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, February 21, 2014

Magnet Schools in District 197

Dear Friends and Families of School District 197,

February is National Magnet School Awareness Month in the United States, which made me think this is a great time to be sure you are aware that we have four excellent magnet schools in our district:  Garlough Environmental Magnet School, Moreland Arts and Health Sciences Magnet School, Pilot Knob STEM Magnet School, and Heritage E-STEM Magnet School. Each offers unique opportunities for learning. In fact, our magnet schools have earned numerous state and national awards for their outstanding programs!

Magnet schools are very much in keeping with Goal C in our District Strategic Framework, which is to personalize learning by offering multiple pathways and opportunities to explore individual interests and talents.  Students interested in theme-based programming thrive in our magnet schools as do students who simply want a high-quality learning experience.  Parents also find numerous ways to be involved and have created a strong network of support for our magnets.

Our magnets have also had a positive impact on the entire district.  In more ways than one they have served as a springboard for innovation that has spread to all our schools.  Environmental education, for example, has increased in all of our elementary schools, stemming in part from the work done initially at Garlough. Learning in the STEM areas (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) too has grown.  The 1-1 iPad initiatives at Heritage, Moreland, and Pilot Knob allowed us to try out 1-1 computing, which has proven to be very successful.  As we seek to expand 1-1 computing through our upcoming referendum we will use the valuable lessons learned.

Our magnet schools have formed some substantial partnerships.  For example, Garlough has a long-standing partnership with Dodge Nature Center, as does Heritage, who also has a great partnership with Sea Life at the Mall of America.  Pilot Knob has a strong partnership with Therapeutic Solutions.  (They initially partnered with Lockheed Martin in Eagan which has since closed, so Pilot Knob is seeking a new engineering partner, so if you know of one in their neighborhood, let us know!) 

For this post I'd like to highlight a very unique partnership to illustrate just how powerful and far-reaching these partnerships can be.  Moreland is partnering with the Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities in a program called InSciEd Out.  This program is for third and fourth graders and integrates the inquiry process of science into the curriculum, including literacy and math.  According to Principal Eric Bradley, "Students are led through guided experiments to gain knowledge on a topic.  Then, as a class, students create an extension experiment to test some of their own burning questions.  All of the experiments focus on health and well-being.  During the experiments, students have access to resources and scientists from the Mayo Clinic to answer any questions they have along the way.  This is a fantastic partnership that is designed to help students understand the world around them, to be curious, and most importantly, to realize that they are scientists!"  How cool is that!

These are just a few of the many, many partnerships at our magnet schools,which are far to numerous to mention here.  If you would like to learn more about any one of our magnet schools or how to apply for enrollment, simply go to our Magnet Schools web page or contact our district magnet schools coordinator, Sarah Shanley, at 651-403-7571 or  


Nancy Allen-Mastro


Friday, February 7, 2014

School Board Calls a Special Election

Dear Friends and Families of District 197,

I am pleased to announce that on Monday, February 3 the school board passed a resolution calling a special election for May 6, 2014.  This special election will ask voters to approve a $11.2 million bond to construct an early learning center in the north end of the district adjacent to Heritage E-STEM Magnet School and to fund security upgrades to all of our schools. The Board is also asking voters to renew and increase our capital projects levy to $1.7 million to fund technology improvements, including 1:2 computing for grades K-2 and 1:1 computing for students in grades 3-12.  (A ratio of 1:2 and 1:1 means one device for every two students and one device for every one student respectively.)

I talked with you about these initiatives in my blog posts in September, October and November.  In addition, we have provided extensive information on our website, and many of you have been following our journey through communications in our weekly eNews and other district publications.  If you are just becoming aware of our planning process, you can find out more about each of these initiatives by going to this link,

These projects have been three years in the making, starting with recommendations forwarded to the school board by the Strategic Redesign Advisory Committee in 2011-12, and it is exciting to see them come to fruition in the form of a referendum.  The early learning center and the technology improvements are critical needs for our district.  While growing our early learning programming we have experienced increases in K-12 enrollment, due primarily to a new families moving into our West St. Paul neighborhoods.  We are quickly running out of space for early learning in our elementary schools, requiring us to seek a permanent location for early learning.

Much can also be said about our need to make some critical technology improvements and expand our students' access to 21st century learning tools.  The levy will enable us to establish an annual replacement cycle, provide equitable access to technology across all of our schools, and significantly ramp up the integration of technology into our curriculum.  Many districts across the metro have already moved forward with 1:1 computing.  Not only do we think 1:1 computing is good for learning, it will also help us remain competitive.

The preferred device for grades K-8 will be an iPad and for grades 9-12 it will be a laptop. To reach the 1:1 ratio at the high school, we've elected to expand our current Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program. Translated, this means that students who would like to bring their own laptop or tablet may do so.

Our initiative will require all students to have a laptop at school. However, for those who choose not to or are unable to, one will be provided by the district. The BYOD approach further personalizes learning for students and it helps to make converting fully into 1:1 computing cost-effective for the taxpayer, saving the district roughly half a million dollars a year in device costs.

When we studied our facility needs last fall, our task force also briefly discussed whether the district should consider relocating Matson Field to the Henry Sibley High School campus.  This idea has been a subject of interest for many years in our community.  While members of the task force agreed the idea had merit, there was a consensus that relocating the stadium should be carefully studied before making any recommendations, and that this study was beyond the scope of the task force and the timelines under which it was operating.

In the last few weeks, a group of stadium supporters have asked the district to give serious attention to the stadium and place it on the May ballot.  The school board has indicated it is interested in engaging in a thorough study.  We need to acknowledge this will take time, however, and many partners must be part of the process, including the cities of Mendota Heights and West St. Paul.  Therefore inclusion on the May ballot is not possible.

Admittedly, relocating the stadium could perhaps best be identified as a want versus a need.  Matson Field works for us.  However, our community takes great pride in our school district, and there is a strong argument to be made that having the stadium on campus could significantly enhance the identity and stature of Henry Sibley High School and have a positive impact on our athletic programs.  It is truly an exciting idea!

That said, we have two needs that are mission critical to meeting our academic goals:  early learning and technology.  After our early learning and technology needs have been met, we will be in a position to explore our stadium question and any other athletic field or facility improvements that would be desirable.  Patience has served our district well in the past, as has thoughtful planning.

The passionate support for our schools and programs is a substantial asset for our district!  We value this asset and look forward to providing you with more information regarding the referendum in the coming months.  In the meantime, thank you for your continued support and enthusiasm!


Nancy Allen-Mastro