I recently shared our new strategic plan, Bridge to Excellence, with a group of community members. One of the first questions I was asked was, “How will the experience of a student in our schools be different as a result of this new plan?” I thought this was a great question, and I’m excited to answer it in my column this week.
The learning in classrooms across the district will change as we bridge our strong traditions with our students’ changing needs in the 21st century. The cornerstone of this work is a focus on personalizing learning for each student and tapping into each student’s interests and passions, involving and inviting the community to work with us to meet our students’ needs, and enhancing school safety for each and every young person in our care.
Here is an overview, from a broad lens, of how the more than 300 action steps over the next five years will focus our work.
- Each student will have a personalized learning plan and their individual learning and cultural needs will be incorporated into classroom lessons.
- Each student will develop skills to compete in an ever-changing world, and expanded opportunities at the elementary level to learn world languages and experience various cultures.
- 21st century learning skills will be emphasized with essential skills in writing, reading, listening and speaking to provide a focus on not just “what students know,” but also “what students can do” to prepare them for an ever-changing world.
- Progress and growth will be shared between parents and teachers in a more meaningful way to better foster collaborative efforts between home and school.
- Curiosity and real-world learning experiences will be enhanced through the addition of art and design lessons integrated into the elementary STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum.
- Each student will have opportunities to develop meaningful relationships and engage in service to one another and to the community.
- Students will have increased access and exposure to digital devices and applications in classroom learning.
- Unique learning pathways will be created to allow each student to explore their passions through interest-based learning, and to allow multiple paths for students to earn a diploma.
- Secondary students will have flexible learning opportunities to allow them to learn alongside experts in professional environments (i.e. laboratories, clinics, offices, local businesses) beyond the traditional school day.
- Our community will become an integral part to the school experience as we reconnect and engage residents, provide volunteer and mentoring opportunities, and encourage all to utilize school facilities for wellness and recreation.
- All students will have opportunities to develop problem solving and conflict resolutions skills to deal with individual and peer bullying issues.
- Supports and interventions will be tailored to focus on the whole student — academic, social, emotional and physical — as well as to encourage healthy wellness and lifestyle choices.
- All school buildings will become safer by controlling classroom access, increasing emergency response systems with local authorities and better addressing student mental health issues.
- Stronger partnerships with families, local community organizations and learning institutions will be established to support each student’s pathway to learning.
Although there are pockets of these things happening now, Bridge to Excellence ensures that each child — regardless of which of our schools he or she attends — has the same exceptional experience. We will know we’ve succeeded when each child:
- Has the skills and abilities to compete in an ever-changing world;
- Is an active participant in his/her community;
- Contributes to a safe, caring and healthy environment;
- Has a sense of belonging;
- Is personally engaged in service to others;
- Has a passion for learning;
- Can identify and pursue his or her passions.
As I watch my children learn their place in this world, which is much different from the one I grew up in, it is easy to see why this focus is needed. The skills students need today are much different skills than what was needed in the past. As a parent I am thankful to live in a community where residents recognize these needs for our young people, and have come together to develop a plan for the future.
I also feel fortunate to have my children in a school district that has accepted this as a course of action and is making bold and courageous decisions to make sure this is not talk. It also fills my work as school superintendent with a clear purpose and mission.
Stay tuned for more changes coming to make this a reality. The future is exciting for Stillwater Area Public Schools!
Corey Lunn is Independent School District 834 superintendent. Contact him at 651-351-8340 or by mail at 1875 S. Greeley St., Stillwater, MN, 55082.