A special meeting of the Agar-Blunt-Onida school board will be held on Tuesday, October 29 at 7:00 p.m. at the Blunt gymnasium.
After receiving the district’s South Dakota Department of Education report card during their meeting on October 16, administrators and board members discussed at length factors leading to the low report card score the Blunt Center received.
“The staff at Blunt is phenomenal,” said Elementary Principal Amber Mikkelsen. “The kids there are lucky.”
Mikkelsen said that in candid conversation with the Blunt staff, a feeling emerged that students were not being best served in the combined classrooms. “Direct contact time with teachers is reduced in a multi-grade classroom.”
Additionally, Mikkelsen says that finding teachers “as good as what we have” is a worry, and taking on combined classrooms a challenge. “Teachers don’t have enough minutes in the day to meet the testing standards.” Mikkelsen further related that with changing expectations, students need more direct instruction.
Secondary principal Jeremy Chicoine noted that Blunt has a higher percentage than Onida of students identified as economically disadvantaged or special needs, factors that impact test scores. “Less direct instruction time compounds the situation.”
Mikkelsen says that administrators put students at the heart of every decision, which “sometimes makes for some hard decisions, but we want to do what’s right for students and their education.”
Although the district would see a costs savings if the Blunt Attendance Center were to close, ABO Superintendent Kevin Pickner stated that would not be the main factor in considering closing the school.
Board member Megan Jaeger agreed, saying, “It’s not financial – we’ve been doing it, we can keep doing it. But I feel very strongly about doing what is right for the kids, and someday – maybe sooner than we’d like – that will mean closing the school, which will be very detrimental to the community. Everybody will be upset when the day comes, but it’s not about the money. It’s about the kids.”
The board has until December 1 to determine if the Blunt Center will close. Should they elect to do so, the savings, in time, might be able to be used to enhance staff salaries, if possible. The board stated that current Blunt staff and students would be absorbed into the district’s other schools.