A community member recently thanked me for “making the impossible happen for his granddaughter.” I must have had a puzzled look on my face because he explained that as a ninth-grade student, his granddaughter is currently taking high school-level classes. The man said this was important to his granddaughter because she is very bright, and as her grandfather proudly told me, plays six different musical instruments.
This young lady is among 52 of our ninth graders this year who are dividing their school days between the junior highs and Stillwater Area High School in order to access higher-level courses. This is one example of what is happening during Year One of our new “Bridge to Excellence” plan and what is yet to come in Years two through five.
Last week, principals from Oak-Land and Stillwater junior highs and SAHS shared with the school board some of the exciting things that will happen in our secondary schools as a result of Bridge to Excellence (Watch the presentation online. Click the link to Bridge to Excellence Spotlight). While listening to them speak it became obvious to me that these initiatives — centered on individual learning pathways, accelerated learning options, college and career readiness and academic interventions — not only will change how we offer learning opportunities to our students, but also challenge our past ideas of how we best meet the needs of all students.
Bridge to Excellence provides opportunities for students to learn at their own pace, rather than be held back by traditional schedules. A small sample of students are already doing some of this, but in five years, motivated junior high students can complete requirements in core subjects like science, math, language arts and social studies in two years versus three. These students, like the girl mentioned above, then have the opportunity to move on to the high school where they can take advantage of more than 155 course offerings, and even earn college credit in up to 24 classes. Students with demonstrated knowledge in an area, such as algebra or geometry, will also have the opportunity to test out of a course to accelerate to higher-level subject matter. In the next several years’ similar opportunities will be designed for fifth- and sixth-grade students.
Personalization is at the heart of our Bridge to Excellence plan. Beginning in ninth grade parents, students and staff are meeting together to develop a six-year plan to guide students’ choices of classes and experiences in high school to align with their post-secondary goals. As this expands, a heavy emphasis will be placed on interest inventories, job shadowing experiences and participating in real-world work opportunities. The purpose is to help our students make better decisions about their future college and career plans, and provide them with relevant, hands-on learning opportunities while still in high school.
Equally important is to provide interventions for students who may be struggling in school — whether for academic reasons or as a result of social, emotional or physical challenges. The Bridge to Excellence plan addresses this by focusing on students’ individual learning styles as well as paying attention to their non-academic needs. We’ll also expand summer intervention programs to give students the extra help that they may need. Our new plan calls for building positive connections with students and their families, and working as a community to support our children.
We’re just a few weeks into Year One of Bridge to Excellence and already families notice a change. Students who previously left our district are returning, and other students are leaving their home school districts to enroll in Stillwater Area Public Schools. It is exciting to see Bridge to Excellence — a plan developed in collaboration with the community — come to life and begin changing how our students learn and what they experience in our schools. We are fully committed to implementing this plan. About 15 percent of funding from our levy proposal, which goes to voters in November, would be used to support these initiatives and many more (learn more at www.stillwaterschools.org/levy2013).
Look for more sharing in coming weeks on how this new plan is changing the programming in our elementary schools, making our school buildings safer and improving the ways we communicate with and involve our community. As you can see, excellence is here and we’re moving forward to build an even stronger Stillwater Area Public Schools.
Superintendent Corey Lunn can be contacted via email at [email protected] or by phone at 651-351-8301. Questions can also be sent by mail to Superintendent, Stillwater Area Public Schools, 1875 South Greeley St., Stillwater, MN 55082. Register for Stillwater Area Public Schools E-News at www.stillwater.k12.mn.us/subscribe.