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Strategic planning: schools praised for adapting to pandemic

NEW ULM — The District 88 school board and administrators met for a work session Thursday as part of creating the next strategic action plan.

The board and administrators began by reviewing the current data for the 2018-2021 strategic plan. The data collection process was a greater challenge than previous strategic plans due to the 2020 COVID pandemic. Some of the data were incomplete or unavailable due to the pandemic changing how the school operated for over a year.

The top three goals the school had for the current strategic plan were: increasing student achievement 3% each year as measured by Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) data; personalized learning for all; and building upon the confidence and support of the community.

Early in the work session, it was explained the 3% achievement could not be measured using MCA data because this data was not collected in 2020. Based on the MCA data available, the district did make improvements but not at a 3%. ACT scores did exceed state averages across all three years.

On this goal, board member Denny Waloch had questions on what steps the district could take regarding weighted tests’ impact on students’ grades. Daily work has less of an impact on a student’s final score. Students who struggle with test-taking risk having a lower overall grade.

High School Principal Mark Bergmann confirmed most colleges are grading on testing. He said students are assessed more on what they know than what they can do. Part of this change is related to access to technology.

“With access to technology, what a student does might not even be work that they do,” Bergmann said. “It might be work they get from the internet or work they get from a textbook.”

Testing is the only way to measure what they have learned, versus what they were able to pull off a website.

This led to a discussion of whether there was individual support for students who struggled with testing. This segways into the discussion of the second strategic planning goal: personalized learning.

Over the last three years, the district has switched to device learning. The high school had a one-to-one device situation in the fall of 2019. This was a benefit once the pandemic forced distance learning.

The third goal, building on community confidence, required the district to communicate accomplishments. This could be phone calls to parents or marketing the district through media.

The board and administrators also reviewed survey information from district employees and community members. The survey asked to list the areas the district is doing well and areas that needed improvement.

Employees and community members agreed the student support days were working well. These days enable students to receive additional support from teachers.

In areas for improvement, employees and the community cited a disconnect between the school buildings. There was a lack of consistency between buildings with no unity. Community members surveyed also wanted to see greater diversity and inclusion. With technology playing a greater role in education, the community members wanted students to have greater access to the technology.

Before the study session closed, the board and administrators broke into small groups to discuss areas of success and areas in need of improvement from the last three years, as well as priorities for the next three years.

The small group feedback cited many of the issues highlighted in the previous surveys. The board and principals praised the quick changes made in the district to accommodate distance learning including the student support days. Technology integration was seen as a bright spot.

Under improvements, the board and administrators wanted to see greater support for student social and mental health. Building interest in the fine arts was another area to improve. With greater technology integration, the need to update technology and focus learning was a priority.

This work session was the first of two sessions on the strategic action plan. This session was designed to compile and review information. The committee will meet at the next study session Thursday, May 13, to complete the strategic action plan.

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