Laurens-Marathon: Whole-grade sharing, The agreement is working

Elementary testing scores increase

-Messenger photo by Peter Kaspari
Leslie Stewart, a reading and math specialist at the Laurens-Marathon Community School District, goes over some reading assignments with students.

In its first year of a whole-grade sharing agreement, the superintendent of the Laurens-Marathon Community School District said the students have reacted positively to the change.

Starting in the fall of 2017, high school students at Laurens-Marathon began attending all their classes at the Pocahontas Area Community School District.

The whole-grade sharing agreement was approved earlier in the year.

Superintendent Scott Williamson said students have responded well to the change.

“The whole-grade sharing program that is set up with Pocahontas has gone very well, where the kids are there for the full school day,” he said. “I think that’s been very positive on the students, that they know in the morning they go there and spend all day at Pocahontas.”

The district had previously been in a partial-grade sharing agreement, but it was expanded to whole-grade because Laurens-Marathon did not have enough students enrolled in classes it was required to offer.

While the high school students attend school in Pocahontas, Williamson said the other grades in Laurens-Marathon are seeing successes as well.

At the elementary level, all indications are that test scores are going up.

“We have preliminary data indicating that scores are increasing, or coming up a little bit this year,” he said. “We see data that shows us that we’re climbing, but we’re waiting for all the data.”

At this point, however, Williamson said there’s no indication that the data is incorrect.

“The preliminary data is very positive,” he said.

For middle-schoolers, Williamson said the school is looking at ways of increasing engagement.

Working with Troy Oehlertz, pre-k through eighth grade principal and district curriculum director, school staff are in the process of brainstorming ideas that will benefit the middle-schoolers, though nothing concrete has been selected yet.

“I don’t know what they’re going to implement, but they’re definitely looking at a couple programs here,” Williamson said. “What can we do to increase engagement between students and the school district. We just haven’t chosen yet.”

Whatever is chosen, Williamson believes it will be a great benefit to the student body.

“There’s no doubt that engaged students make very good students,” he said. “We can do a lot of things.”

Williamson added the school is looking at a new capital project to improve the school’s playground, which is used by kindergarteners through sixth graders.

In particular, the school wants to put in adjustable basketball hoops.

“Currently what we want to do is put in a new flat cement slab with multiple baskets on it,” he said. “Currently, the baskets are 10 feet and at that height, they’re not adjustable.”

This makes it more difficult for younger children to play basketball on the playground.

Williamson added the school will very soon begin another project that intends to increase school culture.

“We’re in the process of getting pictures of our students at work and getting those posted throughout the building,” Williamson said. “The project started in October.”

So far, all the pictures have been taken, and the school is just about ready to hang them up.

This year also marked Williamson’s first as superintendent. He is a part-time superintendent in Laurens-Marathon, and is shared between that district and the Sioux Central Community School District.

He has enjoyed the role as shared superintendent, even if it has come with some challenges.

“It’s just a time-consuming job itself,” he said. “But I have enjoyed doing it. We’re trying to make positive progress in everything we do over there.”

Williamson praised the previous superintendent, Jeff Kruse, who was brought on as the Laurens-Marathon superintendent when the district was in financial trouble, with a more than $200,000 budget shortfall.

“The previous superintendent, he did the hard work with the financial situation,” he said. “Now our job is to maintain and not go back to that situation again.”