ISD 728: Expansion of Building Space, Educational Services Needed to Meet Strategic Plan, Next Decade of Learning
Nearly one year ago, the ISD 728 School Board approved its latest Strategic Plan, setting the course for the next five years of learning in the school system that serves the Rogers, Otsego, Elk River and Zimmerman communities, as well as townships and neighborhoods throughout the surrounding areas.
The Strategic Plan – a community effort that included input from more than 1000 different voices – includes a pair of strategies the district stated it would utilize to maintain its status as one of the top school districts in Minnesota.
First, the plan states ISD 728 will cultivate “an innovative environment where all members of our community support a culture that is committed to embracing exceptional opportunities for all learners to achieve our mission and learner outcomes.”
Second, the plan states the district will “ensure equitable opportunities and access to programs and facilities so that all learners achieve” our mission, maintain core values and reach for higher-than-ever learner outcomes.
ISD 728 staff, with the support of members of the leadership team, reported a plan on how to deliver on the tenets of the new Strategic Plan at a special presentation to the School Board held on April 22, 2019. The report laid out a purposeful plan to expand facilities to meet growth and student needs, while also reviewing curriculum and special needs necessary for the district to implement innovative learning tactics for the year 2020 and beyond.
“We know the direction we have been given from our communities,” said Superintendent Dan Bittman. “Their input into our plan has been something we are excited about and are using to guide our work. Yet, in order to achieve these strategic goals, we knew some steps had to be taken to not only keep us successful, but to put us in position to achieve new levels of success as a district.”
Ensuring ‘Equity and Adequacy’
ISD 728 Director of Community Relations Cory Franson admits the district’s strategies can sometimes get “jumbled by jargon.” However, the objective is pretty clear – the district is growing and needs more space. And, the spaces already utilized in ISD 728 need to meet the needs of a modern-day student.
“The systematic method of standing in front of a classroom and talking to kids about nouns and pronouns or the Pythagorean theorem is only part of what our teachers and students do,” Franson said. “If that’s all a classroom is made for, and all a school offers, districts will not be preparing our students for their future. They need a different experience than what was offered years ago.”
The need to update and maintain existing space is one part of a three-legged stool. But it’s necessary to create the best learning environments throughout a district that has facilities ranging from very old to very new.
Secondly, ISD 728 is growing. A trip down Wright County Highway 39 to the south and west of Elk River shows a booming community across the Mississippi River. Otsego officials told the district more homes have been built – on the average – over the last two years than even prior to the recession of 2008. And more are on the way.
This spells the need for an additional school, according to demographics presented to the district via an independent study earlier this year.
“Growth in enrollment is a good problem to have, as it means families want to live here and have their children attend our schools,” Bittman said. “However, it’s not one that is easily or quickly accommodated. While ISD 728 added space with the 2014 referendum, we’re in need of more on the southern end of the district. We will increase by 600 kids every three years, according to projections and expect to have an additional 2,000 within the next five to ten years. That level of growth equals a new elementary school every three years. There simply isn’t enough room in our schools in the southern end of the district.”
Third, responsible spending – something the district has been recognized for over the past decade – also means taking care of our buildings by addressing deferred maintenance needs. Those include new roofs, heating systems, parking lots and more.
Creating an Innovative Environment
Innovation, Assistant Superintendent Jana Hennen-Burr said, means building on new ideas, and expanding on recent success. For ISD 728, that means - ideally - growing award-winning programs like the Mindfulness initiatives across the district, and the Career and Technical Education (CTE) efforts and partnerships that have changed academic and career relationships around ISD 728 communities. That can’t be done without more resources assisting the departments leading these programs.
“I think one of the great success stories we’ve had as a district recently is the community’s response to our efforts in CTE, which has included numerous opportunities including work experiences and apprenticeships for students,” Hennen-Burr said. “The Strategic Plan the Board approved last year encourages us to find new ways to continue to grow that program, and to bring it to more students every year. We’re finding more support for that from our business partners, and that’s creating new opportunities for students everyday.”
In addition to expanding CTE opportunities, ISD 728 hopes to invest in its teaching and learning team, allowing it to narrow its curriculum review cycle from 10 to seven years. This means updating student materials around the state’s 8th largest district more regularly to meet new demands from an ever-changing workforce. Other important efforts to support students would be embraced with additional resources, should they become available. Leading the way would be a focus on social-emotional learning – including mental health support – and additional resources for students who are struggling and in need of specialized support. Finally, ISD 728 would strive to maintain or lower class sizes across the district. This is a conscious decision to provide more resources for students, while maintaining optimal teacher/student ratios for our professionals as well.
“The support we’ve received from our community has been vital to our past success,” Bittman said. “Continued support will be needed to maintain that level – and then improve upon it. So our discussion is centered on how to fund our academic and facilities needs so they align with the Strategic Plan. How do we put ourselves in a position where, in 2023, we can look back and say, ‘We were able to build upon what we started as we entered the 21st Century and then become an even more dynamic and innovative place for our students, staff and families.’ ISD 728 is an amazing place to live, work and grow. We’re excited to work with our community to make it even better.”