In my last column, I shared how the learning experience of students in our schools will be different as a result of our new “Bridge to Excellence” strategic plan. More information, including detailed implementation plans and budgets, brochures and videos, can be found on at www.stillwaterschools.org/vision. The focus of this week’s column is how we will make this plan, with its more than 300 action steps over five years, a reality.
Bridge to Excellence is designed to change our school district and redefine learning for our students. To accomplish this bold new direction, we will have to invest our resources differently. We cannot keep doing things as we’ve always done them and expect our students to have the experiences they need for their future. That said, we are not only changing the opportunities we offer our students, we’re also changing the way we operate our district to become more innovative and efficient with a renewed emphasis on our most important product — our students. This has already involved, and will continue to include, finding efficiencies, repurposing dollars, seeking community partnerships, and being creative in how we operate.
In the last year alone, we have saved more than $2.6 million by reducing insurance costs through a self-funded insurance program, obtaining grants and outside funding sources, sharing services with the city and county and reorganizing our central office to reduce costs. These savings were realized on top of the $6.5 million in budget reductions made last spring. These reductions were not easy, but they forced us to re-examine our budget and re-prioritize spending. We have no plans to simply reinstate these cuts. Instead, we want to use the Bridge to Excellence plan to grow and change our district.
These changes have allowed us to extend our levy request to the community one more year beyond what was anticipated. Instead of seeking a levy renewal last fall, a year before the existing levy expires, we were able to hold off until this November. I do not believe in asking for more funding than is needed or asking before funding is actually needed, and I know residents don’t believe in that either. By holding off on a levy request, we had time to work with our community to develop the Bridge to Excellence plan and clearly define how we want to grow our school district.
We know Bridge to Excellence has a cost. However, by repurposing our existing resources, we’re now in a place to implement year one of the Bridge to Excellence plan without increasing revenue. Therefore this fall’s levy proposal asks the community to help fund three-fourths of years 2 through 5 of the plan. Funding for the remaining one-fourth must be found within our existing budget through continued innovation, creativity and re-allocation of resources. This was intentional. I don’t believe the success of this plan should depend solely on a funding request. Instead, we should continue to make structural changes and seek creative ways to invest our resources to meet our objectives. Not asking for 100 percent of the resources needed will continue this focus.
I’m excited to report that we’re already making big, cost-neutral changes to ensure our plan is implemented successfully. Stillwater Area High School Principal Dr. Ryan Laager will be on special assignment next year to oversee the many curriculum changes needed to guide the work for years 2 through 5 of Bridge to Excellence. Dr. Laager led the community action team that developed the new model, so using his expertise in this process will ensure the action steps are completed as the team planned.
An interim principal will provide leadership and continued support for the initiatives at the high school during Dr. Laager’s absence. To make room for this addition, we are shuffling positions and reducing staff within the teaching and learning department. As I explained to staff, the “size of the pie” has not changed, but the size and shape of the “pieces” have. The new plan is forcing us to look at all our resources — both dollars and people — to align them to the action steps and dramatically change what we are doing as an organization.
This is an exciting time for our schools and communities. We are on the verge of accomplishing great things for our students, families and residents. However, with more than a decade passing since our community has increased its financial support coupled with more than 10 years of inadequate funding from the state, the education of our children is at risk.
With help from many community members we have answered in detail the questions of what the community wants from its schools and how our current resources are being invested. We’re also providing ample time and opportunity to engage our community in discussions about our Bridge to Excellence plan and our levy proposal prior to the November levy vote. In return I hope that you take the time to participate in conversations and become an informed voter. The future of our students and communities are depending on it.
Superintendent Corey Lunn can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or phone at 651-351-8301 and followed on Twitter at @CoreyLunn834. Questions can also be sent to Superintendent, Stillwater Area Public Schools, and 1875 South Greeley St., Stillwater, MN 55082.