School board accepts Willert’s resignation

MARSHALL – The Marshall School Board members approved six action items at the regular meeting Tuesday, but none were as emotionally-charged as the vote to approve the resignation of Superintendent Klint Willert.

Willert, who was clearly choked up while talking about his 10-year tenure at Marshall, recently accepted a position as superintendent of the Brainerd School District. Willert will fulfill his duties at Marshall until the end of the fiscal year (June 30).

“It’s been a phenomenal journey,” Willert said. “I only hope that Marshall has gained as much from my time being here in Marshall as I have. It’s been a great experience.”

Board chairman Jeff Chapman said he considered it a pleasure working with Willert, noting a variety of successes that have taken place in the past 10 years.

“You built a new high school, you raised test scores, you installed processes that have worked, you built trust with our public, you improved early childhood learning and basically all grades and instead of being adversaries with SMSU, we’re now in partnerships,” Chapman said. “You’ve basically helped make this a better public education system, so from the bottom of my heart, thank you. I wish you the best.”

Though appreciative of the kind words, Willert was quick to praise the entire administrative team he has worked with.

“What we’ve done could not have been achieved without the team that I’ve had,” Willert said. “That’s what is really hard about this. This is my team, and it is as fine of an administrative team as any superintendent, school board or school district could ask for. And I couldn’t be prouder of each and every one of the principals that I call team members.”

The board discussed raising student activity fees, including a family cap, though no action was taken. If approved in the future, the student membership fee of $25 would likely be eliminated again, to encourage more student attendance at school activities.

“I like getting in free,” student rep Sydney Hey said. “Sometimes, it’s been a challenge to get a student section going. But it’s nice to get a lot of students together, to make connections with each other.”

It was pointed out that it had been about three or four years since fees had increased. The district is also expected to pay sales tax on facility rentals, which was recently brought to light, and has seen increases in other areas, such as transportation.

“We’re required to pay sales tax on stuff,” Willert said. “We still want to provide students the opportunity to participate in activities because we know it’s about those unique experiences that truly differentiate us from other options out there.”

The proposed raises would amount to approximately $5,000, which some board members didn’t feel would justify the increase.

“It’s not that much of an increase, not enough to merit raising it,” board member Karen VanKeulen said. “I like having kids get in free.”

Board member Bill Mulso agreed with VanKeulen, noting that he felt the district “would be taking away opportunities from the kids.”

Amanda Grinager, Sean Pickthorn, Myers, Vera Weber and Diane Konjura collaborated on an updated presentation to the board about the Digital Learning 1:1 Roll-Out Plan. Board members have been discussing the technology implementation options at the last few board meetings.

“We had visited in the past about a four-year plan,” Willert said. “But everyone seems to be wondering if that if quick enough. So our team has been working really hard on this.”

Along with the district’s overall mission, the technology team believes that the district should prepare students to “navigate the changing world with digital learning tool that they need to be self-directed learners.”

The 1:1 devices will allow students access to anytime, anywhere learning and promote individualized learning by allowing students the capability to research and think critically in an information rich world, they said.

“We’ve been talking about this since I’ve been here, so for the past two years,” Weber said. “And we’ve been putting things in place so that we can be successful.”

Steps that have already been taken throughout the district are the development of the infrastructure, including the connection of the schools through fiber and adding wireless points throughout all the buildings, the addition of the technology integrationist, implementing student email accounts for students in grades 3-12, distributing iPads to K-4 teachers in the fall of 2013, piloting a mobile device management system and the creation of the Marshall Tech4Teachers.

“Teachers have to teach differently,” Weber said. “They now have to think differently about digital learning. So these are the pieces we needed to have in place before the devices come.”

Myers expressed his expert opinion about the definite need for ongoing technology support.

“We must have that in place to be successful,” he said.

Other things that still need to happen in order for the rollout to be successful are media center support, professional development for teachers, parent information, manpower hours to prepare devices and appropriate procedures and guidelines.

“It we take a machine out of the box, put applications on it and so on, we can spend between two and three hours on one device,” Pickthorn said. “It’s a lot of hours.”

The tech team laid out three different option, including one four-year plan and two three-year plans, pointing out the pros and cons of each of them. In the four-year plan, students in grades 10-12 would not receive devices but would have access to all new labs at the high school level.

Option 2 would disperse devices to first-, fifth- and ninth-grade students, followed by the same grade dispersal the next year. In Year 3, students in first, fourth, fifth, eighth, ninth and 12th grade would get devices.

The third option, which the tech team referred to as the evenly-distributed plan, would see devices in the hands of students after two years.

The tech team prefers the four-year plan, but if the board feels strongly about an earlier dispersal, it would suggest the evenly-distributed plan.

“When we get to full capacity, it’s a lot of devices,” Grinager said. “We just need time to work the bugs out. We’re also asking for two more tech people.”

After a few minutes of discussing different devices available, Konjura made her point clear.

“It’s not about the device,” she said. “It’s the teaching and learning that is significant.”