Student success, 1:1 technology a reality

The past few months have brought exciting plans for the future, as well as many accomplishments in the Spring Lake Park School District. I’ll provide some brief updates on our initiatives and planning, but want to begin with a sampling of the most recent student and staff successes (which seem to multiply at this time of year).

Jeff Ronneberg

Jeff Ronneberg

In the past few weeks alone, Westwood Intermediate School was named a Celebration School by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) and the Minnesota Academic Excellence Foundation (MAEF). Our high school Knowledge Bowl Team is once again the North Suburban Conference champion and is headed to the playoffs. Our high school math team placed second in the North Suburban Division of the Math League and now advances to the Math League State Tournament for the 14th time in the past 20 years.

Our dance team once again qualified for the state tournament in both jazz and kick, placing fifth in the state in jazz. Our Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) students were great at their regional and will compete at the state FCCLA competition in six events.

The winter sports season is not yet complete, but here are some highlights: The gymnastics team was the section academic champ with a 3.898 grade-point average. The boys’ swimming and diving team was North Suburban Conference champ, won the Section 3A championship and has state tournament entrants in every event. The Nordic ski team and the wrestling team each had a state tournament entrant. Other sports are still wrapping up their regular seasons and competing in section tournaments.

Spring Lake Park is a true 1:1 technology school district

It began in September and will be completed by the end of February. The roll-out – in four carefully orchestrated distribution phases – of nearly 5,000 MacBooks, iPads, iPad minis and iPod Touches for students and staff is now complete.

We are now a true 1:1 technology district with each student having – or having access to – a technology learning device. It is important to point out that our 1:1 digital learning initiative is not about having cool, shiny new tools as their newness will surely wear off. It is, however, about pairing great technology with great educators to personalize learning and providing additional, appropriate educational tools to meet the unique and varied needs of our students, every grade level, nearly two years of research, over 30 summer sessions of staff training, extensive technology training for staff embedded throughout the year and over 40 parent-student technology information and expectation sessions.

I cannot possibly offer enough thanks to our entire technology staff, lead learners (the teachers who were the first to implement and then share their experiences with colleagues), technology coaches and our teachers who are now in the midst of transforming how they work with students each day. Of course, I also need to once again thank our community who supported the capital projects levy in November 2011, providing the resources to extend the reach of this initiative to all students.

Throughout the year – and especially in the past few weeks – as I have visited classrooms in each of our schools, I have been so impressed by the instruction I see. I appreciate the creativity and risk-taking demonstrated by our teachers who are in the midst of this new 1:1 journey. It’s never easy to step out of the comfort zone of what we know has been successful. As a friend of mine recently shared, “there is no comfort in the learning zone and no learning in the comfort zone.”

With the four-month roll-out of technology completed, the transformation of teaching and learning will now accelerate.

We will soon begin providing up-close-and-personal updates on the learning taking place throughout the district, including a series of short video vignettes on our website which will illustrate and communicate the creative, personalized and engaging learning taking place. In addition, there will be a celebration of learning in May where the public – which supported a technology levy – will have the opportunity to experience this learning and use of technology.

Innovation zone application and a new design for education

On Feb. 1, the Spring Lake Park and Farmington school districts submitted an application to become a Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) innovation zone. This is a five-year pilot approved by the Legislature last year to encourage school district partnerships and the development of new, innovative ways to deliver education more effectively in Minnesota. Why would we embark on this five-year journey? The benefit of being designated an innovation zone would be receiving flexibility and freedom from some mandates, allowing district staff to think and act even more creatively in personalizing learning and meeting the unique needs of each student.

If the application is approved, it wouldn’t be about doing more. Instead, it would mean doing work differently, creating the conditions that would allow our educators to focus on learning and providing additional freedom to make an even bigger difference for kids.

We will find out by April if our proposed collaboration with Farmington is approved; if it is, additional planning will begin in earnest. We are already collaborating with Farmington as both districts are among the state’s leaders in efforts to transform learning through personalized, digital learning initiatives for all students.

A video we prepared as part of our application speaks of customized, personalized learning to ignite the spark in each student while simultaneously pursuing standards-based learning. This four-minute video, readily accessible on our website, provides an illustrated version of what we are striving to accomplish and is something that every parent, student and community member should know about our vision for education.

Facilities and programming plans for fall 2013 move forward

For well over a year, we’ve provided updates on our facilities and programming study which led to choices made in December for addressing short-term, intermediate-term and long-term solutions to manage current enrollment, projected enrollment growth of 20 percent, facilities at or near capacity and identify placement of choice programs.

For fall 2013, these include additional classrooms at Northpoint Elementary, additional classrooms and site work at Park Terrace Elementary, students and staff of Woodcrest Elementary relocating to Park Terrace and Spanish Immersion relocating to the Woodcrest site.

There are many projects and tasks necessary between now and the fall to ensure a smooth transition and a successful start to the upcoming school year. Six parent-staff task forces have been formed to address them.

A transportation design team of district staff and transportation consultants has been meeting continuously since December, gathering research on school start and end times and the impact on student learning and behavior, as well as running and studying dozens of transportation scenarios prior to meeting with a parent and community input team. This team has also begun meeting to discuss the implications for planning and narrowing transportation and district-wide school start end time options for the next school year. A recommendation is expected by the end of March.

Other task forces are working on managing student and staff transitions, PTAs/PTOs, center-based programming which will include special education and early childhood considerations, the transition of curriculum and media materials, and moving and classroom furniture standards.

Our supportive school community

On Saturday, Feb. 9, The Panther Foundation’s “Hear the Roar” Gala raised over $113,000 for our students. Not every district is blessed with this kind of support. This record amount included more than $25,000 to support the Panther Pantry Project to help end hunger locally by providing weekend food packs anonymously to students in need throughout the district over weekends and on non-school days.

The volunteer, community-based Panther Foundation annually raises funds – over $523,000 since 2004 – which have been turned into 170 grants and special projects to enrich or supplement teaching and learning.

Learn more, support students

There’s a lot more to learn about our schools, programs, initiatives and accomplishments by visiting SpringLakeParkSchools.org. And, as always, I encourage you to support our students by attending their athletic events, plays, concerts and more. You’ll have a great time and our students and staff will appreciate your encouragement and interest.

Jeff Ronneberg is the superintendent of Spring Lake Park School District 16.

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