VIEWPOINT: District 834 listens, and we're planning
We've been listening. We've been asking questions and listening carefully to what you have to say. In the past several months we've engaged in a robust online discussion, held many focused conversations, and invited people in for dialogue. These conversations will continue throughout the coming year as we prepare to revise our strategic plan for 2017 and beyond.
We've asked you what's working and what isn't working with our school district. You've shared your ideas, concerns, hopes and dreams. You've helped us identify your top priorities. And we've been actively listening to all that you've told us:
From our industry experts who have taken part in Think Tanks ...
You've shared your concerns about the future workforce and identified the skills and attributes you believe our graduates will need. You've told us that it's not the academic learning that matters most, but the soft skills students will need to collaborate, problem solve, think creatively and persevere during challenging times. You've encouraged us to be innovative and to do things differently.
From our students who have taken part in Student Innovation Councils ...
You've told us that you need more hands-on learning opportunities and want to engage in robust dialogue. You don't want to be lectured about theories, but to engage in real-world learning. You want flexible schedules, comfortable and safe places to learn, and adults who know you and care about you. You've expressed concerns about prejudice and bias and shared your fears about fitting in and being accepted. You've asked us to rethink school, and to recreate learning to match the world you live in — fast-paced, high-tech and engaging.
From legislators and local elected officials ...
You've expressed an interest in partnering together to improve education for all of our kids. You've listened as we've shared our challenges and opportunities, and you've identified your desire to work with us to make a difference for our students. You've encouraged us to prioritize and focus, find efficiencies, and use our resources in the most effective ways possible.
From our parents and community members ...
You've told us you love our teachers and staff, and appreciate the school environments and class structures available. You shared your concerns that class sizes are too high, lunch time is too short, and school closures have divided our communities. You've asked us to work along with you to address the challenges that exist in our district.
You've shared thousands of fantastic ideas. And while we've heard each one of them, unfortunately, we cannot address them all. What is a priority for one is not a priority for others. The idea you, or I, may like best, may not align with the strategic plan that guides our district's work. So our next step is to review the ideas with our principals, district administrators and school board to determine which ones directly tie back to our mission and to narrow our focus on what things will make the biggest difference for our kids.
Some of the things we heard you say are big things — like class size concerns — that require considerable resources and planning to address. It's at the top of our list, too. We invested additional one-time funds this year to balance class sizes in all of our elementary schools and eliminate multi-graded classrooms district-wide. We also maintained our secondary class sizes. It was a start, but we know we need to find more sustainable ways to reduce class size moving forward. We'll be engaging our school board in conversations about class sizes in the coming months as we finalize staffing and budgets for next year and plan for the future.
Other concerns you raised, like lunch and recess, might be easier to resolve. We're asking our principals to look at the schedule to see how they might be able to provide students with more time to eat. Staff at each building are also digging deeper into the ideas specific for their school, to consider ways they can change in the year ahead. Reach out to your principal if you'd like to learn more.
Reconnecting with our residents and rebuilding trust is another priority for us. We know this takes time and hard work. Engaging in conversations and actively listening is the first step. We've formed advisory committees with community members and students. We've been meeting with leaders from parent groups, local elected officials and legislators, teachers and staff, and local businesses. We've been connecting with hundreds of people one-on-one and in small groups, and we're having meaningful dialogue about how we can ensure our schools are meeting the changing needs of our students. We're committed to hearing diverse perspectives, implementing new ideas when we can and keeping you updated on our progress.
Watch our website in the coming months as we report back on how your feedback is making a difference for our students. You're also welcome to reach out to us to learn more about what we're working on in the meantime.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Contact Superintendent Denise Pontrelli at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @drpontrelli. Subscribe to our Pony E-News at stillwaterschools.org/subscribe. Search for Stillwater834 on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Denise Pontrelli is superintendent of Stillwater Area Public Schools.