ISD 834’s ‘bridge’ to future set to begin

Implementation of new strategic plan hinges on levy passage in fall

As the 2012-2013 school year wraps up, Independent School District 834 officials are planning the implementation of the district’s new Bridge 834 to Excellence strategic plan.

The plan was created through input from more than 230 community volunteers to form a vision for the district’s future. What developed was a five-year strategic plan that includes changes in curriculum, an emphasis on passion and personalization in learning, creating community and emphasizing safety. The plan is still in the beginning stages but is well-developed, with more than 300 action steps and involves significant changes to the school system including materials that are taught, instruction delivery, staff training, how schedules are made and how the district engages the community.

The annual average cost in years two through five of the plan is $2.4 million, according to a district power point presentation. Some resources will be reserved in early years to fund future years, according to district officials.

“The way it was funded is designed to save money. We’re getting more funds with the self-funded insurance plan and using other resources differently. All the money used for the plan will go towards programs and things for kids,” said Superintendent Corey Lunn. “There is a year-to-year focus on setting the foundation, building the structure, adding the details and will take about five years to implement.”

Year one’s $1.2 million cost is funded with existing reserves. This first year takes place during the 2013-2014 school year and implementation will take place behind the scenes.

“Year one is not something that will be seen very publicly. A lot of staff training, and teaching and learning development will take place,” said district spokeswoman Carissa Keister.

“Throughout the entire strategic plan not every action step costs money, but it will help us focus and direct our funds to things that are worth pursuing. Of the 94 action steps in year one, 10 to 15 are the only ones with a cost. The instructional coaches are the largest item. It’s a model to do things differently and focus our time and energy on things that fit with our plan. Things that don’t work will have to be phased out,” said Assistant Superintendent Ray Queener said.

Some possible changes could include a hiring process focusing on bringing in teachers with skill sets that fit within the plan; a new social studies curriculum using technology instead of textbooks to teach students; differentiating learning to engage some real-world elements students are familiar with, like apps to learn about the Civil War, and connecting  with people worldwide and in the community to create networks and mentors that can help students tap into their passions and tailor education needs to propel students toward pursuit of those passions.

“There will be a lot of growing pains and there’s been a lot of autonomy, and autonomy is good, but we need to do some things differently. The future is full of unknowns and we have to be able to adapt to the changes that will come our student’s way going forward.” Lunn said.”We’re not going to destroy what’s made us successful but we will package it differently to meet the needs of the kids for an ever-changing world and keep us efficient, effective and look at different ways to teach going forward.”

Year two of Bridge 834 to Excellence is when changes are visible. That year’s $3.6 million cost would occur pending the outcome of the November referendum on the district’s $10.1 million operating levy renewal.

Highlights of Year Two include World Language programs in elementary schools; new grading systems to better evaluate student growth; STEM expansion to STEAM with an art and design component, and students would be engaged by embedding more technology in classroom learning. Community-wise, people would be encouraged to share their experiences with students through more volunteer opportunities and support would be given to students and families through transition phases.

The district also would expand anti-bullying efforts and students and staff would be supported in making healthier choices.

In Year Three, a new curriculum would be in place and the detail work on the bridge begins. This is where the plan becomes personal for students at a cost of $785,000. The goal is developing students’ passions and meeting their individual social, emotional and health needs. Ways to do this include meeting the needs of the whole child, expanding blended and flexible learning, implementing bring-your-own-technology days and supporting parents in their roles as educators. Students would be matched with adults who share their passions, student-peer mentor programs would be established and community feedback would be sought to enhance the schools.

When asked if this personalization would mean more work to the teachers, district officials pointed out that some teachers are already doing some things in the plan.

“We’re certainly going to be doing things differently and when you’re trying to learn there’s always growing pains. But there are teachers in the district who are already doing some of these things. This is just applying it to the entire district to create active engaged and excited students,” Lunn said.

When asked if the plan takes into account those students who aren’t likely to pursue a traditional four year college after high school Keister said: “This plan is built around college and career readiness. We know that not every kid will go to college, but we’d like to give them the opportunities to benefit as well with skills development and creating networks within the community that can help them going forward.”

As the plan enters Year Four, district officials hope the community is heavily involved and would help establish opportunities for students to learn alongside professionals in careers they are interested in. This phase costs about $1 million, and community service projects would be added across all grades, and parents would also have education opportunities.

Year Five is a time for review and creation of a new strategic plan. Some action plans have continuing costs which Queener said have been factored in and accounted for in the levy request.

Lunn, Keister and Queener all admit if voters reject November’s operation levy renewal, it will be difficult to implement Bridge 834 to Excellence.
“It’ll be hard to do anything if the levy is not passed,” Lunn said.

“Like (Ray) said earlier, if our plan isn’t a reality there are some things that are free that we may be able to do, but we’d have less staff and it would be more challenging to get there.” Keister said.

“But to that note, it doesn’t change what the community has told us. It could take 10, 15 or 20 years to implement the plan. If the levy fails there’s not a choice, Parents and families live here for the schools and I don’t think they’d tolerate anything less.” Lunn responded. “As much work as this planning stage was, this is not the hard work, and I know some of my colleagues will fall down when they hear that. But the important part is being true to what you said you’d do and what you actually do and that will be a big part of this levy request.”

For more information and to follow the progress of the strategic plan going forward, visit www.stillwater.k12.mn.us/district/strategic-plan

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