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.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Giving Thanks for Our District Volunteers

Dear Friends and Families of School District 197,

While the nation celebrates Thanksgiving this week, District 197 would like to express a heartfelt thank you to all of the volunteers in our district.  Volunteers can be found in every school every day of the week. Without our volunteers, we could not provide the kinds of support and services our students and staff have come to rely on as we seek to educate each and every young person in our schools.  We are deeply grateful for their service.

The number of ways in which our community contributes time and talent is vast and are too numerous to list here. But to illustrate my point, I'd like to tell you about one program which has made a deep and lasting impact on a school and the students within the school for more than a generation.

For over two decades the "Special Pals in Fun and Friendship" volunteer program at Somerset Elementary, known as SPIFF, has been a mainstay at Somerset.  SPIFF began as the brainchild of second grade teacher Alex Messicci.  Today, the entire second grade and its team of teachers at Somerset participate.

SPIFF connects a second grader at Somerset with an older adult.  Students wait all fall to meet their "pal." This rite of passage at Somerset is a big deal.  The entire second grade class gathers in the gym, and one by one the children's names are called.  They proudly walk over to where their pal awaits. Smiles beam across the room.

Last Friday, SPIFF celebrated 25 years at Somerset.  Twenty-five years is a long time!  Over 1,700 friendships have been formed since its inception. The duration of the program is a testament to the power of inter-generational relationships.  Such relationships help children develop socially, emotionally, and intellectually.  But it's not just about the kids and their development.  The SPIFF program warms the heart and minds of the older adults as well.  Most come back year after year. While they give their time to a child, they insist what they get back is tenfold.  It is a simple concept that has such profound giving one receives far more.  

SPIFF is just one example of the way in which our community supports our children through volunteering. No matter what role a volunteer plays, large or small, each volunteer makes a difference!  So to all our parents, all of our senior citizens, all of our business partners, and everyone in between, thank you. School District 197 would simply not be the same without you.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Nancy Allen-Mastro, Superintendent

Monday, November 18, 2013

District Shows Marked Growth in Enrollment

Dear Friends and Families of School District 197,

Each year on October 1 public schools in Minnesota report their student enrollment to the Minnesota Department of Education.  The October 1 submission is the official count of students in the district and is used annually for a variety of purposes, from projecting enrollment to determining our annual state and local revenues.  Our 2013 October 1 count was 4,780 students, an increase of 119 students from last year alone.

This year's enrollment shows the fifth straight year in a row of increases.  In 2005 our enrollment was 4,666 students, which was followed by a decline for four years in a row to an enrollment low in 2009 at 4,365 students.  Then a reversal began to occur.  Since 2009, we have grown by 415 students, ending the period of decline.  This is a significant increase for a district our size.

We periodically engage a former state demographer to help us project our enrollment.  We recently had her update our projections.  According to the demographer, growth in enrollment is projected to continue well into the future. The data suggest that we can expect our enrollment to possibly go as high as 5,806 students by 2022.

The reasons behind this growth are open to interpretation, but of the 415 new students since 2009, 400 are students who live in the district, as compared to a student who might enroll from outside the district.  There is evidence that more families are moving into the district. Our growth is on the north end of the district.  

Other first and second-ring suburbs are experiencing similar patterns of growth.  Among them are the following school districts: South Washington County, St. Louis Park, Spring Lake Park, Edina, Richfield, Roseville, Columbia Heights, and South St. Paul.

In earlier posts you heard me talk about our facility study in which we are trying to determine where to permanently locate our early learning program, which is also growing.  We are taking this new enrollment information into consideration as we continue our investigation. The facility task force is scheduled to present their recommendations to the school board on November 25 at a special work session.

What we know for certain is that we are a growing district.  We look forward to this growth, knowing that we will continue to offer high-quality programs and services for the students and families of District 197 in a sustainable and cost-effective manner.  We also look forward to your continued support and interest as this conversation further unfolds.


Nancy Allen-Mastro


Friday, November 1, 2013

Seeing 21st Century Learning First Hand

Dear Friends and Families of School District 197,

Earlier this week members of the school board were invited to see what students have been up to at Heritage E-STEM Magnet and Moreland Arts and Health Sciences Magnet Schools with their 1-1 iPad initiatives.

On October 21, the school board received a Phase II Technology report and presentation that outlined options for further integrating technology into the curriculum, primarily through expanding the use of 1-1 computing devices to other schools in the district.  The school visits were designed to give school board members a picture of what students are able to do with their devices, in particular how the devices help to advance knowledge, critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork, and creativity.

Transforming teaching and learning through the innovative use of technology is a key component of Goal F in our Strategic Framework.  The presence of technology in students' lives outside of school cannot be denied any more than the way in which technology has permeated the workforce.  We live in a technological age that has spawned the rise of a knowledge economy.  The technological skills and abilities that are required in the workplace today far exceed what was once the norm, as has the need for workers to be creative, innovative, self-directed solution finders.  Our students are "digital natives" for whom a computing device is as natural as a pencil once was for my generation.  Their ability to work with a device for learning is almost intuitive because of their experience with technology in and outside of school.

Schools all over the region, state, and nation are moving to 1-1 computing.  In District 197, we have made it a priority to examine if and how we might move forward thoughtfully and in such a way that ensures we have the infrastructure to support 1-1 computing, proper training available to teachers, and a plan for how to sustain the investment.

During November and December, the school board will be making some important decisions in regard to technology.  At a minimum, we will need to renew our capital projects levy sometime in 2014, which requires a vote by our community.  The question for the board is whether to keep the levy at its current level or consider increasing it.  I urge you to take a look at the Phase II Technology report and presentation to become familiar with its contents.  This will enable you to be an informed member of the community as the conversation unfolds.

On our school visits I was able to capture a few photos of our board members with students that you may enjoying viewing below.

Best wishes, and thanks for visiting my blog!


Nancy Allen-Mastro