The Spring Lake Park School District hosted a community conversation about activities and athletics Nov. 19, the first in a study slated to end this June.
Twenty community members, most of them parents of students in district elementary and middle schools, gathered at the District Services Center to voice their opinions.
Superintendent Jeff Ronneberg kicked off the meeting with a discussion about the larger activities and athletics study.
Increased levels of attendance, connectedness and academic success come with participation in activities and athletics, Ronneberg said, so the district continually strives to increase the number of students who are involved in extracurricular activities.
In Spring Lake Park, 62 percent of high school students participate in Minnesota State High School League programs, a number on par with neighboring districts, according to Activities and Athletic Director Matt St. Martin, who is leading the study with the district’s Director of Community Education Colleen Pederson.
Quality programs are also important to the district. It isn’t about a team’s record or ensemble’s accolades, it’s about the experiences students have, experiences that are bound to change when Spring Lake Park High School’s enrollment swells in the coming years, Ronneberg said.
“A 2,000 student high school – that’s going to make it much more difficult for students to compete,” he said.
Desired results of the study include increasing participation and success rates, working more closely with youth sports and booster clubs and assessing facility needs with projected enrollment increases.
For Phil Richard, president of the Blaine Spring Lake Park Athletic Association and a third-grade football and basketball coach, the relationship between youth and high school athletics, as well as facility changes are critical moving forward.
Richard volunteered to be part of a six- to eight-person design team that will meet several times each month, from January until the study concludes in June.
“My personal hope is that we really put together a long-term plan,” Richard said.
Two to three more community conversations will likely occur in the spring, St. Martin said.
After district leaders spoke, Bruce Miles, a consultant assisting with the study, presented results from a district survey administered in November.
The sample size was very small; only 100 students, staff and community members participated.
All three groups of respondents cited politics within extracurricular activities as something that Spring Lake Park needs to improve, or something that might limit participation.
After hearing the survey’s findings, community members began shouting out topics for discussion, at Miles’ request.
The topics were grouped into the following categories: access, brand, costs and fees, more offerings, parent involvement, partnerships with youth programs and others.
Community members could float from table to table, category to category, moving on when they didn’t want to talk about a particular topic any longer.
Richard said there was a “good, passionate discussion” about the future of middle school sports.
Father of three boys and a member of the Blaine Area Little League Board, Chris Bentrott spent a lot of time discussing partnerships with youth programs.
Bentrott said that the conversation was valuable, but the turnout was disappointing.
“I thought this place would be packed,” parent Colleen LaBelle said before the meeting started.
District administrators were not sure how many community members to expect, but many parents were disheartened by the low turnout.
The design team will continue to shape the study in January. More community input will be sought in the spring.
Olivia Koester is at firstname.lastname@example.org