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Waubun's new superintendent talks discipline, student retention

WAUBUN SCHOOL FOREST, Mahnomen County - In just a few weeks, Waubun-Ogema-White Earth schools will have a new superintendent in place.

With current elementary school principal Mitch Anderson taking the district's top job on July 1, he'll have plenty of help with the transition. Joe Merseth, the current superintendent, will stay on as Anderson's assistant for 50 days during the 2008-09 school year.

"There are some things with negotiations with the non-certified next year, other negotiating rounds, and building projects where it's nice to have him here since he's been around the block a few times with that," Anderson said.

As part of the school board's retreat on Thursday at the Waubun School Forest, the board discussed how the transition would go. Anderson said he wants to make sure he's prepared during the summer months for when school starts back up in the fall.

"I would like to get a lot done during the summer," Anderson said. "Without students in the building, the teachers have the chance and the time to go through things without as much of a hectic schedule."

Another part of the transition is the fact that the elementary school will get a new principal due to Anderson moving up. One problem he recognized is one of discipline.

Tim Spaeth will help with that in his new role as the dean of students. Anderson had the elementary school interventionist, Gary Kircher, in mind for the dean position, but wanted to keep it separate since he didn't want the same person who was supposed to help the kids dishing out punishment as well.

Besides the transition, the board discussed what the district is doing well and what needs help.

Test scores were touted as being above average. Seventy seven percent of 10th graders passed the state reading test, just above the state mark of 75 percent. And 90 percent of ninth-grade students passed the writing exam. Secondary school principal Helen Kennedy said that the state average in writing was in the mid-80s.

Having up-to-date technology has also been a boon to the educational process. One concern that cropped up was the upkeep, since computers and other machines have to be upgraded every few years.

"It's all nice and everything," said board member Tom Teiken. "But when you get a lot of this technology there, the problem that will be is when you don't get the grant money anymore and then you have to start replacing this equipment.

"You have to start budgeting and saving to be able to replace this."

One item that the board noted that the district needed to improve on was school attendance. Kennedy said that some of that comes after the tribally-operated Circle of Life School drops kids, and they began attending Waubun-Ogema-White Earth schools.

"If they didn't have the support at home to get them to school and keep them at school, it's not going to change when they get to our school," Merseth said.

Enforcement of truancy laws helps the situation. But Kennedy said it takes a while for the kids to get into the system.

"When they finally get to Judge Anita (Fineday), she pulls down the hammer on them and they do pay a lot more attention," Kennedy said of the White Earth tribe's efforts in combating truancy.

Kennedy though, did say that attendance among American Indian students is doing well. It fell to 88 percent this year from an all-time high of 90 percent in 2006-07.

The school is on the ball in notifying parents of kids' potential attendance problems, according to Anderson. He said that after three days of not getting a phone call or note, the elementary school follows up.