by Mike Knaak
The opening of the new Sartell High School is just one piece of a multiyear strategy that transforms the district’s curriculum and building configurations.
“We have been for a number of years implementing the four Cs – communication, creativity, critical thinking and collaboration,” said High School Principal Brenda Steve.
While the focus is on the high school this fall, during the next year, the district will spend about $11 million to remodel the old high school for middle school students.
When the 2020-21 school year starts, grades six through eight will attend the Middle School. The current Middle School will be renamed and welcome grades three through five.
The district’s two current elementary schools, Pine Meadow and Oak Ridge, will serve the district’s youngest students.
Pre-kindergarten through kindergarten children will attend Oak Ridge while Pine Meadow will serve first and second graders.
The high school design and curriculum will place more focus on preparing students for a variety of options: entering the job market, two-year post-secondary or four-year post-secondary education.
“The biggest change has to do with career opportunities,” said Superintendent Jeff Schwiebert. “Culinary arts, welding, fabrications are all off the center core and out in the open. We do more than prepare kids for four-year college. We will put front and center whatever is their next step.”
Building design will also enhance and allow the district to expand its partnerships with community businesses, including mentoring opportunities. A lab next to the Fitness Center will serve classes with St. Cloud Orthopedics. There’s space for a future certified nursing assistant class. Off the commons, the Culinary Lab could support a partnership with local chefs.
The Mill, a coffee shop and school store in the Commons will give students opportunities to run and manage a business.
“We need to prepare kids to multi-task,” Schwiebert said. “Their careers will not be the same day in and day out. They will work in teams. Our challenge is to make sure we have the space and our curriculum and methods meet those changes.”
How soon those partnerships and other programs launch depends on finding partners and whether an operating levy on the ballot this fall passes.
Voters turned down an operating levy last November that would have raised $1.77 million a year for 10 years. The money would have supported running the district’s buildings, holding down class sizes and paying for some of those new programs.
The district plans a Nov. 5 vote on a similar measure but with a smaller property-tax impact because of state funding changes.
Leaders are introducing this fall a new culture called Sabre Strong. It emphasizes behaviors and attitudes to promote a positive, safe and inclusive environment where all students have the opportunity to continually grow academically, socially and emotionally. Sabre Strong behaviors are safe, accountable, brave, respectful, engaging and supportive. Placards around the school list appropriate behaviors for each area.
The school design, inside and out, builds in safety features. Acres of open space surround the building and there are no large trees or obstructions to hide an approaching threat. Exits at every corner of the building allow for escape instead of funneling students down long halls. And the open interior design allows a view of what’s going on.
During the school day, visitors can only enter the building through the main office, where staff have to open two sets of doors to get inside the rest of the building.
“We can contain the threat to the entry/office area and they can’t get to the rest of the building,” Steve said.
Last fall’s operating levy defeat again raised the issue of school funding with some residents resisting another tax increase after the 2016 approval of the building bond. Administrators insist the money is wisely spent.
“Our responsibility as members of a great democratic society is to prepare the next generation,” Schwiebert said. “Public education is the best thing we have going.”
Looking at the new building, Steve, the principal said, “the taxpayers got a lot of bang for the buck. The district has been very frugal.”
After almost four years of planning, designing and building, the important work begins Sept. 3.
Junior Courtney Snoberger, who has been involved in the planning, is looking ahead.
“Once we get students in there, they will take it to another level in ways we didn’t think about,” Snoberger said. “We’ll change the way we thought we were going to use it and make it better.”
“School is about the people who come to the building – the community, the students,” Steve said. “The design of the building is the result of their work. I can’t wait to see them in the space they helped design.
“They are going to graduate with a great education and great plan for their future, today and 20 years from today.”