Community satisfaction with education programs at a high level

Dave DeMarsFeatured News, News, Sartell – St. Stephen0 Comments

by Dave DeMars

At its June 19 regular meeting, the Sartell-St. Stephen school board received reports on the Community Survey and on a year-old program called the Circle of Friends.

Kay Nelson, assistant superintendent of learning services, along with school officials Brenda Steve, Kurt Stumpf, Kip Lynk, Sara Nelson and Kris O’Brien shared the highlights of the 2017-18 District 748 Annual Community Survey.

While the survey was considered a success, it was noted the number of respondents this year is down by about half, from 1,118 in 2016-17 to 553 in 2017-18. Nelson said she did not have a good explanation as to why the drop occurred. Eighty-six percent of respondents felt the level of services received for the dollars spent was well worth the cost.

Respondents were quite satisfied with the level of services in the key areas of reading, writing, math, social studies, art, music, physical education and health. Most often, respondents said the quality of education in primary and middle schools was good to excellent.

At the high school level, respondents continued to express a high degree of satisfaction with the programs offered. More programs such as theater, career technology and world languages are offered, and 90 percent of respondents said they would recommend their school’s education system to others.

The school board also received a report from students and advisors about a program called Circle of Friends, which began a year ago. Circle of Friends tries to provide a supportive environment for all students so they can take advantage of opportunities. It tries to foster healthy relationships among students.

“The program has paid off in so many different ways,” said Lori Connellly, special-education teacher. “We wanted to figure out how to instill in students a sense of belonging, and how we could provide opportunities for our children in special-needs classrooms with children who are in general-education classrooms.”

While some kids may have special requirements because of physical or academics, they have the same social and emotional needs as anyone else in the school building, Connelly explained. That includes a sense that they belong. It also means having friends to do things with such as sitting together at a lunch table rather than being segregated.

Three students (Annabelle Tautges, Madison Claseman, Abby Sieben) read statements to the board explaining how their involvement with the Circle of Friends program has affected their lives and view of the world.

“The program Circle of Friends has created bonds that will never break,”student Abby Sieben said.

“Circle of Friends has made me a better person and a better friend because it taught me not to leave people out,” Madison Claseman said.

“It’s made me have a really cool, super friend that is super funny,” said Annebelle Tautges.

Other business

Other board business included reports and updates on items such as enrollment for the past year; the end-of-the-year balancing of the student-activity account; the review of the solar-garden contract; an update on the construction of the new high school; and the superintendent’s report on security, safety, and discussion briefly of the contract of the district with Trobec’s Bus Service.

In action items the board approved a number of items such as personnel changes, fundraising activity, renewal of the milk contract, increase in pay for lawn maintenance, appointing new student representatives and approval of Superintendent Jeff Schwiebert’s appraisal. The board also approved the start of the budgeting process for 2018-19, a Fiscal Compliance and Procedures Manual, Minnesota State High School League membership and a management plan for lead in the water system.

photo by Dave DeMars
(From left to right) Abby Sieben, Madison Claseman, Annabelle Tautges and Lori Connelly listen attentively as Amanda Holstrom (not pictured) gives some added highlights about the Circle of Friends  program in Sartell schools. COF began last year and has seen a high level of success. COF is designed to help students who may need a place to belong.

Author: Dave DeMars

Born and raised in Wisconsin – a “Happy Days” high school experience. Attended UW-River Falls and followed their motto – “Where the free spirit prevails.” Four years in the Army Security Agency (Spies), 31 years teaching English and directing plays. Other jobs – gandy dancer, counselor at mental institution, snowmaker, apple picker, concrete finishing, janitor, furniture mover, appliance sales, insurance sales, media sales, real estate, and writer. I am skeptical to a fault and like all human being I am more oxymoron than I am anything else. I blog at

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