Sartell-St. Stephen Community,
The Sartell-St. Stephen School Board and Superintendent Dr. Joe Hill would like to publicly address our community on the topic of communication and transparency with respect to the district decision-making process.
There has been contention regarding the decision made by the Board of Education with respect to our school-district calendar and the departure from a full-week spring break in exchange for multiple extended weekend breaks for our staff and students. We understand and value that the trust and support of our community has been, and continues to be, essential to our district’s success. We would like to respond to questions that have been raised about our decision-making process and refocus attention on the mission of the school district.
The complexities in developing a district calendar to fit the needs of our wide base of internal and external stakeholders are very challenging. We live in a community filled with a diversity of thoughts, backgrounds, needs, desires and influences which makes it difficult to develop a “one-size-fits-all” calendar. The key factors in designing our school calendar include:
Supporting the district mission to maximize student and staff success
Implementation of our district decision-making process to obtain stakeholder feedback
Those factors take into account a timely process, the multi-faceted needs of our learners, and state mandates, along with several other factors related to contracts, social and religious values and facility management. The responsibilities of our stakeholders throughout the process include the advisory roles of our staff and parents, facilitative roles of administration and leadership teams and the school board reviewing proposals and approving a final recommendation.
The feedback throughout the process was varied among staff, administration and parents, which led to two viable calendar options being presented at a November work session. During this session, at the December board meeting, and at the January work session, the board discussed the options and thoughtfully considered the merits of both in moving forward. At the January board meeting, the board approved a two-year calendar that adjusted from a week-long spring break to multiple extended weekends throughout the year.
Following that decision, the board began to hear from community members with opinions both pro and con. As a community, many voices have were heard, including a variety of perspectives and opinions offered, both publicly and privately. Parents and students attended the January and February board meetings to express their desire to keep a week-long spring break. Those who attended expressed concern regarding district communication, the impact of moving away from a full-week vacation, and perceived lack of explanation as to why the change occurred. The board has also heard from other voices within the community who preferred the flexible nature of the approved calendar because of its broadened options in planning family trips, continuity in educational programming, and its lessened impact on issues related to financial constraints and extended child care. The board was inundated with opinions as well as a broader community request to understand the process the board followed resulting in the January decision.
The new district decision-making policy was implemented as our process to calendar development. This process allows open opportunities for input and involvement by multiple stakeholders. Previously, a small district committee developed the calendar and made recommendation to the board for approval. This year, the topic of the calendar was brought to all building leadership teams and parent organizations for input. Input from those stakeholder groups helped to guide better calendar alignment of parent-teacher conferences, consistency to our grading schedules, and supported creating an additional staff development day.
There were several noted challenges throughout this process. Our district decision-making process was, and still is, in its early stages of development. Some of our parent organizations are also newly implemented, which unintentionally limited overall participation. We are supportive of this district process and, although argued, we believe it will provide more in-depth information and involvement from multiple stakeholders in the future. We are confident that the approved calendars can serve the educational needs of our students and staff.
Moving forward, we recognize that the school calendar and the process of design hold great importance for our community. We have a strong commitment to continuous improvement and regularly monitoring our progress. We have one of the highest-achieving districts in the state with some of the most competitive programs. We have remarkably invested staff and coaches who will continue to make needed accommodations for student-excused absences. We have a strong, dynamic community that values education and supports our schools. We will continue to evaluate and improve all aspects of our district’s performance, programs and communication.
This issue has given us another opportunity to celebrate the worth our community has for its school district. We had an overwhelming presence of passionate parents and students attend our board meetings in January and February. We were especially impressed with the quality and courage of our student body who emulated our district’s value of active citizenship.
Maintaining focus to our mission is our charge as we move forward in service : “To inspire the entire community to develop well rounded citizens capable of becoming successful and contributing members of society by providing outstanding instruction in a caring and supportive environment.” We welcome your voice and honor your commitment to our success.
Mary McCabe – School Board Chair on behalf of ISD 748 School Board Members
Dr. Joseph Hill – ISD 748 Superintendent
Author: Dennis Dalman
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.