Renaissance Academy offers students alternative choices

Posted 3/29/22

RF School Board approves several retirements RIVER FALLS – According to its motto, the Renaissance Charter Academy models acceptance, compassion and dignity. It nurtures independence, …

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Renaissance Academy offers students alternative choices

Posted

RF School Board approves several retirements

RIVER FALLS – According to its motto, the Renaissance Charter Academy models acceptance, compassion and dignity. It nurtures independence, responsibility and individual strengths to foster personal growth and academic success.

Principal Chris Silver gave the River Falls School Board a look at the “Ren” at the Monday, March 21 meeting at how it works.

For the 2022-23 school year, the Ren will focus on aligning its courses with River Falls High School’s core subjects to allow for transcript consistency. A new Ren academic career path planning guide website will highlight course descriptions, career pathways and college information for users.

In the future, Silver and his team would like to visit other alternative schools in order to compare notes and see what is working for them.

“We are one of the only alternative schools in our region that offers something beyond GED prep,” Silver said.

The team is also working to address students’ mental health issues, which is “big for us,” Silver said. “We work with a lot of students struggling in this area.”

Some ways the school is addressing mental health include:

•Restorative practices to offer therapeutic support

•Collaboration with Sexual Assault Response Team in River Falls

•Teaching a wellness curriculum on Fridays

•Continuous collaboration with Pierce and St. Croix human services departments and Positive Alternatives, a nonprofit that works with families and youth

•Collaboration with the Family Resource Center for pregnant and parenting teens

•Working with the Emily Program in St. Paul for eating disorders “This hasn’t been an easy two years for all students, high school as well, but in our program we’ve been hit pretty hard with some pretty significant mental health challenges,” Silver said.

As for demographics, out of 39 students surveyed, 14 identify as LGBTQ, Silver said. Four students are homeless, but are on track to graduate. Many students grapple with economic security issues, but the Ren works to provide them resources. For example, the Ren has partnered with the River Falls Community Food Pantry to create an onsite food shelf for Ren families. So far this year, it has provided 897 pounds of food to students’ families and they recently received a $1,000 cash donation to purchase clothing and food. Students also volunteer at the food pantry.

“Many have a transportation issue, so we have brought the food shelf to them,” Silver said.

There are many things to celebrate at the Ren as well, Silver noted. This year, four students will graduate as the first high school graduates in their families. Out of 22 seniors, 21 will graduate on time.

Of the 66 Ren students, all but two reported in a survey having a “significant connection” to the Ren staff. Silver believes the 1:14 studentteacher ratio allows the school to feel more like a family, where everyone knows one other. It’s a safe place for kids who have had hardship.

As for the future, the school plans to continue its development of career pathways for students. This includes reopening the shop, which Covid shut down, and relaunching student enterprises, such as building and selling Adirondack chairs, fabricating metal signs with the CNC machine, and building electric guitars. They will also continue their partnerships with the Chippewa Valley Technical College Welding Academy and business and agriculture education programs there (for transcripted credit).

“We know of many success stories of recent graduates who have entered the workforce as manufacturing, hospitality and health care professionals,” said Silver.

However, the Ren is hoping to gather more data from graduates through surveys. Questions will be asked such as “How did the Renaissance help you?” and “What did you need that the Renaissance didn’t provide?”

Silver and his staff are looking forward to their new space, which has been discussed in school board committees but not revealed yet. They are currently housed at Hagestad Hall on the UW-River Falls campus, where they moved after vacating the Wasson Lane property. Silver and Board President Stacy Johnson Myers expressed gratitude for UWRF’s accommodating partnership.

With the current space, the Ren is limited to 60 to 70 students. The new building will include a science and family consumer science lab, with the hope to offer chemistry, physiology or advanced biology classes to help students move to the next career step. A new space will allow for expanding open enrollment and equitable learning opportunities. Silver said he’d like enrollment to be capped at around 100 students in order to maintain the family atmosphere. Since many of the students are higher needs, keeping that smaller student-to-teacher ratio is important.

Personnel

The board approved the following personnel changes. Johnson Myers warned there are “some hard goodbyes” in this batch of retirements.

Hires: Kennedy Kling, full-time long-term substitute special education teacher at Greenwood; McKenna Garman, full-time long-term substitute special education teacher at Greenwood (for Stephanie Heinen March 28 through April 8); short-term on-call substitute teachers Gregory Weaver, Kathi Nelson, McKenna Garman, Amanda Janquart and Chelsea McDonald. Resignations: Rebecca Pelton, first grade teacher at Westside, effective March 25; Cal Johnson, full-time school counselor at RFHS, RF Virtual School, and Renaissance Academy; Randy Goss, full-time math teacher at MMS; Brittany Johnson, full-time science teacher at RFHS; Carolyne Pellegrini, full-time special education teacher at Rocky Branch; Retirements: Charles Eaton, principal at Rocky Branch, 23 years of service; Kris Swanson, full-time music teacher at Ricky Branch, 15 years of service; Deb Ottman, full-time RFHS family and consumer education teacher, 26 years of service; Joe Young, fifth grade teacher at Rocky Branch, 28 years of service; Susan Popelka, RFHS math teacher, 25 years of service; Becky Behrends, MMS special education teacher, 32 years of service; Jill McCarthy, Westside special education teacher, six years of service.

The board also approved the one-time addition of two sick days to the 2022-23 school year for staff, as recognition of the hardships they’ve faced over the pandemic; the 2022-23 school calendar (first official day of school is Sept. 1); the 2022-23 list of important dates; and the updated school psychologist job description.

Other business

•The board honored Dennis & Carol Ireland with the Wildcat Pride Award for their donation of eight lighted crosswalk signs near area schools. The signs have push-button technology and blinking lights. School Board Treasurer Todd Schultz described the gift as “priceless and immeasurable.”

“Your example of generosity to improve the quality of life for all who live in our community is an example of putting others above yourself,” said Schultz.

•The Educational Program Committee heard an update on the plan to transition MMS to standards- based grading in the 2023-24 school year.

•The board approved the Girls Hockey Coop for the upcoming two-year period for River Falls, St. Croix Central and Baldwin-Woodville.

•Summer school registration is still open, with more sessions added after 240 students registered in the first four days.

•The board approved the shared services agreement with CESA 11 for the 2022-23 school year.

•The board approved a resolution reaffirming the commitment of the city, the school district, UWRF and CVTC to embrace their roles as leaders in sustainability in the community, region and state. The commitment lets residents and community partners know that those entities will continue striving for more as it relates to sustainability.

•The board voted to select Medica’s Choice Plus Passport Plan for the 2022-23 health insurance provider. The overall cost of the premium will decrease by 4.1%.