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Viewpoint: Reflections from a superintendent's first year

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As I reflect on my first year as superintendent and the school year that has concluded, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of our accomplishments and what I've learned about District 833 and its community. It is an old cliché to comment on the pace of the year, but as is so often the case, the school year has slipped past with such speed that I am reminded of how important it is to reflect and cherish families, colleagues, and the opportunities our system gives all of us. We work at a fast pace because of our relentless commitment to improve. The pace is exhilarating and makes me marvel at our students, staff and community.

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Throughout the year I have met with students, staff and parents, asking questions and observing. The interactions always left me energized and positive about what we are doing, as well as our overall potential. We have a positive culture in our district that begins at the building level.

Students come to school with an intellectual curiosity that forms the foundation of their success. Without a positive culture, a system cannot improve. What I have found is that our potential in terms of human capital is unlimited. We may be held back due to resources, but the most important elements for our continued success are plentiful.

This year we celebrated the graduation of 1,295 seniors from our four high schools. Many of these students have spent their entire educational career in our district. Throughout the year we have recognized the accomplishment of these future leaders. These kids will now be scattered around the country to attend colleges and universities, as well as providing support for our armed forces or working in local businesses. The class of 2013 is receiving scholarships in excess of $4 million, including what they will be receiving from their schools. It will be sad to see these students leave us, but exciting to see them succeed in their chosen endeavors.

Unfortunately, this year we were faced with the need to reduce our budget expenditures by $2 million. With input from our community and staff, we developed a process that identified the services we offer and how each service would be affected by reductions or could be enhanced by more funding. The process helped our community see a more comprehensive view of our budget and the interrelated aspects of any decisions we make. The service level matrix that was developed will guide future budget discussions.

During 2012-13, we implemented the second year of our five-year strategic plan, Pathway to Excellence. The summary of our results and presentation of the priorities for next year was completed on May 16. During the session, teams outlined the work that was completed for each of the six strategic objectives and what is being proposed for the coming year. The feedback that we received from the committee will shape our recommendations and will be shared with the School Board regarding our priority focus for next year. The materials can be found on our website. The process was comprehensive and well received by the participants. We are making strides to achieve our mission of "igniting a passion for lifelong learning."

The coffee meetings I've conducted in people's homes provided an informal setting for open discussions giving me an accurate perspective on how our parents and community members view our school system. The meetings were positive and I appreciate the parents who were willing to open their homes. I look forward to continuing these events.

By all measures, we have had an extremely successful year in our schools. We experienced improvement in the academic achievement for a number of student groups and schools. We are optimistic our data will continue to show positive trends through the 2013 MCA results being released later this summer. As I have learned more about our students, teachers and parents, I am more excited than ever to be leading our district. I hope you have an enjoyable and relaxing summer. I look forward to seeing you in the fall.

Jacobus is superintendent of South Washington County School District

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