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Viewpoint: 'Making a difference' is theme for new school year

The new school year is upon us and I am excited to share with you our continued high expectations for all. The past school year was an outstanding one for South Washington County Schools.

I look forward to sharing more of our successes and our opportunities for improvement in the near future because they help define our goals and direction. But first, let me share with you the overall vision and focus we will have in the district for the 2010-11 school year.

"Making a Difference" will be a new theme that applies to virtually everything we do as we seek to "make a difference" for students, families and our communities.

"Making a Difference" for students, their achievement and growth will always be our first and foremost priority. While our results from last year indicate we are doing a very good job in this regard, we know we can and must do better.

At our recent "All Employee Welcome Back Event," launching the school year, District 833 recognized four outstanding employees who are truly making a difference in the lives of students:

Lanka Liyanapathiranage, art teacher at Woodbury Middle School,

Christopher Tank, band instructor at East Ridge High School, Nancy Anderson, office coordinator at Woodbury High School, and Donna Lloyd, a kindergarten teacher at Woodbury Elementary School

We shared their incredible stories as examples for all staff in the district. I know there are also many more such stories throughout the district. We will work on ways to share these stories and others that will rise to the top during the next school year through district and local media outlets. Our primary focus in 2010-11 will be to "make a difference" in the lives of our students.

"Making a Difference" for families is an area of growing need and emphasis for us. During difficult economic times we recognize the extraordinary stress that many families are under and how challenged they are to meet the needs of their families often with limited resources.

While public education cannot be the sole provider of support to families, it is clearly recognized that parent involvement and support of their child is an essential element of student success. In 2010-11 we will continue to expand our efforts to reach out and connect with all parents and families. In particular, we will implement a new pre-K effort at Pullman and Newport Elementary schools intended to connect with families of pre-K students who need a little something extra to get off to a good start the following year in kindergarten. We will also be expanding site-based initiatives that reach out to and involve parents in the education of their children. Part of this effort will be to support and provide parents with some knowledge and resources they can use in the home to support their child's learning. Connecting with and supporting parents and families will be an important part of our continuous improvement efforts in 2010-11.

"Making a Difference" in our communities is not a new focus or initiative, but one that continues to be an important part of South Washington County Schools. We are now the largest employer in two of our major communities - Cottage Grove and Woodbury. In addition, we have developed and continue to expand partnerships and relationships with local chambers of commerce as well as individual local business interests, large and small. These partnerships have provided resources to many of our schools and programs, but have also provided local businesses with a meaningful local service opportunity for their employees. Our School Board also works closely with a Citizens Financial Advisory Committee, to assure that the resources our communities have provided are being used effectively and efficiently.

On a lighter note, each summer we look forward to and enjoy our participation in community celebrations (maybe you saw "the bus" in your local parade or a number of student groups participating).

The South Washington County Schools are an important part of the communities of Cottage Grove, Newport, St. Paul Park, Woodbury and Afton, Denmark and Grey Cloud Island Townships. We want to continue to grow and expand upon these vibrant relationships, as well as our relationship of trust with all residents and taxpayers.

While I believe it is true that South Washington County Schools have been "Making a Difference" for students, families and our communities for many years, 2010-11 will be a year in which we place additional focus and emphasis in these areas.

I thank you for your time and interest in our district and encourage you to find a way to get involved with your local school.

Together we can continue "Making a Difference" for our students, families and communities.

Mark Porter is the superintendent for District 833.