by Mike Knaak
The Sartell-St. Stephen school board has scheduled a listing session for 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 24, at the high school to hear opinions on how the district can address equity issues.
The session will be on the Learning Stairs in the school Commons. All participants will be asked to wear a mask and will be seated 6 feet apart.
The intent of the session is to provide an opportunity to share perspectives and experiences, according to an announcement from the district. The session follows a statement published by district June 15 responding to the death of George Floyd. That statement emphasized that “as a school district, we are committed to ensuring that each child is part of a healthy, safe, engaged and supported environment.”
The listening session offers the entire community an opportunity to share their experiences.
“This is not a debate,” Superintendent Jeff Schwiebert said. “The point of this for everyone to be heard.”
“Awareness in our culture has pushed things forward in a good way,” board chair Jeremy Snoberger said. “We always respect voices in our community, and this is a reality we need to address.”
Snoberger says that not everyone is comfortable speaking to a board member or coming to a board meeting so the listening session gives people a chance to share.
“Our hope is that people will join us at the listening session,” he said. “We want our kids to be safe, engaged, supported and challenged.”
Students of color make up less than 10 percent of the district’s enrollment. School leaders talked about the need to educate 100 percent of students and prepare them for the 21st century world.
“They will go into a much more multi-cultural world than we have here,” Schwiebert said. “How are preparing all of our kids for a more diverse world?”
“We are looking at our values and mission to educate the whole child, to develop children who are ready to serve and better this world,” Snoberger said.
Schools need to reflect their community but also “educate, train and equip students for the world they enter,” Snoberger said. “We seek to be an active part of the community.”
Schwiebert said the current discussion around racial equity could be a “momentous time. We don’t want to tell students what to think but explain issues to help them process the information” and be “well prepared citizens of the country.”
The board has used listening sessions before as a means to guide policies and decisions. When an operating levy failed two years ago, the board hosted a series of sessions that helped shape a second levy question approved by voters last year.
Scheduling the listening session on equity followed an informal discussion at a board working session a few weeks ago. Snoberger said the board has talked about how to be more transparent. “Let’s start now,” he said.
The board has scheduled a work session for Wednesday, July 8, where board members would have chance to discuss what they learn at the listening session. The July 8 meeting will begin with a closed session at 5:30 p.m. where the board with discuss Schwiebert’s evaluation. An open session will follow at about 6:30 or 7 p.m. The meeting will be at the District Service Center, 212 Third Ave. N.