Excellence through personalized learning, technology and a focus on college readiness

With two weeks remaining in the school year, I find myself looking back and reflecting on the year, at what has been accomplished by our students and staff.

Jeff Ronneberg

Jeff Ronneberg

I hope that you find the Spring Lake Park Schools to be a source of great pride for the community, and wish I could share all of this year’s progress and success.

Space does not permit, so I invite you to find the time to visit SpringLakeParkSchools.org and browse through the stories of your community schools.

I will, however, highlight a few plans for the future, primarily a couple of key initiatives that the school board endorsed in recent weeks.

This work centers around our vision of ensuring personalized experiences so that each of our students feels valued, inspired and has a sense of belonging, with aspirations for success in their future, resulting in college readiness and the development of academic, life and career skills.

Personalized learning

A great source of pride this past year was when our community approved the renewal of an existing levy that allowed us to maintain important programming for our students for another seven years.

The community also approved a technology levy that will allow the district to replace outdated technologies, maintain our current technologies for their expected lifecycle and expand the use of technology to support our teachers in meeting the unique and varied needs of our students. We are so thankful for this support!

I am excited to share that we will begin expanding the use of technology in the fall for the next school year, eventually putting a technology learning device in the hands of almost every student in the district with a primary goal of continuously improving student engagement and personalizing and improving the learning of each student.

The plan is the culmination of years of professional learning efforts, development of a comprehensive technology plan, ongoing evaluation of a wide variety of technologies, researching, visiting and learning from benchmark school districts, staff input, as well as establishing a partnership with the Farmington School District to realize efficiencies in planning and purchasing and to improve effectiveness in implementation.

This work has provided a sound foundation for taking this next step.

Our focus is personalizing learning and preparing each of our students for their future, so that they see as many doors as possible open to them when they leave our schools.

If there is one thing that a majority of our leaders in St. Paul and Washington, D.C., agree upon it is that our future will require young people to attain some type of post-secondary education, as well as be able to continue learning and adapt their skills for a lifetime.

We also know that many of the jobs in ten to twenty years do not exist today, and the skills many of us are expected to employ in the workplace far exceed what we developed in our formal education.

Preparing our students for this type of future requires engaging, meaningful learning experiences that result in students learning necessary content, while also developing skills for their life and career, such as communicating in multiple contexts, problem-solving, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.

Dr. Chris Dede of Harvard University describes it this way: “Classrooms are too often without rich resources or ways to simulate the world. Teachers are the only way increasingly large numbers of students get personalized learning experiences.

We need to blend technology and teachers to simulate the world outside the school and personalize learning for students.”

While expanding digital learning will provide equity and additional tools for teachers to deliver transformational learning for each student, by itself, an iPad, interactive white board or laptop is just a device.

They require purposeful application by high quality teachers in order to make a difference for kids.

Just last week I had the opportunity to listen to and visit with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the annual gathering of the Learning First Alliance, who supported this.

“I applaud districts that are expanding technology. It’s so important. However, it’s important to note that technology isn’t about replacing teachers. It’s about pairing technology with great educators to meet the needs of all kids.,” she said.

The Spring Lake Park School District has excellent teachers who are ready, and excited, to have an additional tool at their disposal in order to meet the needs of their students.

They consistently engage in planning and professional learning to meet the needs of their students, and the expansion of technology provides them with another important and effective way to meet the increasingly diverse needs of their students.

I want to share comments from a few of our educators:

Andy Sowards, a teacher at Westwood Intermediate School, said, “The world around us is changing every day and I believe that schools need to change to meet the needs of our students. I am super excited about the technology initiative and am looking forward to the future.”

Jim Stern, a Spring Lake Park High School teacher and the president of Spring Lake Park Teachers United, said, “Every minute that goes by there are more ways to use technology to enhance learning. If every student comes to class with a device that can be used to explore, document, share, reflect, and create… They will be more engaged and motivated, while becoming more responsible in their own learning.”

“This digital initiative is a great example of how the Spring Lake Park Schools are going to do whatever it takes to meet the needs of every student, providing them with the tools and skills necessary for their future,” says Nikki Pudwill, a Woodcrest Elementary teacher. “It will provide equal access to all students and help to provide engaging, motivating instruction.”

Ultimately, putting iPads or other devices into the hands of our students and staff will not improve learning by itself.

We do know that trying nothing new will result in our achieving similar results as we have in the past, as we are perfectly designed to achieve our current level of results.

A superintendent in Iowa, a state where about 30 percent of schools utilize one device for one student, recently wrote: “Anticipating the future is particularly problematic for educational organizations often steeped in tradition, grounded in past practices, and desiring a great deal of evidence and assurances before any changes are made. Yet, if we wait, it will be too late.”

This idea is supported by Karl Haynus, who will be graduating from Spring Lake Park High School in one week.

He shared this with me: “The ability to adjust is often overlooked and frequently underrated,” he said.”

However, I believe that it is extremely important, especially in our ever-changing world.

It is important in the workplace and in all of post-high school life.

Why? Simply because change is inevitable. The only thing we know for sure when we wake up in the morning is that today will be different than yesterday.”

This is a change that we are moving forward with –thoughtfully– and a change that our students and staff are excited about.

I recognize that many will want to know more about our plans and some will have questions.

I encourage you to visit SpringLakeParkSchools.org to learn more.

Another excellence award

I am excited to share once again that the Minnesota Academic Excellence Foundation’s (MAEF), in conjunction with the Minnesota Department of Education, has selected Woodcrest Elementary School as recipient of the MAEF Spotlight Closing the Achievement Gap Award. It is a tremendous honor.

“We are impressed with Woodcrest’s commitment to improving student results through its individualized learning goals that are based on clear, measurable goals,” MAEF chairperson Brian Grogan said. “In addition, we commend Woodcrest’s focus on creating a holistic learning environment and your school’s ‘check in, check out’ program which connects at-risk students with adults.”

Ramp Up to Readiness

Spring Lake Park High School is one of only 36 schools in the state selected to participate in the Ramp-Up to Readiness program.

Administered through the College Readiness Consortium of the University of Minnesota, this program will provide curriculum, resources and professional learning to enhance the work already in place at the high school and to ensure that all students are college ready when they graduate.

The Ramp-Up to Readiness program will be implemented through advisories and elsewhere in the curriculum as appropriate.

This grant aligns perfectly with another board priority, the development of a College and Career Readiness Continuum that will include student learning benchmarks and career and life skills components.

This continuum will include the implementation of Student Learning Plans in the future, as will new and refined grades 6-12 Pathways for College and Career Readiness.

Community connections

We always look forward to hearing from, sharing with, learning from and working with the community. A few recent examples?

In May, the district held a series of Community Advisory Council meetings in which a cross-section of the community participating in discussions with school district staff.

This week local business leaders were invited to join us for a conversation in June about our schools and preparing students for the future.

Big finish to a great year

May is a great time of year in our schools, filled with concerts, awards programs and graduation. While we are looking towards great and exciting things in our future, we must first stop and salute the accomplishments of students this year, and especially our fine seniors, the class of 2012.

As always, thank you for your support of your schools and the over 5,000 students we have the honor of working with and educating each day.

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