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 27, 2015

Early Learning in District 197 Finds a Home

Dear Staff, Friends, and Families of District 197,

All of us seek a sense of belonging, a home where we can hang our hat and be our truest selves.  The same is true for people in the workplace and for students and parents who attend an educational program.  I am pleased to report that this month the school board made a commitment to our early learning program by approving a 10-year lease agreement for property located at 1970 Christensen Avenue in West St. Paul.  What was once a post office will undergo significant renovation to become home to our youngest learners, providing them with committed space that will enable them to grow and thrive!

Dedicating space to our early learning program is an important step in the evolution of this vital district program. The move will enhance program quality and effectiveness by ensuring adequate, age-appropriate space is available to students, staff, and parents on a continuous basis.  Services will be centrally located, and time will no longer be wasted relocating programs every summer.

Currently, early learning programs occupy whatever space is available in the district.  This worked during a time when early learning was growing and K-12 enrollment was declining.  Growth in K-12 enrollment over the past five years, however, has increased at a rapid and consistent rate, resulting in an unsustainable approach in how we were utilizing our facilities.  To address this, the school board posed a May 2014 bond referendum to build an early learning center.  The bond referendum failed, forcing the district to seek other options.

Leasing space proved to be a cost-effective way to meet our needs.  Funding to cover the lease costs will be accomplished by the board utilizing its levy authority to collect taxes to pay for educational space, in this case space for early learning.  The impact on the local taxpayer was given careful consideration in making this decision.  The total 10-year cost for the lease will be $3,988,669, ranging from $295,451 in year one to $439,818 in the tenth year.  This equates to a $13/year tax impact on a home valued at $200,000 in 2016.  Compared to our original bond request for $8.6M for an early learning center (principle plus interest over the life of the bond), the total lease amount is less than half the cost of building.

Although leasing does not result in ownership at the end of the 10-year lease (as the bond would have), we believe we have achieved a win-win solution that meets our educational needs and respects the impact on local taxpayers.  Construction will begin as soon as site plans are finalized.  Early learning staff are scheduled to occupy the space in August of 2015, with programming to begin in September.

For our early learning staff and the many parent and community advocates who have participated in programming and supported the educational needs of our youngest learners, finding a dedicated site has been a five-year journey. They have remained patient at a time when programs were bursting at the seams, and they have maintained a positive attitude.  On behalf of District 197, we can't thank them enough.

For now, we look forward to our grand opening in the fall and hope you will join us!


Nancy Allen-Mastro
District 197

Follow me on Twitter @Supt197


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Gap Closing on District 197 Graduation Rates

Dear Friends, Families, and Staff of District 197,

The Minnesota Department of Education published the 2014 graduation rates this week, and Henry Sibley High School showed improvements across the board.  The graduation rate for all students went from 86% in 2013 to just under 90% in 2014.  Statewide the four-year graduation rate in 2014 was 81%.

Several groups in our district for whom there historically has been an achievement gap when it comes to graduation rates made even more dramatic gains.  Henry Sibley posted the following rates:
  • Hispanic student graduation rates rose from 72% in 2013 to 84% in 2014;
  • Black student graduation rates rose from 72% in 2013 to 82% in 2014;
  • English language learner graduation rates rose from 68% in 2013 to 84% in 2014;
  • Special education graduation rates rose from 59% in 2013 to 65% in 2014; and 
  • Rates for students who participate in the free/reduced lunch program rose from 77% in 2013 to 85% in 2014.
The achievement gap in graduation rates was cut in half for our Hispanic and Black students alone, with measures showing gap closures for the other special populations listed above as well. These are some of the highest graduation rates ever posted in District 197.  No group's graduation rates decreased.  

Moreover, in every single case, our graduation rates for all groups in 2014 are above the state average, in some cases by a wide margin.  Our results show a range of six to 12 percentage points above state averages in the All, Special Education, Asian, and White student groups.  The difference between state and District 197 results are much higher for students in the Hispanic, Black, Limited English Proficiency, and Free and Reduced Lunch groups, where the range is from 18 to 21 percentage points higher than the state average.  Our improved graduation outcomes show we are truly narrowing the achievement gap when it comes to high school graduation.  

This is a big deal when you consider we have one of the highest free and reduced lunch rates (known as the poverty rate) in the entire nine-county metro region.  So what made the difference?  Our Strategic Framework is focused squarely on six strategic goals, among them Goal D:  preparing students to be career or college ready. We are also focused on continuous progress and measurable growth for all students (Goal A), and Goal B focuses on narrowing the achievement gap.  By the time a student reaches high school, we strive to provide students with just-in-time supports.  These have increased across the district, including at Henry Sibley High School.  We are also more intentional about the kind of support we provide students who need extra help.  Staff are committed to student success, and increasingly we are finding ways to work in partnership with parents. 

Admittedly, graduation rates can vary from year to year, and we will continue to see slight variations over time.  What we look for are trends, and our trend is clear. We are making progress in preparing students for their post-secondary choices.  I couldn't be more proud.  Students, staff, and parents are worthy of our recognition. 

For more information, you can access the graduation rates for the entire state at this link.  


Nancy Allen-Mastro

Follow me on Twitter @Supt197

Friday, February 13, 2015

Give Once For All - GOFA

Dear Staff, Families, and Friends of District 197,

It's been a week of giving, in more ways than one.  Henry Sibley High School students have been busy raising money for two important causes: childhood hunger and ALS research during their annual Give Once For All (GOFA) Week.  This year the 58-year Warrior tradition of raising money and volunteering to help others was just a bit more meaningful.

Money was raised this week for Harvest Pack, a meal program founded by William McNally, one of our own District 197 residents.  William also happens to be a parent of students who attend our schools and is supported in this work by his wife, Jennifer.  They and other members of their team are dedicated to providing nutritious meals to those in need around the globe.  They rely on charitable donations and the gift of time spent packing meals.  Students at Henry Sibley rose to the challenge assembling 49,000 meals.  Hats off to them!

Students also raised money for ALS research in honor of our own Henry Sibley math teacher, Steve Lufkin.  Mr. Lufkin was diagnosed with ALS less than a year ago.  Like many, I stand in admiration and appreciation for Mr. Lufkin for his courage and the gentle manner in which he is sharing his journey.  We are learning much from him and his wife, Stacy, who is a social studies teacher at Friendly Hills. Both are showing us what it means to live life with purpose.  They are sharing their experience with a generosity of spirit - openly, and with grace.  Students have embraced the opportunity to examine this disease up close and confront it in a way that is especially personal.  On Wednesday night this story was captured on WCCO news.

Important life lessons are being learned.  It is also an opportunity to be inspired through the act of giving. Through giving and uniting around a common cause, Sibley students dare to dream about how their gift can be part of finding a cure for ALS.  It gives them a chance to feel like they too can do something about hunger.  It encourages them to pause and reflect, not just on their own blessings but on their role in the world and the myriad ways in which they can contribute to something bigger than themselves in a meaningful and lasting way.

One can choose to feel small in the world, or one can choose to do small things that make a big difference.  Our kids are choosing to make a difference!  I believe they are inspired by Mr. Lufkin.  I am convinced they are also inspired by the traditions of GOFA that teach the clear and compelling message that what you do for others matters.  Tradition.  Being all in.  This is one of the many intangible assets that make Henry Sibley High School a great place to grow and learn.


Nancy Allen-Mastro

P.S. Even though GOFA Week is over, there are still ways our community can support Harvest Pack and ALS research. You can send a check to Henry Sibley High School using the address below or you can make a donation to ALS-TDI directly through Steve Lufkin’s community page. Just remember to select “Henry Sibley GOFA Week” under events. Lastly, Friendly Hills Middle School students are asking people to make a snow angel and post it to social media with the hashtag #AngelsForALS to raise awareness for ALS.

Address for donations:
Henry Sibley Student Council
1897 Delaware Avenue
Mendota Heights, MN 55118

 Henry Sibley students packing meals during GOFA Week 2015.