Houston Public Schools
Superintendent, Krin Abraham

 

 
306 West Elm Street Houston, MN 55943      ♦      Phone 507-896-5323, option 5      ♦     Fax 507-896-3452







June 2019

Another school year has drawn to a close and another class of students have joined the ranks of Houston High School alumni. Even before the school year ends, we at Houston Public Schools are making plans to improve the educational environment and instruction for the next school year. Since improving STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) opportunities for our students is a district goal, one area of improvement both at the elementary and high schools is in science. The high school science rooms are being updated and we are creating what has been deemed a “maker-space” room at the elementary school. The maker-space room will be equipped with hands-on science equipment to allow students and teachers more opportunities to expand science learning and instruction. 

We had success this year both academically and athletically. Houston High School was rated as one of the best in the state by US News and World Report. The girls’ basketball team earned a conference championship, the first in school history, and we had a wrestler make it to state.

Speaking of athletics, the school board approved new rates for passes for athletic events. We will now be allowing high school students to attend athletic events free of charge so all the students can support their classmates without a financial burden. We will not be selling passes for students who are in sixth grade or younger. Instead these younger students may come to games free of charge as long as they are accompanied by a parent or guardian. Therefore, we now have family passes to accommodate this change. Young students will need to sit with their parents or guardians at the games and will not be allowed to play in the hallways unattended anymore. With the increase in high school attendance we are hoping to see from free admission, the adults who are responsible for monitoring the events will not be able to also monitor children in the hallways.

The chart below shows the new prices for passes. The cost of our family pass is $45 to $90 less than other schools that have the family pass.

Current Pass    Cost               New Pass            Cost

Student               $15                 Student 7-12             Free
Couple                $70                 Family                       $90
                                                  Single Adult Family    $60

Adult                   $40                 Adult (no children)     $40
Senior Citizen     $25                 Senior Citizen            $25

By keeping the costs low and encouraging families to attend games, we are hoping to fill the shelter for every game. Let’s show that Hurricane spirit!

The Houston High School building is buzzing with activity, but it’s not the typical summer activity. Due to the age of most of the floor tiles in the high school building (50-60+ years old), we needed to replace the flooring in seventeen of the classrooms. The tiles and the glue that held them in place tested positive for asbestos; therefore, we needed to abate the tiles and grind the floor to bare concrete before we can replace the tiles. During the abatement process, the different areas being abated are sealed to ensure no dust particles can escape during the abatement; therefore, there is no health risk to any employee or visitor to the building during the process. The new tiles will be heavy-duty, no-wax tiles so the rooms in the high school building will not need to be closed off for refinishing and waxing in the future.

The tile removal triggered a science room rehabilitation as well. Since the science room casement was placed on top of the tile, the cabinets and piping needed to be removed so the floor glue could be sanded. We are redoing the science rooms so that they will be more flexible learning spaces to allow for more diverse learning opportunities for our students. We are planning to have an open house before school begins in the fall to show the community the changes.

The winter of 2019 was definitely one for the record books. Houston Schools, like the surrounding districts, had to use ten snow days due to cold temperatures, ice, and / or excessive snow. We needed to extend the school day by fourteen minutes the last quarter of school to make up time lost. This loss of educational time spurred the school board and staff to consider creating a plan for eLearning days. According to Statute 120A.414 Subdivision 1: "E-learning day" means a school day where a school offers full access to online instruction provided by students' individual teachers due to inclement weather. A school district or charter school that chooses to have e-learning days may have up to five (5) e-learning days in one school year. An e-learning day is counted as a day of instruction and included in the hours of instruction under section 120A.41.

At the May 16th board meeting, the school board approved the eLearning plan for Houston Preschool, Elementary and High Schools, as well as Summit Learning Center. Next winter, if the weather is inclement and not safe for buses, the announcement might say Houston is having an eLearning Day instead of saying school is closed. This means that the students and teachers will not report to the buildings but they can do school at home. Several of the surrounding districts use eLearning Days, and we have learned from their successes and from some of the problems they encountered during their first year of implementation. The first step was for the board to approve a computer take-home process for the high school students, which was found to be vital to the success of the plans from other districts.

The entire plan and computer take-home procedures will be sent home with back-to-school information in August; however, the plan is posted online on the district website in the Notices and Reports section, a link to which can be found on the home page under the Quick Links section. The plan allows for a great deal of flexibility; however, as we work to implement the plan, please know that we will be receptive to comments and concerns about the plan facilitation.







March 2019

This winter has been one for the record books for several reasons. We experienced brutal cold in January and record snowfall in February. Therefore, Houston Public Schools, like the majority of schools in the state, had more than our average number of snow days, way more than our average, in fact. School districts must follow statute as far as the number of days we must be in session and the number of hours of instruction each student must receive. According to Minnesota Statute 120A.41a:

A school board's annual school calendar must include at least 425 hours of instruction for a kindergarten student without a disability, 935 hours of instruction for a student in grades 1 through 6, and 1,020 hours of instruction for a student in grades 7 through 12, not including summer school. The school calendar for all-day kindergarten must include at least 850 hours of instruction for the school year. The school calendar for a prekindergarten student under section 124D.151, if offered by the district, must include at least 350 hours of instruction for the school year. A school board's annual calendar must include at least 165 days of instruction for a student in grades 1 through 11 unless a four-day week schedule has been approved by the commissioner under section 124D.126.

The calendar adopted by the Houston Public Schools Board of Education has 174 days of student instruction and more than enough hours of instruction for each of the grade bands. However, with the snow days we have had this year, we are now slated to have 165 days of instruction, which is still adhering to statute minimums. Unfortunately, we had fallen below the 1020 hours of instruction for the high school and below the 350 hours for the preschool. For this reason, the board voted to add 14 minutes each day to the high school instructional day and 5 minutes to the elementary and preschool day starting on March 11. This would provide the extra time we need to still adhere to the hour requirements in the statute. The Board felt this action was the least disruptive to families since the bus schedules did not have to be modified much, if at all.

Currently, a bill that offers school districts relief is waiting for the Governor’s signature. However, if we use any part of the bill, we need to adhere to all of it, and some of the language requires some cumbersome tasks. Minnesota School Board Association summarized the key points that impact us:

  • The board of a school district or charter school that canceled school on one or more days during the 2018-2019 school year due to health and safety concerns may count those days as instructional days for purposes of calculating the number of hours and days in the school year.
  • If a school district would not have met the required minimum number of days and hours of instruction for students, it must report to the commissioner of education the number of days and hours that the district counted to meet the required days and hours of instruction. A district is also encouraged to adopt an e-learning plan.
  • If a school board resolves to count a day that school was canceled as an instructional day, the school district must compensate employees and contract employers by paying them or allowing them to work another day the school designates.







December 2018

In a recent edition of The Banner, Fred Arnold, the Chair of the Board of Houston County Commissioners, wrote a very informative letter about property value changes and the impact on taxes. The school taxes are directly linked to the property values assessed on the properties within the district. Legislatively, there have been some changes that have lessened some of the school tax burden on taxpayers, especially rural landowners, with the Ag2School credits. However, Houston Public Schools will experience a reduction in the amount of money generated from the same tax rate in the upcoming year. This means that if the school district keeps the taxes at the same rate in 2019 as it had in 2018, the amount of money we will receive in taxes will decrease. In 2017, we did reduce the tax rate since the amount of money generated by the tax rate increased enough to offset the reduction. With tax changes and property value re-assessments, we will need to raise our tax rate back to the 2017 level just to generate the same amount of money the taxes generated this year. I don’t know of anyone who wants more taxes; however, with inflation slightly over 2%, maintaining a budget at the same dollar amount still will require some cuts to spending.

The members of the Houston Public School Board of Education will weigh the options with our budget, always keeping an eye to what is in the best interest of our students. The School Board will have a new face starting in January. Arlin “Pete” Peterson was elected as a write-in candidate. Gary Wilson, a longstanding member of the Board, decided not to run for a seat on the Board again after serving almost 13 years as a dedicated Board member. We thank him for his tireless service to our school district and welcome Board member Peterson.

The seven-member board will have many decisions to make as this next year unfolds. Our Board meetings are held, typically, at 6:00 PM on the first and third Thursdays of each month; however, the meetings are also streamed live on YouTube and archived on the school website. We value the input of our community members as we are discussing and weighing our options. The Board meetings are open to the public and have a time for public comment built into the agendas. We also have the Feedback and Question form that can be found online on the left-hand side of the district website (www.houston.k12.mn.us). This form can be used to send comments or questions, which will be answered within 24 hours. The board members are also apprised of the comments or questions that come in this manner. Houston Public Schools is the community’s school and we would like to know if you have questions or concerns about the decisions made at Board meetings.

In 2016, we needed to remove asbestos from the Houston Elementary and High School buildings due to construction that was planned that summer. Now, 2 years later, we are looking at needing to remove the remaining asbestos containing materials from the high school. We have 17 classrooms that have floor tiles that contain asbestos. As the tiles are between 48 to 61 years old, they are showing wear and need to be replaced but can’t be replaced without going through the abatement process. Therefore, it is most economical to abate all the rooms at once, but that also means we have to replace all the floors at the same time. We have money set aside in our Long-term Facility Maintenance fund, the same fund that was used to pay for the building upgrades that were installed in 2015-2016. In January, we will need to go out for bids for both the abatement and the replacement of the floors.

The same fund source will be used to replace the galvanized water pipes that are breaking in the high school due to age. This will include replacing the water pipes to the science room, which along with the abatement that must be conducted in the science rooms, offers the opportunity to rehab our science rooms so they can be used more efficiently to address the expanding scope of science for our students. We have been looking at the best configurations for science labs, with the desire to create spaces that can adapt to changes while being able to last the 50 years the current labs have existed. As decisions are made, we will continue to inform the community and provide opportunities for comments to be made.

At Board meetings in November and December, the community heard about the opportunity our school district has to expand the offerings at Minnesota Virtual Academy by creating a Destinations Career Academy (DCA), as a school-within-a-school focusing on Career and Technical Education (CTE) career clusters. We are hoping that students next fall can register for DCA courses, working toward industry-recognized certifications. For the first year of the DCA, we are planning to have the two career clusters of business and health and human services offered to students. We are hoping to expand these career clusters and continue to offer more opportunities as the school-within-the-school grows. This expansion will be discussed and communicated at future board meetings and in future editions of Education Matters.







September 2018

At the end of the last school year, the district contracted with IEA (Institute for Environmental Assessment) to test the water in the district’s schools. We knew we needed to test for lead in the water after the passage of the legislation mandating testing. We had been testing for lead previously, but the new legislation mandated that we adopt a water-testing plan and test the water at least once every five years. Since we were already testing the water, the School Board felt this was the optimal time to also test for other elements in the water. Therefore, we had IEA also test for radium and metals.

The results came back, and those results were mainly very good. However, we did have some areas of concern. At the high school, three faucets showed high levels of lead. These faucets are not used for drinking water, but we are in the process of replacing the pipes to those faucets with PEX to mitigate the amount of lead coming to the faucets. The preschool also showed higher than acceptable levels of radium in the water. Representatives from IEA said that a salt-based water softener would take care of any radium in the water. The elementary and high schools both have water softeners, which is why no radium was present in any of the water samples from either building. Therefore, a commercial grade water softener has been installed at the preschool.  Our goal is to ensure our students, staff and community have access to safe water sources when at our school facilities.







June 2018

The 2017-2018 school year is now history and we are busily trying to prepare for a successful 2018-2019 school year. However, this past year saw some accomplishments that need to be celebrated. The following list is just a sample of some of those noteworthy events:

  • Houston High School saw its first individual state champion in Wrestling when Zach Schneider won his weight class at the 2018 Minnesota State Wrestling Meet.
  • Noah Carlson became the second Houston High School student in ten years to be named the Minnesota State Triple “A” Award winner.
  • For the first time in school history, the Houston Girls’ Basketball Team earned the title of Conference Champions.
  • Houston High School was named a Silver Medal School by US News and World Report.
  • Lilli Carlson, a Houston Junior, advanced to the Minnesota Speech meet in the Extemporaneous Reading category.
  • The Houston High School Dance team earned the distinction of advancing to the Minnesota State Dance meet.
  • Adaptive Bowling, in its first year at Houston High School, sent two students—Jared Larson and Mackenzie Zibrowski—to the state meet.
  • Houston Senior Cullan Olson advanced to the Minnesota State Track and Field Meet and earned a 6th place medal in the shot put, with a throw of 51’ 3”.

That is a great deal of success in one year, but through planning and implementation of changes, we are hoping the successes continue to multiply in the next years.  Some of the changes will be quite visible, such as the new signage that will be installed on each of the three buildings and directional signage that will be installed in the teardrop at the high school. We have never had signage to let people know which building is which. The HHS Honor Society spearheaded the project, and we hope the community will be proud of the additions to the buildings. We also are excited to install playground equipment at the Preschool site.

Other changes will be in the buildings themselves. Marty Momsen, after traveling aboard Dr. Robert Ballard’s Nautilus, will share with his Houston High School students the new discoveries from his deep-sea exploration. For those who don’t want to wait until September to hear about the journey, log onto www.nautiluslive.org from June 12 to July 2 when Mr. Momsen and his fellow explorers will be live streaming their adventures. This summer, the Houston High School English teachers will be updating the English courses to address the new career- and college-ready activities, while the Houston Elementary teachers are mapping their mathematics curriculum to ensure each standard is thoroughly instructed and can be mastered by the students. Next fall, Houston Elementary School will have a Social Worker, who will be able to help students, their parents and their teachers identify the issues that are getting in the way of the students’ learning and help the students get the assistance they need to find success. Each of these changes is focused on improving the service and education we can provide to the students at Houston Public Schools so the students can be successful. Our mission at Houston Public Schools is to discover, develop and achieve the potential within all learners. The changes we are making this summer will help us advance that mission to ensure our students are successful and ready to achieve great things in their lives. 







March 2018

For the past year, the School Board along with the District Leadership Team, faculty representatives and some community members have been working to establish a clear plan for continuous, strategic improvement at Houston Public Schools.  Four areas of focus have emerged as the priorities of this work. Those areas are

  • Technology Utilization;
  • Relevant Course Offerings and Curriculum Development;
  • Marketing our District and Offerings;
  • Partnerships with other Entities, such as Businesses and Colleges.

Within the area of technology utilization, the district has been very actively improving infrastructure and software. During the last summer, the wireless access points in the buildings were upgraded to ensure that the students and teachers had the bandwidth necessary for all the students in a classroom to be able to access the internet or web-based curriculum without slowdowns, buffering, or lags. The cost of this improvement was partially covered with a federal program called eRate, governed by the Federal Communications Commission.  This allowed for us to install a state-of-the-art system without breaking the bank. We also have started to use a learner management system called Schoology in the local schools, much like we already do with the online school with their use of Desire 2 Learn. As the teachers get knowledgeable of the capabilities of Schoology, students will find that this is a very beneficial tool for them to organize their schoolwork and assignments. As we work to ensure that all our students are career- and college-ready, we need to expose them to the types of learning environments they are going to be experiencing after they graduate.

Within the area of relevant course offerings and curriculum development, the work is ongoing. This year students in seventh and eighth grades at Houston High School are using an adaptive, online math program instead of the traditional textbooks. Each student is learning at his or her own pace and mastering the mathematics. The students are learning the math quickly, but more importantly, they are learning the math completely. The teachers feel this is a major improvement since they have the time to work with the students on the topics with which the students are having difficulties. It does take a great deal of organization for the teachers, but they feel the extra work is worth the benefits their students are receiving. The high school students also have new offerings in computer science this year. As we look to planning for next year, the high school English teachers are planning to retool their classes to ensure that the students are mastering the required standards while also preparing for careers and college-level work. This is part two of the work started last summer by the elementary teachers, when they mapped their English / language arts curriculum to ensure all standards were addressed and the learning could be seamless from one grade to the next.

The partnerships area is being helped by the work that Courtney Bergey, of Community and Economic Development Associates, has been doing to develop school-community partnerships so students have opportunities to see and experience the types of careers that exist here in Southeastern Minnesota.  On April 11, an advisory committee will be convened to develop more connections between the schools and the businesses in Houston County. Houston Public Schools will be represented on this committee by both the superintendent and the high school principal.

Finally, the marketing area is being addressed at a meeting of the superintendent and two board members, where ideas for additional marketing of our district will be discussed. Currently, we have this newsletter, Education Matters; our website, www.houston.k12.mn.us; our local papers; and a brochure that was created two years ago to use for marketing. However, we can always improve our outreach and communication with the community and current and future students and families. If you have any ideas on ways in which we could improve our marketing, or any of the other areas of focus, please don’t hesitate to call or email me, Krin Abraham at 507-896-5323 or krin.abraham@hps294.us.

Continuous improvement also means continuous change, but we at Houston Public Schools know we can always find ways to improve in order to provide the best education possible for our students. As you read this edition of Education Matters, you will see that our students have done some amazing things this past quarter. We are proud of our students and staff and want to share their accomplishments with the community.

 

 





DECEMBER 2017
As educators we are constantly researching ways to really push the district to embody its mission statement of discovering, developing and achieving the potential within all learners. Besides implementing new curricula and an online learner management system, we have also implemented Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) to help students learn the “soft skills” that are as vital for success as the content knowledge assessed by local, state and national tests. While PBIS has provided benefits to the students and school, we saw that while PBIS helped with the “what” students should do to be positive and productive, it really didn’t address the “why” or the “how” they should do it. To help students develop the tools they need to become reflective and productive members of society, the staff at Houston Public Schools has started on the journey to become a Top 20 District when we started learning how we could live “Above the Line” from Top 20 curriculum developer Tom Cody. Over 200,000 educators across the United States and Canada have been trained on the Top 20 Training principles that assist in learning to control one’s feelings and overcome one’s weaknesses. These are the same principles that research has shown to be more indicative of successful academic performance than IQ, according to research conducted by Angela Duckworth and Martin Seligman, Professors of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

On February 21, the high school students at Houston High School will start their journey with Mr. Cody. However, we really want the parents to be on this journey with us and understand what it means to be a Top 20 District. Therefore, on February 20 at 7:00 in the evening, Tom Cody will be here to let the parents and community members know what Top 20 Training is all about. According to Mr. Cody, “This one-of-a-kind session focuses on becoming aware of our thinking as parents so we know when it is working and when it is not working. It explores (1) the conditions that come up in our lives that invite us to go Below the Line, (2) indicators telling us when we are Below, (3) how to handle Below the Line experiences with more grace and dignity and (4) how to trampoline back Above the Line. We will also take a look how we handle Mistakes (our and our children's) based on our Line!” Everyone is invited to this engaging evening with Tom Cody. This is not just for parents of high school students, or parents of any students for that matter; anyone can benefit from hearing the information Mr. Cody will share with us.
 
 




SEPTEMBER 2017
Houston Public Schools’ food service program takes pride in serving nutritious meals daily to our students. We are firm believers that hungry students cannot learn, and we do not want students to go without lunch. However, we also have to operate the food service program in a fiscally responsible manner. The School Board had originally decided that no child would be turned away from breakfast or lunch, but we now have almost $23,000 in unpaid meal charges. On June 15, 2017, the School Board adopted a state-model policy concerning unpaid meal charges. A synopsis of the policy is as follows:
 
  • The school district will email account balance information regularly to all parents.
  • A student who has reached a negative lunch account balance will not be allowed to charge a la carte items.
  • The school district will call the parent if the account accrues a negative balance $50 of unpaid charges.
  • The school district will call the parent if the account accrues a negative balance of $100 of unpaid charges and will turn the debt over to a collection agency if payments are not made or arranged prior to the end of the month.
  • If a student’s lunch account reaches unpaid charges of $100, the student will need to pay cash for any meal or food item.
  • Negative balances generated prior to July 1, 2017 will be addressed according to the procedures outlined in this policy.
If a parent feels he/she cannot afford to pay for his/her child’s lunch and or breakfast, the parent should complete the application for free or reduced price meals, which was mailed earlier this summer. Any child who qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch will always be provided with breakfast and lunch, regardless of his/her account balance.