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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 19, 2014

Winter Break: What are your plans?

Dear Staff, Friends and Families of District 197,

I don't know about you but I am missing snow!  Our district has a rare two-week winter break for students ahead of us.  Normally I'd be looking forward to taking a few of those days off and getting in some cross-country skiing, but it is not looking as likely as it normally would.

Still, I refuse to let this unusual Minnesota winter get me down.  My husband and I are looking forward to his parents from Colorado Springs visiting next week, and with all there is to do around the metro, we are not in need of options.  We also like hanging around the house watching movies and putting together the annual jigsaw puzzle.

I like that things slow down enough on break to sleep in a little longer and have one more cup of coffee before jetting out of the house for work or an errand, which is far and away too often my modus operandi.  I hope you also will take special advantage of having a bit of extra time to spend with your kids and other friends and loved ones.  They need us, and we need them.

We all work hard and are pulled in many directions by modern living.  We need to be sure to take time to just be, and not always be busy.  It's hard.  Americans are an ambitious lot, and we pack a great many things into a day.  Just ask me.  Just ask your best friend, your neighbor.  We all are "SO BUSY!"

But we have to ask ourselves, what are we so busy doing?  Are we spending precious time on things that matter?  Mahatma Gandhi said, "My life is my message."  May I urge you today to ask yourself, what is your message to those whom you love?  Better yet, ask them, what is the message they hear? Would it surprise you?

See you all again soon in January ~

Nancy Allen-Mastro
Superintendent
Follow me on Twitter @Supt197

my life is my message gandhi picture quote
Image from Quotesandsmiles.com

Friday, December 5, 2014

Time to Think Differently?

Dear Staff, Friends and Families of District 197,

I believe it was Einstein who said insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  Yet when it comes to doing things differently, it is often met with skepticism and resistance.  This is human nature.  We must not let this aspect of human nature prevent us from thinking differently about how we educate students in District 197.  We need to embrace change, including those which make us uncomfortable or challenge our way of thinking.

We know that we have a significant achievement gap in our school district.  Our data shows it is especially evident at our middle level.  Results indicate too many middle school students leave 8th grade unprepared for a rigorous high school course of study.  In a study by ACT, students who were not on track academically by the end of 8th grade had a very difficult time catching up in high school. In addition to learning content, at the middle level students must acquire the kind of academic behaviors that become the gateway to accessing a rigorous high school curriculum.

Our results are a call to action, and a variety of things are underway to achieve better outcomes. There is no quick fix, and no one solution will address all of our needs.  We need to investigate any and all options.  One area to examine is how we use our existing resources.  As a school district, we must be committed to using them effectively.  One such resource is time.  How is time distributed during the school day, and how do we focus the time we have to ensure measurable growth and continuous progress for all students?  How do we ensure we prepare them to be career or college ready?

The class schedule is a time resource we can control.  While the schedule does not make or break student achievement, it can play a role in impacting how we ensure a balanced and effective focus on standards.  Since last spring a committee has been meeting to evaluate the effectiveness of the current middle school schedule and investigate how the schedule could be improved to produce better outcomes in regard to student achievement.

Our planning goals have been to ensure access to a rigorous core curriculum yet still allow for differences in learning needs.  We also value student choice, which is a way to personalize learning and engage students in subjects in which they have a strong interest or aptitude.  We also need to consider the developmental needs of students.  Should fifth graders have the same school experience as eighth graders?  Probably not.  They are at a different level developmentally, and we need to take those differences in to consideration when we think about how much instruction in things like reading, math, and writing is necessary at various ages.

I am pleased at the outcome of the planning.  It has produced several options that are currently being vetted by staff and parents.  On December 15 a recommendation will be forwarded to the school board at their monthly work session.  I look forward to seeing what the final recommendation will be.

A great deal of thought has gone into the process, and I am especially grateful to the teachers and parents who have devoted a considerable amount of time and energy into this topic.  It is not easy. There are many competing interests and opinions.  Yet I trust the words of Einstein, and I am confident that the thoroughness of the investigation into various options will produce a workable result.  Thank you to all of you have played a key role in bringing a recommendation forward.

Sincerely,

Nancy Allen-Mastro
Superintendent

Follow me on Twitter @Supt197