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 18, 2015

A Historic Gift to Education

During this season of giving, a new style of philanthropy was recently announced.  Mark Zuckerberg, owner and founder of Facebook, and his wife, Priscilla Chan, recently pledged to donate 99 percent of their shares of their company to support improvements in education, public health, and communities. The couple made their historic announcement in A Letter to Our Daughterpublished on Facebook.

I find this young couple's action inspiring.  A significant amount of money will be invested in these three important areas.  Of course, the fact they they will focus in part on education, is especially appealing.  But it's not just the money; it's their motivation behind their philanthropy.  Their mission is to advance human potential and promote equality.  That's a staggering ambition.  In their letter to their newborn daughter, they revealed their vision:
I am especially thrilled to see their emphasis on personalized learning. I share their vision for how it can change the entire way we go about educating children in America.  I, too, believe it can be a way to ensure all students are engaged in learning in a meaningful and relevant way.  I, too, believe that technology will play a key role, but that it is only a part of a new design for learning.  A whole new approach to school awaits.

In District 197, the transformation has already begun.  We have already made a commitment to personalizing learning in our Strategic Framework. Goal C states that we will personalize learning by offering multiple pathways and opportunities to explore individual interests and talents.  But like all good things, it will take time, and it will evolve gradually.

First, we have been laying the groundwork for personalized learning by creating a guaranteed and viable curriculum and having a system of supports and services in place so all students can be successful. These efforts are a part of Goal A, where we seek to achieve measurable growth and continuous progress for each student. Before we can ensure measurable growth, we need to be clear about what we are teaching.

Second, we are creating a technology-rich environment, one in which we use technology as an accelerator for learning.  Our EmPowerED initiative is our way of preparing students and teachers to use technology as a transformative tool, and we are taking it to scale.

Third, over the next six months, we will be developing a district vision for how personalized learning will look and feel in District 197.  We will also determine what it will take to attain our vision.  Having a clear idea of what it is we are trying to create is the first step in realizing our goal.

You can help shape this vision by joining us for a community-wide conversation on Monday, January 11.  We will be meeting from 4:30 - 7:30 p.m. in Warrior Hall at Henry Sibley High School.  A light supper will be served, and child care is provided.  We simply ask that you register in advance so we can plan accordingly.  Click here to go to our registration site.  You may be interested to know we have multiple panels planned throughout the evening where participants will hear from current and former Henry Sibley High School students.  They'll tell us about their school experience and help us think about schooling in the future.  You won't want to miss it.

Until then, have a restful and enjoyable winter break.  I'll look forward to seeing you come January, when we pick up and continue our journey together.


Nancy Allen-Mastro

Follow me on Twitter @Supt197

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

District 197's Tax Levy Set to Go Down in 2016

Dear Staff, Parents, and Community Members,

On Monday, December 7th, the school board held its annual Truth in Taxation Public Hearing.  I am pleased to report that the local school property tax levy used to fund various expenditures in the district is going down by $569,154, or a total of 2.3%.  This is good news, especially after our community approved a $1.2M annual technology levy and a small security bond in 2014, and after adding a levy in 2016 to pay for the lease for our new Early Learning and Family Resource Center.

Of our 2015-16 total revenue, including all funds, $24,682,484 comes from local levies.  Remaining revenues come from state and federal education aid.  As you know, levies are collected through local property taxes.  

Many factors cause a homeowner's school property tax bill to increase or decrease from one year to the next.  In addition to local voter-approved levies, changes in the value of an individual property or changes in the total value of all property in the district cause fluctuations, as do increases or decreases in levy amounts that are impacted by changes in state funding formulas.

We take pride in being responsible stewards of our taxpayers' money and look for ways to be value-driven.  For example, one factor that heavily impacted the decrease in the total levy from 2015 to 2016 was the repayment of one of the district's bonds. To complete large building improvements or construction projects the district will issue bonds, however, our finance department is careful to build in a financing model that allows us to maintain a level tax rate on debt and capital levies.

While providing high-value educational opportunities for students, we are also mindful of the impact on our taxpayers. When compared to neighboring school districts, our local tax levies are the lowest, as demonstrated in the 2015 property tax chart below.

For more information on the property tax levy, click on this link to view the entire presentation to the school board. It starts at 1:54:00.


Nancy Allen-Mastro

Follow me on Twitter @Supt197