In just a few short days my time as superintendent of Stillwater Area Public Schools will come to an end. Looking back I have a strong sense of pride and accomplishment, and as we often do in reflection, some regrets as well.
My biggest regret is not having the time I would have liked to focus on developing new programs for students, addressing the bigger budget issues now facing our district, and developing relationships with staff and community members that may have made overcoming challenges go a bit smoother. From my very first day in Stillwater it seems my time was spent on levies and budget cutting – two things I was not overly excited to do as a new person to the community. These issues forced my attention away from other issues. And while I know the levy was essential to the district’s future, I regret all it took from other important areas.
On the other hand one of my most rewarding professional experiences was working with community and staff members to develop a new strategic plan, Bridge to Excellence. I believe it was this plan, and the support of many community members who helped create it, that set the stage for the passage of the levy request – which passed at the highest percentage ever. This plan has the potential to significantly and positively change the way teaching and learning happens in our schools by better preparing students for the rapidly changing world they will live in.
I’ve learned much in my time here and have witnessed many incredible examples of excellence that I hope to emulate in my new school district. There are great things happening in our schools, both in programs for students and examples of teaching in the classroom, which I have not witnessed previously in past work. These things are easy to see to outsiders looking in, but too often missed for those on the inside. As someone who has worked in other school districts and is familiar in what happens elsewhere in Minnesota and across the country, please trust me when I say that we have incredible opportunities for students here and students excel because of it.
With all of this in mind my last message to you will be one of urgency. There is a unique set of circumstances occurring right now that threatens the future of this great district – flat to declining student enrollment, funding not keeping up with costs, a dwindling fund balance and an organizational system designed for more students than it is now serving. These circumstances, if left unchecked, will result in more budget cutting. To close the funding gap means many difficult questions will have to be considered. This will be a difficult conversation within a community that has experienced so much success with their schools. Interim Superintendent Tom Nelson, school and district leaders, the school board and staff will need your help and support to make the difficult decisions required to move this district forward.
In spite of these continued challenges I can tell you that Stillwater Area Public Schools has an excellent foundation to build from, and as courageous decisions are made in the months ahead, I know this district will emerge stronger. I leave with great confidence knowing that this community will rise up to make the changes necessary to ensure a bright future for its students and its schools.
As we leave this wonderful community we are thankful for the excellent teachers and wonderful experiences and activities our children have had here. The relationships forged and opportunities provided will no doubt impact them for the rest of their lives. Thank you for allowing me and my family to part of this school district, community and culture of excellence, and as always – Go Ponies!
Superintendent Corey Lunn can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 651-351-8301.