(Connie Jo Discoe/McCook Daily Gazette)
Grant Norgaard said Thursday morning, from his new office in the senior high, that he and his wife, Michele, visited McCook almost every weekend when they lived in Benkelman, for shopping or socializing. "McCook's probably in an even better position now than then," he said. "A new elementary ... no ward schools."
He continued, "McCook has truly quality facilities now." He said McCook's system "meets or exceeds any expectations I had."
Norgaard's first day on the job in McCook was July 1, the day after two-year-interim Superintendent Dave Schley left to take over the superintendency in Franklin. Norgaard and his family have purchased the Seminole Drive home of Candy and Ted Fellers -- Candy is a retired MPS elementary teacher and Ted is the area director of financial aid for the Mid-Plains Community College Area.
"We inherited Ted's enormous garden," Norgaard said. "Ted's an amazing gardener. We're attempting to keep it up," he added with a chuckle. "There's lots of work involved."
The couple's 9-year-old daughter, Victoria, started fourth grade at McCook Elementary this fall, and their son, 4-year-old Hayden, started preschool, also at McCook Elementary.
Norgaard said Michele is a stay-at-home mother who is very involved with their children. "She's very good mother," he said. "My hours are kind of strange, so she's there to take care of the family. She does a lot with the kids."
The Norgaards are impressed with the community of McCook. "McCook's very, very welcoming," Grant said, adding with a grin, "'course, we knew that was the way it was going to be."
Norgaard had two board of education meetings under his belt when classes started for students Aug. 19.
"It's been going very well," Norgaard said. "We've gotten a good start to the school year."
The biggest change this fall is air conditioning at McCook Junior High, installed through the summer and ready for action when classes started.
Even though temperatures have been unseasonably cool since classes started, the AC at the 43-year-old junior high has kicked on several days. "When it gets in the upper 90s, learning takes a backseat to how the kids are feeling," Norgaard said. "The teachers have noticed the air conditioning the most, and they really appreciate it."
Things are going well at McCook Elementary, Norgaard said, a 4-year-old pre-kindergarten through third grade facility that is "in excellent condition ... it's very well maintained."
Norgaard would like to improve the flow of traffic around the school, he said. "It needs better flow," he mused. "But I don't see any feasible solution." He said he appreciates parents who have figured out strategies with their kids to make things easier at drop-off and pick-up times.
"McCook Elementary is getting a little crowded," Norgaard said, thinking about an unusually large class of 114 kindergartners. If that class continues at that size, Central Elementary (fourth and fifth graders) may also have classes above an ideal 20-1 student-teacher ratio. McCook likes to keep individual classrooms at 20 students or less, Norgaard said, making it eligible for a federal class size reduction grant. "It's worth a lot of money to us," Norgaard said.
If the board of education were to decide to enlarge McCook Elementary -- whose renovation and new construction were designed with expansion in mind -- it wouldn't use a bond or money from the general fund, Norgaard said, but federal stimulus funds earmarked for special education projects. Nothing's definite, he said, they're just looking ahead.
Central Elementary functions well, Norgaard said. "It's a pretty good facility," he said. "No issues."
The district's alternative education facility -- LIFT Learning Independently for Tomorrow -- is another facility stretching its seams. "The program needs to have 25 students or less for the building to function at its best," Norgaard said. There were 30-some students last year.
Norgaard said he is impressed with the quality kids and staff at the senior high -- "though that's not a surprise."
McCook Public Schools reports these class counts:
MCCOOK ELEMENTARY -- Pre-kindergarten, 31; kindergarten, 114; first grade, 101; second grade, 85; third grade, 112; developmental learning center (DLC), 6. Total: 449.
CENTRAL ELEMENTARY -- Fourth grade, 101; fifth grade, 102. Total: 203.
JUNIOR HIGH -- Sixth grade, 93; seventh grade, 93; eighth grade, 108. Total: 294.
SENIOR HIGH -- Ninth grade, 132; tenth grade, 105; eleventh grade, 126; twelfth grade, 124. Total: 487.
GRAND TOTAL -- 1,433.