by Heidi L. Everett
Kennedy Community School was the school in focus at the Oct. 20 Board of Education meeting for District 742.
Principal Anna Wilhite shared the school’s overarching goals for the year, which are grounded in Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment data for reading and math as well as other school data.
The goals focus on multi-disciplinary learning across the curriculum, literacy, and social and emotional learning.
The first goal is for all students to engage in multi-disciplinary opportunities that extend and re-enforce science, technology engineering, art and math (STEAM).
Wilhite shared examples of in-school activities at all grade levels from creating bubble-gum artwork to analyzing different rocks to coding to rhythm and drumming and to communicating virtually with NASA scientists.
She noted all seventh-graders take a robotics class, the school has a robotics team and Kennedy just received a grant to build a robotics field.
Wilhite also showcased pictures from outside the classroom, like Family Engagement Night where families created apple launchers and other activities.
As another goal, all students will continue to build, develop and grow their literacy skills through direct instruction as well as exposure to positive reading opportunities, such as exploring how to become an author or learning how to take notes in the classroom.
Kennedy has received additional funding to provide reading interventions up through eighth grade because of an increase in students who receive free and reduced lunch. Prior funding only supported elementary students.
Finally, all students will develop, enhance and grow social and emotional skills.
“We really focus on not only having warm, welcoming kind spaces,” Wilhite said, “but also living and breathing that in everything we do at school.”
For example, Kennedy offers Colt Cash incentives for students who exhibit the Colt Way of being kind, safe and responsible. Students can use Colt Cash to buy fun grade-appropriate items and logo merchandise.
The school also has a WEB Crew (Where Everyone Belongs) tasked with ensuring the school is a welcoming environment.
“We are meeting these three goals or striving to meet these three goals this school year,” Wilhite said. “Everything that we do throughout our school building is aligned to these.”
Wilhite took the opportunity to discuss some of the successful changes implemented during the pandemic safety protocols that will carryover this school year, like morning announcements being delivered via video rather than just audio, virtual engagements with organizations like NASA and digital learning days.
She also highlighted important partnerships with Apollo High School students, College of St. Benedict students, local first responders and Woodcrest of Country Manor residents that enhance the learning environment for students at Kennedy.
School board member Al Dahlgren asked about the dip in enrollment at Kennedy Community School this year, the single-biggest site drop in the district at 45 students.
“In the last two years, our families have made decisions that work best for them,” Wilhite said. “Some of our families did choose to homeschool. Some of our families decided to do online learning, and after we decided we weren’t doing that as a district that was something they chose to do. And then some of our families have chosen to go to (other) area schools.”
Wilhite said Kennedy asks families who are not returning to complete a survey; she also makes personal phone calls.
“They usually just tell us it’s due to family choices or family reasons. We don’t usually get a clear answer as to the why they are leaving,” she said.
Assistant Superintendent Laurie Putnam also noted the district’s changes in open enrollment as a factor.
“When we tightened up having students transfer or drive themselves from the east side or the south side, that actually had a fairly significant impact on Kennedy,” she said.
Neighboring districts, like Holdingford and ROCORI, also are making it easier for students to attend those schools by providing bus routes within the St. Cloud service area.
“Neighboring districts are really being aggressive, and as a district we are trying to figure out how to combat that or address that,” said Superintendent Willie Jett.
Dahlgren said the district needs to better understand the “root causes” so all district schools can be “growing and vibrant.”
Board member Les Green said the district needs to shift its mindset of a business model that advertises and recruits customers.
“We might think about what it is these families want that we are not providing, number one. And what do we have that they don’t want?” Green said. “We need to make certain each child is getting the education they need and that meets the needs of their parents.”