The Alexandria school district is pushing students to become more self-directed in order to be better prepared for college and careers, officials told the Alexandria School Board at its Monday, July 15 meeting.

It was one of the ways the district is pursuing goals set for Minnesota schools by the state legislature in 2013.

That legislation centered on five areas: all children are ready for school, all third graders can read at their grade level, all racial and economic achievement gaps are decreased, all students are ready for college and or their chosen career and all students graduate from high school.

For college and career readiness, the district wants 80% of the class of 2020 to earn three or more college credits, earn a certification or have a capstone-type experience, meaning an advanced project-based immersion into an authentic, real-world setting.

"We would like kids to be self-directed," said Rick Sansted, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning. He summarized the five goals for the 2019-2020 school year; those goals will also be presented at the Aug. 19 meeting for a second reading.

The goals were among the items at the meeting besides the big news, reported in the July 17 Echo Press, that the board decided to ask voters to approve an operating levy on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Also at Monday's meeting, board members learned that the number of students who reported having anaphylactic allergies such as food allergies or bee sting allergies nearly doubled, from 50 students across the district in 2017-2018 to 94 in 2018-2019.

Keeping students healthy is key to helping them graduate high school, Sansted said. Illness causes students to stay home, which is why a presentation by Melissa Bright, a licensed school nurse, was important, he said.

Bright provided information on the health services program in the school district. She said its main goal is to keep students healthy and coming to school.

In the last school year, students made 17,633 health office visits across the district, fewer visits than in previous years, which she described as progress in keeping them healthy.

She said there were no major events such as large lice outbreaks or influenza. However, the number of medications given to students increased, specifically over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol.

In addition to having a focus on health and wellness, Sansted said the district needs to put in place new strategies which will eventually support higher graduation rates.

One strategy is making sure staff intervenes early in a student's high school career if there are attendance issues. "We don't want to wait until their senior year," he said.

Sansted said they are continuing to flesh out the attendance policy, but for the most part the policies stay the same. The student handbook is available online for parents, and students are made aware of any major changes.

Taxpayer impact

The ballot on the operating levy the board approved will ask voters to choose either yes or no on increasing the school district's general education revenue by the following tax payable amounts: $375 per pupil for taxes payable in 2020; $485 per pupil for taxes payable in 2021; and $595 per pupil for taxes payable in 2022 through 2029.

As for the levy's impact on taxpayers, the first year of the operating levy would amount to approximately an extra $120 per year for the owner of a $220,000 home, which is the average home value in the district.

In year two, the tax increase on the average home would amount to $34 more than the first year, but that second-year increase will be largely offset by a reduction in the tax levy due to the refunding of existing bonds, Trevor Peterson, the district's business services director, said after the meeting.

The tax affects each property differently and the figures given are estimations, he said.

In other matters

• The football team received a $25,000 donation from the Alexandria Grid Club, the team's booster program.

• For the 2019-2020 school year, the board approved the request to add an assistant drama coach for Discovery Middle School and an additional part-time social worker position.

• The position of truancy mediator (attendance clerk) at the high school was eliminated. It was a grant-funded position and the district no longer has the grant.

• The board approved a number of agreements, including the ice rental agreement for the Alexandria hockey program with the City of Alexandria.