Description


School District 197 Superintendent Blog
Welcome to my blog! The purpose of the blog is to provide an avenue for communication with parents and community members. I will be sharing our progress in implementing the District Strategic Framework. Periodically I will also post photos and share news of special events that I attend in our schools.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Retirement Calls / Llamada de Retiro

Many years ago, I decided to be a teacher.  I was in sixth grade at the time, and for some reason, I had no doubt it was my life's calling.  All through high school, I never really considered anything else. I'm not sure why; there was just a deep knowing that I wanted to be part of this place called school that held so much magic for me.

I am, however, at a point in my life when I am in a position to explore other passions, and after careful thought and consideration, I have decided to take that leap.  On Monday, December 5th I am submitting to the school board my intent to retire on June 30, 2017.  In my retirement letter to the board, I state:

"District 197 has brought me full circle in a career that has rewarded me in ways too numerous to mention here.  At times, I thought this day would never come.  Now that it is here, it is a bit overwhelming to imagine not coming to school every day.  I fell in love with school on my first day of kindergarten, and to this day, school never ceases to inspire me.  As I watch our students - of all ages - I am filled with such hope; I see such possibility.  I am awed by our teachers...No one but a teacher knows the stirring challenge, the magnificent joy of watching as learning unfolds before one's very eyes.  At times it is magical; other times exhausting.  But it is always, always rewarding to be an educator, no matter what capacity you serve.  And I am grateful to our parents who entrust to us their precious children, their young adults.  We need them so much, now more than ever, as we strive to ensure all our students achieve at high levels."

I want you to know how much I enjoy serving this community and will continue to do so until the very last day. District 197 is an amazing place filled with amazing people.  Its potential is truly unlimited, and I know great things are in store for the future.

For now, we need to help the school board select another superintendent.  This will take several months.  You will be kept abreast of the process from start to finish, and I invite you to participate in the board's invitation to staff and community to be engaged.  

As always, thank you for your support and commitment to District 197.  You are part of what makes it such a special place for kids!

Sincerely,

Nancy Allen-Mastro

Follow me on Twitter @Supt197


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Hace muchos años, decidí ser maestra. Yo estaba en sexto grado en ese momento y por alguna razón, no tenía ninguna duda de que ese era el llamado de mi vida. A lo largo de la escuela secundaria, nunca consideré otra cosa. No estoy segura del por qué; Sólo había un profundo conocimiento de que quería ser parte de este lugar llamado escuela que tenía tanta magia para mí.

Sin embargo, estoy en un punto de mi vida cuando estoy en condiciones de explorar otras pasiones y después de pensarlo y considerarlo cuidadosamente, he decidido dar ese salto. El lunes, 5 de diciembre presento a la junta escolar mi intención de retirarme el 30 de junio del 2017. En mi carta de retiro a la junta, declaro:

"El Distrito 197 me ha traído al punto de partida en una carrera que me ha recompensado de una manera demasiado numerosa para mencionarla aquí. A veces, pensé que este día nunca llegaría. Ahora que está aquí, es un poco abrumador imaginar no venir a la escuela todos los días. Me enamoré de la escuela en mi primer día del jardín de infancia, y hasta la fecha, la escuela nunca deja de inspirarme.  Mientras observo a nuestros estudiantes - de todas las edades - me lleno de tal esperanza; veo tal posibilidad. Estoy impresionada por nuestros maestros ... Nadie más que un maestro conoce el emotivo desafío, la magnífica alegría de ver como el aprendizaje se despliega ante nuestros propios ojos. A veces es mágico; otras veces agotador. Pero es siempre, siempre gratificante ser un educador, sin importar en la capacidad que se sirve. Y estoy agradecida a nuestros padres que nos confían a sus preciosos hijos, sus jóvenes adultos. Los necesitamos tanto, ahora más que nunca, ya que nos esforzamos por asegurar que todos nuestros estudiantes alcancen altos niveles.”

Quiero que sepa cuánto me gusta servir a este comunidad y continuaré haciéndolo hasta el último día. El Distrito 197 es un lugar increíble lleno de gente increíble. Su potencial es verdaderamente ilimitado y sé que hay grandes cosas reservadas para el futuro.  

Por ahora, tenemos que ayudar a la junta escolar a seleccionar otro superintendente. Esto tomará varios meses. Se le mantendrá al tanto del proceso de principio a fin, y los invito a participar en la invitación de la junta al personal y a la comunidad para que se involucren.    

Como siempre, gracias por su apoyo y compromiso con el Distrito 197. ¡Usted es parte de lo que lo convierte en un lugar tan especial para los niños! 

Atentamente,

Nancy Allen-Mastro

Sígueme en Twitter @Supt197   




Thursday, November 10, 2016

Post-Election Thoughts / Pensamientos post-elecciones

I'd like to send a warm thank you to our community for voting to renew our operating levy in Tuesday's election.  I am grateful, for I know just how much this means to our school district's financial stability.  It will enable us to continue our strong emphasis on academic excellence and offer our students the kind of learning experience they deserve.

Amidst this excitement, we also found ourselves providing support to students after Tuesday's presidential election.  Like you, we are aware of the intensity of the political debate that has been underway for well over a year.  Students were listening to and observing the messages fostered by each of the campaigns.  On Wednesday, staff reported facing some tough questions from students and were called on to deal with sensitive, sometimes difficult, situations in which students expressed a wide range of emotions.  In response, they did their best to help students process the election outcome.  They tried to help students find their voice.  They also reinforced that schools are safe places where all are valued and respected.  

We do not take a political stand in our schools around party or platform.  We respect, and in fact honor, the democratic way in which we elect public officials.  We teach students about the process. We teach them to respect different points of view and to broaden their perspective by seeking knowledge and understanding.  We teach them how to resolve differences.  We are also deeply committed to equity and ensuring a safe and welcoming environment exists at all times for students and families, which includes guiding students in knowing how to express themselves respectfully and in a manner that does not harm or disparage others.

This is a teachable moment at school, and at home.  I urge parents and other adults to talk with students about our democracy, the importance of elections, and the ways in which we can engage with one another positively and productively to solve problems and create a better future for all.  Let's be good role models.  Our students emulate the way in which we as adults engage with each other.   

I am proud to be your superintendent, and I am proud to live in this great country.  Even at a time when we seem divided as a people, I know we stand together in cherishing our children and wanting what is best for them.  Even when we disagree, I know we can find ways to talk with one another and find common ground.  Let's do that.  If adults move forward with hope, healing, and a generous spirit towards all, then so will our children.

Sincerely,

Nancy Allen-Mastro, Superintendent

Follow me on Twitter @Supt197

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Me gustaría enviar un cálido agradecimiento a nuestra comunidad por votar para renovar nuestra contribución de operaciones en las elecciones del martes. Estoy agradecida, porque sé lo mucho que esto significa para la estabilidad financiera de nuestro distrito escolar. Nos permitirá continuar con nuestro fuerte énfasis en la excelencia académica y ofrecer a nuestros estudiantes el tipo de experiencia de aprendizaje que se merecen.

En medio de esta alegría, también nos encontramos proporcionando apoyo a los estudiantes después de las elecciones presidenciales del martes. Al igual que ustedes, estamos conscientes de la intensidad del debate político que se ha estado llevando a cabo durante más de un año. Los estudiantes estuvieron escuchando y observando los mensajes promovidos por cada una de las campañas. El miércoles, el personal informó que hubo que enfrentar algunas preguntas difíciles de los estudiantes y tuvieron que lidiar con situaciones delicadas, a veces difíciles, en las que los estudiantes expresaron una amplia gama de emociones. En respuesta, hicieron todo lo posible para ayudar a los estudiantes a procesar el resultado de la elección. Intentaron ayudar a los estudiantes a encontrar su voz. También reforzaron que las escuelas son lugares seguros donde todos son valorados y respetados.

No tomamos una postura política en nuestras escuelas sobre un partido o una plataforma. Respetamos, y de hecho honramos, la forma democrática en que elegimos a los funcionarios públicos. Enseñamos el proceso a los estudiantes. Les enseñamos a respetar diferentes puntos de vista y a ampliar su perspectiva buscando conocimiento y comprensión. Les enseñamos cómo resolver las diferencias. También estamos profundamente comprometidos con la equidad y con asegurar que un ambiente seguro y acogedor existe en todo momento para los estudiantes y las familias, lo que incluye guiar a los estudiantes a saber expresarse respetuosamente y de una manera que no perjudique ni menosprecie a los demás.

Este es un momento de aprendizaje en la escuela y en casa. Insto a los padres y a otros adultos a hablar con los estudiantes sobre nuestra democracia, la importancia de las elecciones y las maneras en que podemos comprometernos positivamente y productivamente para resolver los problemas y crear un futuro mejor para todos. Seamos buenos modelos. Nuestros estudiantes emulan la manera en que nosotros como adultos nos relacionamos.

Estoy orgullosa de ser su superintendente, y estoy orgullosa de vivir en este gran país. Incluso en un momento en que parecemos divididos como pueblo, sé que estamos unidos para valorar a nuestros hijos y querer lo que es mejor para ellos. Incluso cuando no estamos de acuerdo, sé que podemos encontrar maneras de hablar unos con otros y encontrar un terreno común. Vamos, hagamos eso. Si los adultos avanzamos con esperanza, sanidad y un espíritu generoso hacia todos, entonces también lo harán nuestros hijos.

Sinceramente,

Nancy Allen-Mastro, Superintendente


Follow me on Twitter @Supt197


Friday, November 4, 2016

Financial Stability. Academic Excellence.

District 197 has a lot to be proud of.  Highly qualified teachers, dedicated support personnel, and a committed and supportive community wrap their arms around our students every day.  When these forces come together around a common vision, great things happen for kids.

In the general election on November 8th, we are asking voters to approve the renewal of an operating levy that was first passed in 2007. A second operating levy passed in 2011.  Since the community's approval of these two levies, we have been able to achieve a level of financial stability that the district has not seen in years.  This has been followed by visible increases in academic excellence.

First and foremost, student achievement is trending upward.  Scores on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) have risen steadily over the past four years. Districtwide, science scores are up by 3.6%.  Reading scores are up by 4.5%, and math scores are up by 7.6%.  Our scores exceed that of our comparable suburban districts in the Twin Cities by as much as 10 percentage points.

Stakeholder satisfaction has also increased for the third straight year in a row, as measured in our annual stakeholder survey conducted by the Morris-Leatherman Company.  In 2016, we saw the following gains:  

  • 92% of residents feel the community receives a good value for its investment in its public schools (up from 82% in 2014; 87% in 2015).
  • 93% of residents are proud of District 197 schools and would recommend them to friends (up from 77% in 2014; 84% in 2015).
  • 94% of residents trust the school board to do what is right for students (up from 84% in 2014; 87% in 2015).
  • 98% of residents feel District 197 provides a safe and secure environment for students (up from 87% in 2014; 91% in 2015).
When measuring parent satisfaction, those ratings run even higher.  More details on our results can be found here

More students are earning college credit in more classes offered right here at Henry Sibley High School, which in turn saves families thousands of dollars in tuition.  Since 2012, we have nearly tripled the number of students taking at least one course for college credit, such as Advanced Placement, College in the Schools, Project Lead the Way, or Post-Secondary Enrollment Options. While student achievement itself is cause for significant celebration, credit earned in University of Minnesota College in the Schools courses last year alone saved families more than $350,000 in tuition!

Eleven students were recognized this fall by the National Merit Scholarship Program for academic achievement, the most students in recent history.  Of those, two were named National Merit Scholarship Semifinalists.  One of our finalists even earned a perfect score on his ACT test.  Ninety (90) students were recognized recently as Advanced Placement (AP) Scholars by the College Board for achievement on AP tests last spring.

We are fortunate to have been able to make important investments in some key program areas in recent years.  This includes increasing access to academic interventions for students who need additional support.  We've invested in our K-12 music program and our gifted and talented program. We have added school counselors for students in grades K-12, and we've designed a schedule for learning at our middle schools.  More recently, we have begun to make significant strides towards personalizing learning in a way that will both individualize instruction to meet the unique learning needs of all students and engage them in problem-solving, teamwork, and other high-level skills that will better prepare them to be ready for the career or college of their choice upon graduation.

When added up, these things lead to increasingly higher levels of excellence and achievement.  I've no doubt that our momentum will continue well into the future. As a school district, we may be small, but we are mighty.  Never doubt what our students are capable of and what we can accomplish together.

Please vote on November 8th.  To become more fully informed about our levy renewal request, please visit our district website.  

Proud to be your superintendent,

Nancy Allen-Mastro

Follow me on Twitter @Supt197









Friday, October 14, 2016

The Impact of Unfunded Mandates on School Budgets

On the ballot during the general election on November 8th is a request for voters in District 197 to approve the renewal of a $5.2M annual operating levy. The levy, which was first passed in 2007, expires in 2017.  District 197 is asking voters to extend the levy for another 10 years from 2017 to 2027.

No changes to the existing levy are proposed.  Because the existing levy includes an annual inflationary increase, the value of the dollar is sustained throughout the duration of the levy.  This makes it substantially easier to maintain programs the levy helps to support.

This operating levy provides much needed funding to support basic education programs.  While the state legislature, which provides 71% of our annual operating revenue, has made efforts to increase funding for education, the per pupil amount has not kept pace with inflation.  This is evidenced in the chart below.



In education, we are responsible for many state and federally-mandated programs.  Unfortunately, these programs are not often funded in whole or even in part.  When you combine unfunded mandates with funding that lags behind inflation, revenue has to come from somewhere.

In this blog post, I'd like to provide a few examples of unfunded mandates that have led to budget shortfalls that have, in turn, left school districts in Minnesota heavily dependent on local operating levies.  There are three notable programs that everyone has likely heard about at some point in time.  The first is special education, which carries a federal mandate to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities.  The second is to provide language services for students whose home language is not English.  And the third is programming for gifted and talented students.  These are vital programs for our students.  Yet in none of these three programs do we receive enough state or federal aid to cover the actual costs to deliver the programs as required by law.

Since its passage in 1975, Congress has never fully funded special education.  Nor has the state of Minnesota fully covered its portion. This leaves districts having to cover the gap in funding, which is commonly known as the special education cross subsidy.  In District 197, the cross subsidy for special education is approximately $4M a year, or roughly one-third of special education's $12M annual budget.  We rely on our general fund to cover the $4M that should be coming from the state and federal governments.  As shown in the chart below*, the cross subsidy for schools across Minnesota is staggering, and it is growing.  It is why we consistently lobby the legislature and Congress to fully fund special education.


My second example is how districts are left to fill funding gaps for teaching English to students who are not proficient in English.  To fulfill this mandate, we receive categorical state aid for English instruction for non-native speakers, but it does not cover the actual costs. Our cross-subsidy here is approximately $900,000 per year. Third, while we receive a small amount of funding from the state to support mandated programming for students who are gifted and talented, our cross-subsidy is roughly $250,000 per year.  Combined, these two cross subsidies total over a million dollars a year.

Again, these programs are critically important to ensure the success for all students, and we are committed to providing support and services to our students. There is no question about that.  But as you can see, costs quickly add up.  It is left up to us to fill in the funding gaps at the local level.

I hope I have provided you with helpful information for thinking about the upcoming levy renewal.  You can find out more about our levy by visiting our district website.

In closing, please be sure to vote on November 8th.

Sincerely,

Nancy Allen-Mastro
Superintendent

Follow me at Twitter @Supt197

*As published in the Association for Metropolitan School Districts' September 2016 Connections newsletter. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Levies Are for Learning

In District 197, we are fortunate to have two 10-year operating levies that support learning.  One was passed in 2011; another was passed in 2007.  School District 197 depends on both levies to help pay for the basic learning needs of students, including academic programming, books and supplies, teacher and staff salaries, and other operating expenses.  On November 8th, we will be asking voters to renew the 2007 levy for another 10 years.   Renewing the levy will help us maintain current programs and services and ensure continued support for academic achievement and innovation.

The 2007 levy, which expires in 2017, provides $5.2M in funding above and beyond the basic per pupil aid funding from the state of Minnesota, which is eight percent of our annual general fund operating budget.  This is equivalent to the annual budget to run one of our middle schools.

With these levies, we have been able to invest in our education program in recent years.  We've expanded K-12 music and gifted and talented programming, and we've revamped the middle school schedule to better support fifth and sixth grade students.  We also added deans at the middle schools.  Recently we expanded the number of K-12 school counselors by staffing a full-time counselor at each elementary school and adding counselors at the secondary schools to increase support for career guidance and college planning.

We have also been able to invest in our co-curricular program. For example, in 2014 we joined forces with the cities of West St. Paul and Mendota Heights to renovate and upgrade the John V. Hoene Ice Arena in West St. Paul, extending the facility's life for another 20 years and ensuring home ice for our boys' and girls' hockey programs.

Our levies for learning have ensured a more stable revenue stream for District 197 schools by including an annual inflationary increase based on calculations determined by the Minnesota Department of Education.  The inflationary increase ensures the value of the levy amount remains constant over the duration of the levy period. The inflationary adjustment each year is critical, especially when considering that while the state legislature has increased funding for schools in Minnesota, the increases in the per pupil amount have not kept pace with inflation.  You can see this reflected in the chart below.


Local levies make up for shortages in state aid, plain and simple, because communities want more for their students than what state monies can provide.  Our community is no different.  We want the best for our students.

We also believe we operate our schools resourcefully.  Our community agrees.  In our 2016 annual stakeholder survey conducted by the Morris-Leatherman Company, 92% of respondents stated they feel the community receives a good value for its investment in its public schools.  We also know that the total tax impact on households in District 197 is lower than any of our neighboring districts and those whom we often compare ourselves to in terms of size.  You can see the comparisons in the chart below.


I hope this information is helpful.  I urge you to become further informed.  In addition to direct mailings, we have a variety of information meetings and webinars occurring between now and November.  You can access these dates and other important information on our district website at www.isd197.org/levy.  I hope to see you soon!

Sincerely,

Nancy Allen-Mastro

Follow me on Twitter @Supt197




Friday, September 2, 2016

Come talk with us!

It's back to school, and we're ready! Our buildings and grounds crew have our schools in tip top shape, and teachers returned this week to a full slate of professional development opportunities. It promises to be another outstanding year in District 197.

As the year gets underway, I would like to encourage you to get three important dates on your calendar. Each year, we provide opportunities for our parents and community members to engage in dialogue around our Strategic Framework and the six goals that have been identified by our school board as priorities for growth and development. We do this in a series of three discussions throughout the year that are open to all staff and members of the community.  Anywhere from 50 to 100 people have attended past discussions.

In these community-wide strategy team meetings, we discuss key aspects of select initiatives.  I would like to invite you to three conversations we have planned.  The three dates and related topics are as follows:

September 19, 6:00 - 8:00 p.m.
January 10, 6:00 - 8:00 p.m.
March 16, 6:00 - 8:00 p.m.
Presentation:  Annual World’s Best Workforce Report
Breakout discussions:
  • K-12 math review
  • Parent academy
  • Adaptive curriculum resources
  • Elementary 1:1 rollout
  • TriDistrict Career and College Readiness Initiative
  • Universal preschool design

Topic:  E-12 Required and Elective Offerings
Breakout discussions:
  • What are the essential required courses all students should have in order to graduate career or college ready?
  • What elective courses should be offered to ensure students graduate career or college ready?
  • Designing flexible learning spaces
  • TriDistrict career pathway options
  • Preschool class offerings
Topic:  Personalized Learning Vision


Breakout discussions:


  • Emerging models in District 197
  • Strategic Framework:  Next Steps

As a token of our appreciation, we will provide you with a light supper at 5:00 p.m. prior to the meeting.  Child care and translation services are also provided upon request.  We just need you to sign up so we can plan accordingly for all who will be attending. Simply click here to register.  Although you are welcome to attend one or two meetings, we encourage attendance at all three if possible so that the conversation is ongoing.

I hope you will join us for this unique dialogue with our community.  Gathering a wide range of input into these topics help to ensure we are advancing programs in a way that meets our community’s needs and expectations.  Your presence and input will be greatly appreciated by all.


Sincerely,

Nancy Allen-Mastro
Superintendent


Follow me on Twitter @Supt197

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Ensuring our Students are Prepared for the Future of Their Choice

On August 2nd, members of a newly formed Career and College Readiness Steering Committee in District 197 spent the day visiting four local businesses to learn more about the 21st century workplace.  In order to prepare students for the future of their choice, we need to understand the kinds of careers and jobs our students will be entering after they graduate from high school or college. We also need to be aware of the skills employers are counting on us to develop in our students.

Last year, we forged a partnership with the school districts in South St. Paul and Inver Grove Heights to see how we could work together to create opportunities to ensure students graduate career or college ready.  All three districts have articulated this as a goal in their strategic plans. By working collaboratively, we believe we will be able to make it possible for more students to earn college credit or complete industry-standard certifications concurrently while earning a high school diploma.  We call it our TriDistrict Career and College Readiness Initiative, and you will be hearing more about it throughout the coming year.

The business tour was arranged by the Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce along with the River Heights Chamber of Commerce.  These two chambers serve our three school districts and have actively supported our efforts to prepare students for careers and college.    

Throughout the day, we toured CHSWaterousThompson Reuters, and Fairview Ridges Hospital.  Each provided insight into their organization, the kinds of jobs they host, and the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to be successful working in their business or industry.  They also shared with us gaps in employee qualifications that they'd like to see improved.

What is it businesses are looking for?  The skills identified were common to all four stops on the tour: the ability to work collaboratively with others, solve problems, think critically, and communicate effectively topped the lists. Employers are also seeking individuals who are motivated and have a strong work ethic.

Thank you to our local businesses and the Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce and River Heights Chamber of Commerce for a very productive day! 

 
District 197 Team at CHS

Follow me on Twitter @Supt197