by Mike Knaak
An effort that started after the murder of George Floyd to examine racism, bullying and social media in Sartell schools has led to a sweeping action plan that touches all aspects of student life inside and outside the classroom.
The final report and action plan produced by the 96-member Educational Equity and Student Experience Committee recommends dozens of actions on 10 topics to address issues in the Sartell-St. Stephen school district. Superintendent Jeff Ridlehoover presented the details at a meeting May 11.
“We want to create the most amazing student experience for every child who walks through our doors,” Ridlehoover said about the committee’s holistic approach. “We looked at this as it related to student experience and how kids feel when they walk into our schools.”
The committee first met in September and brainstormed about three dozen issues and priorities. During the past few months, the committee honed the list down to 10.
The complete report is available on the district’s website at www.isd748.org/Page/501.
Ridlehoover said some of the actions are already in place while others will be implemented during the next few months.
The 10 topics are: Activities, Communications and School/Home Partnerships, Culture and Climate, Curriculum and Instruction, Harassment and Bullying, Social Media, Special Education, Student Support Services, Technology and Transitions Between Buildings.
Recommended actions include ideas that arose during listening sessions, school board meetings and the committee’s brainstorming. Some of the actions reach beyond the schools for community resources and partnerships.
For example, student mental health will be the focus of a prekindergarten through grade 12 mental-health advocate, the addition of a fourth counselor at the high school and the addition of a kindergarten through grade 12 school-linked counselor through the Central Minnesota Mental Health Center.
The Activities list of actions includes encouraging participation and creating connections between activities, clubs and sports. To ease the financial burden of participation on parents, the fee structure will be reviewed to limit family maximum payments, and limit or decrease the ancillary costs of participation.
The Climate and Culture actions include partnering with students, families, staff and community members, local religious and civic organizations to provide opportunities to learn about racial and cultural similarities and differences that exist within the community, region and global society. These opportunities may include school/community presentations, student programs and/or community social gatherings.
The district intends to “hire the most qualified teachers and support staff to meet the needs of students and identify and actively recruit candidates who represent and reflect all students.”
Excellence will be defined by an individual’s personal growth as demonstrated in multiple ways that include academic, social and character attainment. Student achievements will be highlighted to recognize multiple talents and pathways including career and technical education, performing arts and service learning.
The curriculum will be reviewed to ensure academic standards are being taught through a variety of cultural perspectives in history, literature and other subjects, investigate the opportunity to expand elective offerings, and start a procedure for student and parent/guardian feedback related to curricular materials.
To deal with bullying, teachers will be trained to use restorative practices in all grades to build empathy, kindness and understanding. The action plan directs engagement by student government, staff and building principals to clearly address issues such as racism, sexism, marginalizing students with special needs and building the capacity of students and staff to address behaviors that demean, devalue or otherwise make individuals or groups feel unsafe or marginalized.
To acknowledge that bullying complaints are being addressed, a clear, easy-to-follow practice for families to understand the complaint process will be started. This will include conversations and documentation from building principals to the families of all parties involved in a formal complaint.
Expanding on a plan already in place for next fall, action steps call for increased student support as they move through the grades and between buildings. There are detailed plans for visits, tours, meetings with teachers and staff, and communication between teachers about each student.
In summarizing the report, Ridlehoover said “every kid matters. Some will say you didn’t go far enough, some will say we went too far.” He said the committee asked “what is our current reality and what are our desired outcomes.”