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Open up a new, opt-in public elementary school in Bismarck that would provide an "experiential" option to students in Bismarck.

A group of teachers, staff and administrators presented the idea to start this new elementary school to the Bismarck School Board on Monday night.

The proposal was first examined last year as part of a discussion on overcrowding in Bismarck elementary schools, and the option was included in an elementary facilities committee recommendations to the school board.

The goal of the new elementary school is to increase teacher efficacy and student engagement, according to a group of teachers and staff members who presented the option to board members.

The school would also be in compliance with recently passed legislation, Senate Bill 2186, which allows districts to apply for a waiver with the state to offer a new way of delivering education.

"We are failing our students if we don't change our teaching practices and education system that was created over 125 years ago," said Olivia Becker, a second-grade teacher at Rita Murphy Elementary School. "If we ask our students to try to learn to grow everyday, shouldn't we be doing the same?"

Some Bismarck parents attended Monday's school board meeting to show support for such a school, including one parent whose son who has autism would benefit from an unconventional learning environment. Another parent told the board she moved to Bismarck from Denver, where school options like this exist in charter schools, which are not allowed in North Dakota, and said she would like to see an alternative in Bismarck.

The group presented options to the school board of what the elementary school option could look like, including starting off as a K-3 school and then eventually expanding to K-5. A suggested location is the Hughes Education Center, 806 N. Washington St., where administrative offices are currently.

Other proposals include having a team of six teachers at the school and about 120 students, who would go through an application process. District teachers and administrators would be able to visit the school to study processes and receive training.

Several board members expressed concerns about the costs involved and requested more information on this and other research on the proposal. Board members agreed to further discuss this at their next meeting.

Anti-Bullying Task Force recommendations

Last year, the Bismarck School Board formed an Anti-Bullying Task Force to review the district's bullying policy after some parents expressed concerns about bullying in schools.

The task force met four times from November to January and devised a list of recommendations, which was presented to the school board on Monday night. Among the recommendations in their report:

  • Create consistency across the district by requiring district administration to create and review flowcharts for bullying and harassment policies, which will be presented to principals of all schools. The superintendent will also review these policies on a semi-annual basis.
  • Expand social-emotional curriculum to include grades K-12. Social-emotional learning includes helping students learn behavior and how to resolve conflicts.
  • Require school administrators to regularly review student behavior data and reporting, including building data.
  • Offer a series of informational presentations on bullying for parents and community members, which will be held next month.

The school unanimously board approved the recommendations with the requirement that a timeline be established for when certain recommendations will be completed.

(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)

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Education and Health Reporter