’s total number of positive cases to nearly 8,000, that number remains lower per capita than many other states.

Connelly and Dawn Steffen, interim director of nursing and emergency department manager at Faribault’s District One Hospital, credited the state’s aggressive response and public compliance for the relatively lower rate.

With the COVID peak pushed back, Steffen said that District One and Owatonna hospitals, both operated by Allina Health, have begun offering additional services to patients so long as they have the capacity. Still, with the peak only delayed, she acknowledges that the hospital will soon have fewer resources.

Even as the caseload continues to increase, Steffen urged patients never to shy away from seeking needed medical care. She noted that in order to keep all patients safe, hospitals have already implemented special procedures.

“We don’t want people to wait on seeking care for severe, often life-threatening conditions,” she said.

In addition to beefing up cleaning procedures and consistently wearing PPE, District One and Owatonna hospitals have established separate waiting rooms for patients with COVID-19 like symptoms and those without, and are doing everything to keep patients separate during the care process.

Likewise, Northfield Hospital + Clinics has instituted significant measures to keep patients safe during the pandemic and is urging people not to skimp on crucial preventative care, including pediatric vaccinations.

Precautions include tough visitor restrictions, health screening for all patients and full PPE for all staff. Like other area health systems, Northfield Hospital + Clinics has also dramatically expanded the use of telemedicine.