Board looks at possibility of bus route expansion; success of computer implementation in education

BREMEN — The board of trustees for Bremen Schools looked at the possibility and viability of widening its regular bus route to encourage more students into the district.
Board member Todd Stuckman proposed the idea and presented a Power Point outline to “get conversation started and ideas going.” He noted that the Bremen Schools had one of the smallest transportation districts in the state and a 826-student capacity on its buses and 657 riders.
“We have 147 empty seats in K through five and that gives us some cushion to take on more,” Stuckman suggested. “The DOE (department of education) at this time has no restrictions on the busing in of transfer students. ...All our neighbors have these bigger districts and I think that would level the playing field a little if we opened it up (the area) to attract more students.”
The thoughts offered on the topic varied.
Board member Jack Jordan said he was “struggling with the term ‘districts’” since schools really didn’t have them any more due to recent changes in the law.
“I don’t think people realize that it’s really like the wild west where people can lay a claim (to areas) and while we have the chance, we should try to open up the idea of making it more convenient to more people to have their children in our schools,” said Stuckman. He suggested a widening with two-mile radius to the present bus routing area.
Todd Huffman of the transportation department commented that those numbers are not indicative of actual room available on the bus, noting that with them is the expectation that three students can fit to a seat comfortably (which is normally not possible once the children are at middle school age) and doesn’t account for book bags, instruments and etc. that also have to be with the children in their seats.
Huffman also noted the difficulties that would arise with widening bus routes explaining that some days there are one number of students riding and another number the next day depending on children’s schedules of where they are to be dropped off and picked up.
“We’re already hauling them to Dad’s house on this day and Mom’s on this day — dropping them here for piano lessons and there for dance class,” he said. “…Another bus would cost about $85k and then you have to pay another driver, and drivers are hard to find…”
Board member Chuck Klockow wondered aloud on the feasibility of purchasing one small bus to only collect the children in the expanded area “on the fringe of the present boundaries.”
Elementary-middle school Principal Larry Yelaska commented that small class sizes might be one of the biggest attractions for parents sending their children to Bremen schools, and that adding more students could result in bigger class sizes. He also wondered about what broadening bus routes would mean to students’ “ride time.”
“And it would also make a difference with what grade level the student is in that’s coming in,” he added. “Some classes are maxed out. In second grade we have five sections and they’re pretty full where the seventh has a few openings and the eighth grade has many. … It may take some more creative planning or it may mean hiring more teachers and moving things around.”
Presently, the school’s bus route area is bordered by Pierce on the north, 9B on the south, Lilac Road on the west and C.R. 101 on the east. A general agreement that more information would be needed in order to make any decisions on the matter was realized and several present to the Nov. 6 meeting suggested “sending out feelers” to the surrounding school’s areas to see if parents would be more inclined to send their children to Bremen Schools if that would mean it wouldn’t be a problem getting them to and from school.
The board also looked at the success so far of the implementation of computers in the classroom as seen by students. Instructional coach Steve Gall and a team of educators and students were recognized by Bremen High School Principal Bruce Jennings for their efforts at making the incorporation of the Apple devices an easy one for all involved. Gall presented instructional videos made by the students working at technology assistance with the high school help desk and a small panel was present at the school board meeting to accept questions and give answers. Each of the four students present spend one 70-minute period each day assisting teachers and students that may have questions or that have run into issues using the devices. They said the number of people needing assistance is rapidly dwindling.
Board member Klockow inquired about an issue previously brought up in regard to access to information when students get home with their computers and don’t have a WiFi provider. “I verified that you couldn’t download a certain book,” he explained, “and before we made these decisions we were assured access wouldn’t be a problem for students that didn’t have WiFi at home.”
Gall and students commented that there are a number of ways students can get access to information on their computers through WiFi in the town of Bremen, and that other options included staying at school after hours to get their work done, downloading everything they need to study before they leave the building, and going to a friend’s house or the library to finish their work that they couldn’t get done during their regular day. While numbers weren’t available, it was suggested that only a small handful of students were seeing this as an issue. The student panel said the main issues facing those coming in for assistance was access to websites that were blocked to them (which may be resolved after a short process: students bringing it to the teacher’s attention and then getting their approval for that site and then Gall adding it for availability).
Board member Jordan asked the panel if students are using the computers to take notes as opposed to writing them and the students agreed that the majority are using their computers now that they are available to them — if the individual teacher allows it. It was also asked if teachers are catching on as fast as the students to which the students replied that “most are comfortable using them though some are more old-fashioned.”
Damage control was also referred to and it was noted only one computer has been broken thus far though pet cats had chewed through three power cords (at $100 each — $75 to the parents through the insurance plan). Board member Jill Hassel commented that the implementation of the computers appeared to speed things up in the classroom and allowed educators and students greater access to information than textbooks. Students also commented that being able to use the computers as tools and having access to information and modern programs made their classes more like those they will face in college.
Overall the biggest problems anyone is facing at this point with the computers is the students not being able to print things out from home and the temptation of students to get sidetracked from their studies — doing something else on their computers besides homework or paying attention to what is being discussed in class at the time. Principal Jennings noted that students finding it difficult to “stay on task” was “not a surprise” and noted that “even the best students have to develop their own self-discipline.”
Approved recently by the Bremen Public Schools’ Board of Trustees were:
• new contracts — Kelly White as first grade teacher, Elizabeth Goodsell as instructional assistant
• volunteer requests — Kelsy Zumbrun as volunteer sixth grade boys basketball assistant, Mike Shumaker as volunteer high school wrestling coach, Chris Devine as volunteer fifth grade boys basketball coach, and Zach Hundt as volunteer high school wrestling coach
• leave requests — Ralph Breiler (without pay), Larry Kipfer (without pay), Chris English (without pay)
• retirement — Louise Keck from Spanish teacher, and
• resignations — Ashley Manges from K-8 media center assistant, Patsy Foster from cafeteria assistant, and Mischell Browning from Science Club sponsor.