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News from the week of March 17, 2004

Spanish students bound for Paris, not Madrid

Terrorist bombings in Madrid last week have prompted some itinerary changes for a Tracy Area High School group that is headed to Europe this weekend.

Ten Tracy seniors and teacher Shorty Engel will fly to Paris, France, rather than Madrid, Spain, as originally scheduled. The change was made in the wake of the March 11 train bombing in Madrid that killed at least 200 people and injured 1,600.

Parents and school staff discussed the situation on Monday, and decided to start their study trip in Paris, and not travel to Madrid.

"We felt that it would not be prudent to go there now (Madrid)," said Engel.

Plans are for the Tracy group to leave fly out of Minneapolis-St. Paul on Saturday. After picking up a connecting flight in Chicago, the Minnesota's would then fly directly to Paris. After four days of seeing attractions in the Paris vicinity, the students will take first a train, and then a bus to Logrono, in northeastern Spain, where each student will live for five days with a Spanish family. The trip will conclude with several days of touring in and around Barcelona, a Mediterranean coastal city in Eastern Spain. The group is scheduled to return April 3.

The trip is being taken through the Language and Friendships organization.

Engel, who for many years taught French at the high school, led many student groups to France. He has served as the school's Spanish teacher this winter while regular teacher Pam Anderson has been on a maternity leave. Engel is familiar with the recently added travel itinerary in Paris from previous trips to Europe.

The seniors who are taking the trip are third-year Spanish students. They are: Megan Anderson, Anders Davidson, Ryan Stobb, Jason Morin, Cassidy Eastman, Mollie Goltz, Emily Rayman, Kasey Loeslie, Stef Hebig, and Emily Miller.

School mulls retention policy

What can schools do, if student doesn't do work?

By Val Scherbart Quist

When should a student be held back? That's one of the many questions being raised by Tracy Area Public Schools administration in preparation for implementation of the new No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education standards.

The District 417 school board discussed the district's retention policy at their meeting last Monday.

Under NCLB, if students aren't ready to advance to the next grade level, it doesn't just affect the student anymore, it affects the whole school, said Supt. David Marlette. Students throughout a school district must show that they are making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) according to NCLB guidelines. If they are not, the school district faces sanctions including the loss of federal funding.

It's not necessarily lack of ability, but a willingness to work, that can hinder some students' progress, said Marlette. The issue is that some students simply choose not to do their work.

At Tracy Elementary there are now three options for students at the end of a school year: promotion, retention, or assignment, said Elementary Principal Scott Loeslie. A student is promoted to the next grade if he or she has met the criteria expected of the specific grade level.

There are two options for a student who has not demonstrated the required skills for the current grade level: retention or assignment. A student is retained if teachers, parents, and building administrator agree that retention is in the best interest of the child. Tracy Elementary also uses the “Light's Retention Scale” which uses several factors to determine whether a student should be retained.

A student can be assigned to a grade if he or she has not met or shown evidence of being successful at the current grade level, but not all team members (teachers, parents, and building administrator) agree with the decision to retain the student. If a student is assigned to a grade, the parents must agree to take responsibility for the decision, and are made aware that students who are assigned will likely meet with minimal, limited, or no success in completing the school work required at the next grade level. The decision to assign is also noted on the student's report card, cumulative file, and forwarded to the appropriate instructional staff for the beginning of the next school year.

On the high school level, the considerations are different because the students aren't in one classroom for the entire day. Issues such as whether to make a student re-take an entire year or just the class arise.

“The more students are held back, the more likely they are to drop out,” said Chad Anderson, high school principal.

Anderson described several ways that have been implemented to encourage students to get their work done and improve their grades. In math, for instance, students are allowed to correct their homework and turn it back in to receive additional points. The problem, said Anderson, is that many students aren't doing their homework or correcting it. Loeslie said upper level elementary students also have the opportunity to improve their grades by correcting homework as well.

Morning help sessions have also been tried at the high school, but again participation has been an issue. Options such as keeping kids after school are also being looked into.

Macs or PCs? Board favors PCs

On a 4-3 vote, the District 417 Board of Education has said “no” to a proposed three-year technology plan. In rejecting the plan, several board members expressed preferences for phasing out the district's Macintosh computers in favor of PCs.

Tracy Area Public Schools technology coordinator Nan Ladehoff had recommended a technology plan that continues to use Macintosh computers. A school technology plan must be compiled every three years and sent in to the state.

At a March 8 meeting, several board members expressed concern that the district continues to use Macintosh computers because of curricular issues. Many felt that it would be more beneficial to students to learn on PCs, which, they said, students would be more likely to use in the future.

“I think we're doing our kids a disservice,” said board member Ed Carter.

Board member Eric Nelson said he was under impression that the district was moving toward the use of PCs when the last two new computer labs were approved.

Ladehoff said there would be several costs involved with switching from Macintosh to PCs, such as software conversion, in addition to the cost of new computers. She said she did not see that students had difficulty in adapting from using only Macintosh computers on the elementary school level to learning how to use PCs in high school.

Nelson also felt that the board should have received the plan sooner.

The original deadline for the technology plan to be submitted to the state was March 1. The district received an extension until March 15. March 15 was also the deadline for the district to receive E-rate funding. Ladehoff said that board approval was not needed in order for the plan to be sent in.

Magical act? It's enchanting!

By Seth Schmidt

Lary Parker leads a double life.

Most of the time, he's an affable Tracy businessman, adept at the mysteries of computer software and technology. His white Ford Escort station wagon is often parked outside of Tracy Computer and Office Supply long after regular business hours.

The Tracy man favors traditional button-down shirts and sweaters as his every day working garb. But occasionally, the mustachioed Parker dons a derby hat and black cape to become Lary Parker the Magician.

"I've been doing magic shows for 30 some years now," he says. "It's something that I do mainly for fun."

Parker has staged magic shows in settings as glamorous as a Las Vegas casino, or as ordinary as a school gym. His magician's wand has waved for both multitudes and handfuls. Cruise ships, TV shows, sports arenas, schools, hospitals, and convention centers, casinos and fairgrounds have been among his venues.

"I've done about 13 or 14 shows since I moved here," said Parker, who opened his Tracy business late last summer. "With my new business, I just don't have time for any more."

His shows today tend to be small: a tri-hospital health fair, Christmas parties, and performances for school children. But Parker's magic career has involved the elaborate and the spectacular.

"I've done the big stage shows, where it takes two semis to haul all the stuff you needs, plus nine to 11 people helping with the show." Parker explains that preparations for a one to two hour stage show can easily run 30 to 60 hours.

One of his most spectacular illusions occurred at the Dacotah Speedway in Mandan, ND. Parker had himself chained and padlocked before being placed into a wooden box on the racetrack. The magician, the crowd was told, would extricate himself from the box before a water truck completed a lap around the track. But nothing happened around the box. As the aghast crowd looked on, the truck smashed into the box, sending debris flying. The truck returned. This time, Parker was driving the truck, mystifying and delighting spectators.

"I dearly love doing magic," Parker says of his hobby. "If I can give people some fun and relaxation, away from their normal routines and stresses of life, then I feel like I'm doing something worthwhile."

Buoyed by another victory, speakers prepare for sub-section

A dozen Tracy area High School students placed in the top six to lead their team to first-place in the Redwood Valley Speech Invitational. More than 30 students participated

Dane Bloch finished second original oratory to lead the team. Sophomore Dani thooft was third in poetry. seventh grader Melissa Noerenberg earned a blue ribbon in poetry. Humorists Julia Olson, Skylar Carlson, and Jessica Mason placed fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively. Eighth grader Megan Landa earned a red ribbon in humor.

Senior Ann Lanoue earned a fourth place in great speeches with sophomore Rebecca Gervais received a ribbon in the same category. In serious drama, Casie Miller finished fifth. Expemporaneous rader Johanna Schmidt earned a blue ribbon. In serious prose, Brad Lanoue finished third. Teammates Carly Miller and Kyle Lessman earned blue ribbons. Jordan Christiansen, was fifth in informative, while Jenna Fischer was a ribbon winner.

Storyteller's Dani Jones, Brittnee Michale, and Celia Brockway did well with Jones finishing third, Michael fifth and Brockway sixth. This week, the team wil be busy preparing for the upcoming sub-section tournament to be held this Saturday at 9 a.m. in Canby.

Schwans gives $2,000 to TAHS scholarship fund

The Schwans Food Company has made a $2,000 donation to the Tracy Dollars for Scholars program.

"It was a complete surprise, and very much appreciated," said Chris Kamrud, Tracy Area High School counselor.

The Dollars for Scholars program in Tracy was launched several years ago, largely because of an initiative from the Marshall-based company. At that time, Schwans gave $2,000 to start the program, and then matched $5,000 in local contributions.

Kamrud said that the Tracy Dollars for Scholars program has a balance of about $16,000. Hopes are to build the principal, so that scholarship distributions can be given from mostly interest income, Kamrud said.

Dollars for Scholars gave out its first two post-secondary scholarships last spring.

Kamrud also thanked the Tracy High School Class of 1959 for a recent Dollars-for-Scholars donation of $229.

"(Their) vote of confidence in our young people is most encouraging," Kamrud said.