Preparing students for the future, making dreams reality

The summer is flying by, evidenced by the school supply displays that seem to appear in store aisles earlier and earlier each year. While I am looking forward to the coming school year, I also want to take a moment to look back at some of the successes of the past school year.

If you live within the Blaine, Spring Lake Park and Fridley communities that make up the Spring Lake Park School District, you’ll soon be receiving an issue of our Connections newsletter, which also takes a look back and provides a glimpse of the coming year. I encourage you to spend some time reviewing news about student successes and district initiatives.

Just a sampling of the many recent successes include state and national recognition in the National Merit Scholarship program, Knowledge Bowl, FCCLA, math, music, State Minnesota History Day, athletics and a top award for the district’s financial reporting from the Association of School Business Officials – International.

Of particular note is that the Minnesota Academic Excellence Foundation’s (MAEF), in conjunction with the Minnesota Department of Education, once again selected Woodcrest Elementary School as one of two recipients of the MAEF Spotlight on Closing the Achievement Gap Award.

These and many other accomplishments wouldn’t be possible without the support of so many in our community. So, it is exciting to point out a milestone achieved by a key partner, the community-based Panther Foundation. It just passed the $500,000 funding mark –in only eight years –in the form of grants and special projects that benefit our students. This is astounding.

It is so easy to be proud of our students, as well as my colleagues throughout the district, when I see those many successes. These successes are a result of the efforts I see during the year when I walk through district classrooms and see the personalized, engaging instruction that is taking place. It is exciting to think about how our teachers will utilize the planned expansion of technology beginning this fall to further improve the personalized learning of our students.

This focus is important because in today’s fast-paced world, we know that many of the jobs that will be in demand in 10 to 20 years do not even exist today, and that the skills expected in the workplace will far exceed what we currently develop in this country’s schools. 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.

I’ve written before about our 1:1 Technology and Digital Learning Initiative, which we expect to begin transforming education in the Spring Lake Park School District. Our plan will eventually place a technology-learning device in the hands of almost every student in the district. We realize that simply putting these devices, iPads for example, in the hands of teachers and students will not improve student learning by itself. Instead, we believe that by pairing technology and great educators we will continuously improve student engagement, personalize and improve the learning of each student, while also providing more equitable access to technology.

Thus, we have had our teachers involved in professional learning throughout the past year and have had them picking up their new devices and receiving training throughout the summer. We will provide further learning throughout the year. Just as we personalize learning for our students, this professional learning will include training provided in large groups for all school staff, as well as personal coaching to support the varied needs of individual teachers.

It has been fun to see the excitement among our teachers as they have participated in training this summer, as well as their creativity as they begin to plan their use of tools which will provide them with additional effective ways to meet the increasingly diverse needs of their students.

Expanding digital learning is not the only way we are looking at improving student learning. In the coming school year, developing and refining a College and Career Readiness Continuum, as well as piloting Student Learning Plans (SLP), is important work that will make a huge difference in how we prepare our learners for the future. I believe that this work will be equal to or more significant than our 1:1 Technology and Digital Learning Initiative. In fact, the digital learning initiative is really a vehicle to achieve our focus on creating personalized experiences and supporting students in developing the academic, life and career skills crucial for success in college or whatever path our students may choose to pursue.

These initiatives are exciting and at the same time a little daunting. However, there is not any other work I would rather be doing. I spend each day working with colleagues throughout our system in order to make the dreams of over 5,000 students in the Spring Lake Park Schools become a reality – and helping many of them establish dreams for themselves that they may not yet be able to imagine. How great is that?!

We have made progress towards our vision of being a world-class learning community – great progress – but it remains a journey. Our students deserve a personalized learning experience each and every day; a learning experience that fosters self-direction and curiosity; and that results in their seeing no limits to what they can accomplish. That is our work.

Thank you for your continuing interest in and support of our efforts to provide the best possible education for students. I hope that you enjoy learning about their successes and our plans and dreams to serve them both now and in the future.

Enjoy the rest of your summer, and I hope to see many of you at school events in the fall!

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