Superintendent 'In the Know' Echo Press Columns

  • Referendum progress report

    Posted by Julie Critz on 1/6/2020 11:00:00 AM

    Thanks to our community’s support and generosity, we had a successful referendum in November. The result will be increased revenue beginning next year to help meet our students’ academic needs, our program goals and our operating costs. As communicated prior to the November vote, the increased operating levy revenue will help support these goals:

    • Maintain or reduce class sizes
    • Continue with specialist teachers
    • Expand mental health support
    • Maintain or expand real world work experiences at middle and/or high school
    • Provide more financial stability

    Commitment #1: Maintain or reduce class sizes

    A high priority for families was addressing class sizes. I want to share the steps the district is taking to follow through with our commitment to maintain or reduce class sizes – with elementary class sizes being addressed first.

    The data gathered through our demographic study as well as from city and county experts showed that the Alexandria area is growing and therefore, our school enrollment is growing as well. To plan for this growth while addressing current class size challenges, an elementary school boundary review process is being conducted in January. The goals for our school boundary review include:

    • balancing and reducing (where able) class sizes across our elementary schools,
    • balancing services available to students in all of our elementary schools,
    • minimizing the number of families affected by a potential adjustment to attendance boundaries.

    We will work hard to make any changes as smooth as possible for all families, while also accomplishing our ultimate goal of reducing class sizes. A committee made up of parents, community members, principals and administration has already begun to study this issue, with decisions expected by the end of January.

    Since elementary classroom space is at capacity district-wide, district staff plans are underway to move the District Office (DO) and Community Education (CE) offices out of Woodland Elementary and convert the spaces into classrooms. This allows the district to accommodate growth and manage class sizes without putting a new addition onto our facilities.

    Woodland Elementary will be expanded to accommodate four sections at each grade level. This puts students first – a priority for all district decision making. Adult work represented through DO & CE support services can be relocated most easily. This would not be the first time the district office was located in a separate building. Prior to Woodland being built, district offices and community education were housed in the Spirit building (old Fingerhut building on Aga Drive) and in the County Services building (old Central School).

    Commitment #2: Continue with specialist teachers in elementary, such as music, art and science
    Referendum dollars will allow for programs to continue as they currently are, with additional staff now being added to the Woodland building to accommodate the additional sections planned for the 2020-21 school year.

    Commitment #3: Expand mental health support
    The district was notified recently that we would receive one-time revenue in the amount of $147,000 from the State of Minnesota for the purpose of increasing safety in schools. This allowed us to take action in the current school year, rather than waiting for the referendum funds to kick in next year. The board took action to approve adding 2.5 additional mental health/counselor positions that will be funded with this one-time money for the current school year. We plan to maintain those positions in future years, thanks to additional revenue from the voter-approved operating levy.

    Commitment #4: Maintain or expand real world work experiences at middle and/or high school
    The board approved seven new courses at Alexandria Area High School for the 2020-21 school year that will give students additional real world work experiences and go deeper into programming within some of the college and/or career pathways.

    Commitment #5: Provide more financial stability
    Last month the district was delighted to learn that the tax impact for the approved operating levy funding will be 43% lower than originally estimated for property owners in 2020. The lower-than-expected tax impact is due to community growth and higher property values. Exact property tax impacts will vary based on individual home values and other factors. This is great news for our community! We are also seeking the most fiscally responsible manner in which to relocate the District Offices and Community Education out of Woodland Elementary to make more space for kids. More to come as plans unfold.

    On behalf of the board, our students and our staff, I thank you for your continued support. We promise to keep you informed of our progress on fulfilling our referendum commitments and invite you to follow our progress by visiting our website at alexschools.org/referendum.

    Here’s to a continued great year!

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  • School year off to a great start!

    Posted by Julie Critz on 10/7/2019 12:30:00 PM

    Signs of fall are everywhere: boats and docks being pulled from the lakes, trees changing colors - and yellow school buses on our roads. Thank you for keeping an eye out for children walking, biking and busing to school each day.

    In the Alexandria Public Schools, we are honored to work with 4,261 students every day. Each September we welcome them, start their new routines and begin the nine-month process of learning and growing together. We appreciate your ongoing support for our students!

    We have a number of things to celebrate already this school year – here are a couple highlights:

    • Lincoln Elementary School has been named a 2019 National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education! Lincoln is one of nine schools in Minnesota in the category of Exemplary High Performing Schools.
    • The Minnesota Department of Education recently received a federal grant to promote positive school cultures throughout the state of Minnesota, and our district is one that has an opportunity to participate. The belief is that when schools take specific action to create positive school climate, the experience of everyone in the school community improves, leading to better student engagement and connectedness to school.
    • A 3,550 square foot addition to Miltona Science Magnet School was completed. With the addition, there are two more full-sized classrooms plus a special education suite, providing much needed instructional and intervention space to serve students.

    As we embrace the new school year, the district will maintain our focus on learning through being personal, comprehensive and responsive. These have been the cornerstones for the work of the district for the past few years and essentially keep us focused on creating a culture where every student has the opportunity to thrive.

    I’m particularly proud of the college & career-ready model in our high school that is helping us be intentional about preparing our students to be successful beyond their K-12 experience in the 21st century. Some examples include:

    • Increasing the number of experiences where teachers engage students in instruction that is interesting and relevant to the real world by giving kids authentic learning experiences. The Business CAPS class alone has resulted in 17 business partnerships in which juniors and seniors look at real-world application of what they’re learning, connecting their school work with future goals and opportunities. Additional examples of student success stories include feedback from employers who share that students have reached out to their businesses in hopes of completing their rotations at the clinic and hospital or to student teach in our school system.
    • Higher numbers of kids taking Advanced Placement (AP) and/or dual credit college credit bearing coursework at the high school campus.
    • Shifting the philosophy from years past when primarily only students who knew they were 4-year college bound took the ACT college entrance exam. Rather than inviting students to test on a Saturday, the exam is administered during the school day to all juniors. As a result of more students taking the test, the high school score has mostly remained steady, or seen a slight dip, from the state average. We view this experience as valuable – it helps raise the aspirations for all students and leaves the door open for a 2 or 4-year post-secondary path.
    • Introduced evening welding classes where students are able to get skills needed by business and industry, mentored by industry professionals. Not only will the program serve students, it will help serve the larger Alexandria region as the need for high qualified welders continues to increase.
    • Specifically teaching characteristics that grow each child’s ability to be self-directed, critical and creative thinkers, civically engaged citizens and strong communicators as part of our Portrait of a Graduate work.

    Our schools belong to our community. I encourage you to learn more about our school funding request on the November 5 ballot: visit our website at alexschools.org/referendum or come to a public information session on Thursday October 10, 7:00 p.m., at the School District Welcome Center, Oak Conference Room, 1410 S McKay Ave in Alexandria. Please learn more and make an informed vote on November 5.

    Here's to a continued great year – for our students, our staff and our community!

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  • A vision focused on students

    Posted by Julie Critz on 7/9/2019 2:00:00 PM

    Our community deserves excellence in their public schools. As we strive to be a district that exemplifies excellence in all we do, it’s imperative that we have a vision focused on what is important to meet our mission of every student learning and succeeding.

    There are many reasons for celebrating our school year. Here are just a few:

    • We honored 20 staff members that retired this year. Combined, they have provided the Alexandria School District students, families and community with 456 years of service!
    • 290 seniors graduated on May 31 from Alexandria Area High School.
    • The Meats Team took first place at the FFA Career Development Event, with the five team members almost sweeping the top five individual rankings.
    • Three Alexandria Area High School students won second place at a state DECA competition for public relations with a marketing campaign to build pride in the community and spread awareness of reasons to buy locally.
    • Our students excelled in activities and athletics in 2018-19. A few highlights include 10 gold academic teams, seven Central Lakes Conference championships, four section titles and five section runner-ups.

    We are blessed to be able to provide incredible opportunities and experiences for our students through the amazing work of our staff, visionary leadership of our school board, and positive support of our parents and community members. Thank you!

    As superintendent, one of my primary jobs is to ensure that our students and staff have the resources they need to succeed in our schools. Over the past several months, the School Board and administration have been looking at our budgets, our financial projections, and our enrollment patterns.

    We are a growing district, which tells us families value our schools. However, we are also facing budget challenges, as are many Minnesota school districts. These challenges include:

    • A $1.1 million shortfall in 2019-20 requiring us to cut more than half a million dollars, in addition to drawing down our fund balance, which is a critical safety valve for all districts. We anticipate ongoing cuts without additional revenue. 
    • Our school district is in the bottom 10% of all Minnesota school districts for general education funding. 
    • We are one of the only school districts in the area without a voter-approved operating levy, which means we don’t have the additional financial support that many communities provide to help operate our schools.
    • While we are grateful for the additional state funding recently approved by the legislature for the next two years, it does not make up for years of inadequate state funding and unfunded mandates. 

    One way we gather information from our community is through surveys. Two recent random sample phone surveys found the following:

    • 87% of respondents give us an A or B for the quality of our work, of those who offered a grade.
    • The top three reasons for the grades given were: academic standards, quality of instruction and leadership & management.
    • If additional funding were available, respondents top priorities are expanding mental health services and real world work experiences.
    • If cuts were needed, respondents are most supportive of avoiding cuts to elementary art, music and science teachers and avoiding teacher cuts at all levels.
    • In these surveys, as well as in community conversations held around the district, maintaining or reducing class sizes was also mentioned as a priority.

    Based on these budget concerns, the priorities identified in the community surveys, and our commitment to providing educational excellence for all students, the School Board asked us to bring them possible referendum recommendations for discussion in June and July. If the Board decides to pursue a referendum, any school funding requests would appear on the November 5, 2019 ballot.

    Our goal is to provide the highest quality education for students with the dollars available. We value our partnership with the Alexandria community, and greatly appreciate your support for our students and staff. 

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  • Studies help district plan for future

    Posted by Julie Critz on 4/10/2019 8:00:00 AM

    I want to take this opportunity to provide you with an update on a pair of recent studies completed by the school district that will inform future planning.

    District community survey
    The first study was a community survey, conducted by an outside organization, Springsted Inc.,  that included telephone interviews with 320 registered voters. This survey was intended to mirror the demographic makeup of Alexandria School District. Since we have approximately 22 percent of our voters as parents of school-aged children and 78 percent who are non-parents of school-aged children, the survey reached out to the same ratio of parents to non-parents. Similarly, we surveyed more females than males due to the makeup of our community. The survey gathered data on the public’s perception about the district’s educational programs and financial management, as well as informing us of community priorities for future planning. We were also gathering information about which methods of communication are preferred by our stakeholders.

    Overall, 76 percent of the respondents gave A or B grades to the school district for overall quality of work. The top three reasons they cite are: Quality of Instruction, Leadership and Management, and Academic Standards.

    The survey provided insight into priorities for the school district suggesting highest support for maintaining class sizes, social/emotional/mental health programming, and maintaining current programming such as the real-world work force experiences.

    The survey also asked voters for their opinions about potential tax impacts and for their opinions about potential facility improvements. These opinions will provide insight to the district for budget planning and weighing options as we address capacity and safety issues in some of our facilities.

    Additionally, we learned that respondents view word of mouth, print materials, and electronic communications as key sources of information from the district. Mailed and electronic newsletter publications, and The Echo Press, are specific communication channels cited.

    Enrollment projection study
    Enrollment trends and data contribute to staffing, budget and program decisions each year. It is standard practice for the district to work with a consultant to review and update demographic information periodically, to ensure adequate long range planning.

    Hazel Reinhardt Consulting Services was hired by the district to help determine future enrollment numbers. She projects district-wide enrollment to increase from between 11.9 percent to 13.7 percent over the next 10 years. In comparison, dating back to the 2008-09 school year, district enrollment increased by 7.0 percent over the last 10 years.

    Hazel’s report also revealed that the market share of the Alexandria Public Schools is 82.7 percent. In other words, we enroll 8 out of 10 of our resident students in our public schools, which is higher than statewide statistics.

    We have a tradition of offering our students a tremendous education program. The community survey and the enrollment projection study will provide valuable foundational data to help frame planning discussions for the future.

    An important step in the coming months will be engaging the school community in this process. Last month, I had the privilege of holding several small group stakeholder meetings with approximately 60 community members. This was our first round in sharing important topics that pertain to future enrollment, budget challenges, and community priorities identified through the community survey. We will continue to share information and gather stakeholder input in the coming months. Your continued support, engagement and interest in our schools and the limitless potential of our students is needed and appreciated!

     

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  • Preparing students for college and career

    Posted by Julie Critz on 1/9/2019 8:00:00 AM

    Alexandria Public Schools is committed to empowering all students to graduate with college, career, and life readiness skills.

    What does that mean? College and Career Readiness means students are:

    • Prepared to enroll in a post-secondary institution, be it a 2-year or 4-year college and do college-level coursework
    • Ready for entry-level careers that offer the opportunity for advancement

    As a result of being College and Career Ready, all students will be able to demonstrate the key characteristics identified in our Portrait of a Graduate work:

    • Self-Directed
    • Communication
    • Collaboration
    • Critical Thinking
    • Creative Thinking
    • Civically & Globally Engaged

    As part of our work to ensure all students are college and/or career ready when they graduate, Alexandria Public Schools has added a program called CAPS (Center for Advanced Professional Studies). The CAPS model began in the Blue Valley School District in Kansas several years ago and is now being utilized by numerous programs and states across the country. This network of schools provide benefits for our teachers, allowing them to collaborate around curriculum and program development with school districts around the country who are doing similar work. The addition of the CAPS program has enhanced our Academies of Alexandria model at Alexandria Area High School (AAHS).

    CAPS courses are an elective option for seniors at AAHS that immerse students into authentic career experiences with the help of local business partners. This experience allows students to apply their prior learning to real life situations.  It is a class that lasts for approximately three hours, and for the most part, the student reports to "work" (school) at the work site of the employer with which they are partnering rather than at AAHS. Each of our three career academies – Engineering, Manufacturing Technologies & Natural Resources (EMTNR); Health Sciences & Human Services (HSHS); and Business, Communication & Entrepreneurship (BCE) – has at least one opportunity for a CAPS experience.

    EMTNR Academy
    The CAPS EMTNR course is for students who are interested in using the skills they’ve acquired in EMTNR electives to complete real-world projects and solve real-world problems for area industries in the agriculture, food and natural resources, architecture and construction, manufacturing technologies, and STEM fields. Last fall, 18 students were enrolled in this course.

    HSHS Academy
    The CAPS Healthcare course offers students a project-based study in the area of health applications. Students participate in several field experiences and a job shadow experience to explore various career opportunities within the healthcare field. Twenty-two students were enrolled in this course fall semester; 14 are enrolled for spring semester. CAPS Teacher Education offers students a project-based study in the area of teacher education. Students had a variety of experiences in classrooms across the district including opportunities in early education, elementary school, middle school, high school and special education. Twenty-one students were enrolled in this course fall semester.

    BCE Academy
    The CAPS Business and Marketing provides an emphasis on marketing business concepts. Students spend the semester applying their acquired knowledge as they engage in partner-driven projects, solving business problems and experiences the challenges of project-based work. The marketing portion will introduce concepts such as product development and promotion; collecting and using marketing information; consumer behavior; ethical and social responsibilities. Last fall, 20 students were enrolled in this course.

    Several of our CAPS classes have college partners, allowing our students to earn college credit while taking these high school classes.

    On Sunday, January 13, 20 students will take the stage to compete for over $5,000 in scholarships. Over the past four months, these students have formed seven teams led by AAHS Business Teacher Eric Hartmann. This "Shark Tank" event is sponsored by Geneva Capital and supported by several area businesses who participate in the program and mentor the student teams. This competition allows students to complete a project with real-life application while simultaneously getting exposure into Alexandria’s local business world. This event is free and open to the public so all are welcome. Doors open at 4:30 p.m. with the presentation getting underway at 5 p.m. Hope to see you there!

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  • Shadowing students to gain perspective

    Posted by Julie Critz on 10/4/2018 8:30:00 AM

    One of the district’s core values is around being student-centered. In order to live out this value, I have asked everyone on the district leadership team to shadow a student with the intent of understanding a day in the life of an Alexandria student. School leaders make decisions every day that affect the educational experiences of students, which has made me, ponder; do we really know what their experience is like on a day-to-day basis? Are we making the best decisions possible if we don’t truly understand what their experience is like?

    As educators, and as parents, we all have our own personal experiences and perspectives to draw from. My perspective comes certainly from being a student, but also from being an early childhood teacher, elementary teacher, elementary principal, high school principal and director of teaching and learning.  However, in this fast changing world, I know that my experiences may not necessarily be relevant to today’s learners. As superintendent, I feel it is imperative that those who are making decisions on behalf of stakeholders, work hard to empathize and understand what’s real for those stakeholders. We cannot lose perspective of what a student’s daily experience is like, in 2018, if we are going to effectively make decisions on their behalf.  

    Recently, I had the privilege of completing two shadowing experiences. I shadowed a sixth-grade student at Discovery Middle School and a third-grade student at Voyager Elementary School. Although it looks different at the elementary level than the secondary level, the intent is the same – to develop a deeper understanding of what it really feels like to be in our school buildings.

    My shadowing experiences have been fun, eye-opening and overall terrific experiences! A few of the experiences and “lessons” I learned thus far:

    • Students appreciate choice. They were motivated more greatly by making choices that were of interest to them.
    • When students are empowered to make decisions on a daily basis, they start to build that skill of self-direction and efficacy.
    • Students were learning actively through creating, questioning and discovering.
    • The value of relationships is evident in all settings. Students helping students. Students helping teachers. Staff members taking time to visit, sit with, check in on, and encourage students happened in every situation. Relationships matter.

    This dedicated time in the classrooms shadowing students has also helped me observe 21st century skills in an up close and personal way. Last year, with input from 1,000 internal and external stakeholders, the district identified a set of attributes critical for ensuring students are future ready. We refer to these skills as the Portrait of a Alexandria Public Schools’ Graduate (POG). The six identified attributes include: Creative Thinker, Civically & Globally Engaged, Critical Thinker, Collaborator, Communicator, and Self-Directed.

    I have asked the leadership team members to jot down their observations and then we will share our experiences and insights at our October meeting. It’s my belief these collective student shadowing experiences will ultimately help us make the best decisions for students.

    I continue to be amazed at how extraordinary children are. They are doing amazing things because they have extraordinary parents, teachers and support staff, and a supportive community. Your continued support, engagement and interest in our schools and the limitless potential of our students is needed and appreciated!

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  • Moving forward together

    Posted by Julie Critz on 7/9/2018 9:00:00 AM

    It’s hard to believe that summer break is half-way over and that we are gearing up for the 2018-2019 school year in Alexandria Public Schools. We are blessed to be able to provide incredible opportunities for our students through the amazing work of our staff, visionary leadership of our school board, and positive support of our parents and community members.

    Over the summer, we take time to reflect on the three strategic initiatives that have been the cornerstones for the work of the district for the past few years. The three initiatives essentially keep us focused on what is important to meet our mission of every student learning, growing and succeeding and our vision of being an extraordinary district by working together. Our three focus areas center on student learning and engagement (We’re Personal); effective programs and services to meet student needs (We’re Comprehensive); and sound stewardship of resources (We’re Responsive).

    The administrative team and I, along with building leadership teams, fine tune action plans to help bring these focus areas to fruition. We will bring our 2018-2019 operational plan to the school board for a first reading at the July board meeting. Highlights of our work this year will be our innovation zone projects at Voyager, Garfield, Miltona, and Carlos; implementation of our Portrait of a Graduate plan that ties back to our Most Likely to Succeed work; conducting community demographics and long-term facility studies; and planning for long-term financial stability.

    Our community deserves excellence in their public schools. As we strive to be a district that exemplifies excellence in all we do, it’s imperative that we are intentional about creating opportunities to gather input and feedback from students, staff, parents and community members alike. Through the voice of all stakeholders, we can identify the key elements of success and together, create a sustainable plan that will carry us forward. There are various ways to be involved in the conversation:

    • Attend Parent Advisory meetings at your child’s school.
    • Complete the community survey (fall timeline – random sampling of district patrons).
    • Attend community conversations with the Superintendent (dates will be posted on the district website).
    • Complete parent surveys (spring timeline).

    It is through these feedback loops that we will take the Alexandria School District to new levels of excellence. Your voice is essential and your support is needed when it comes to meeting the needs of our students.

    On September 4, the Alexandria Public School District’s outstanding staff will welcome your student to the new school year. Across the district, from bus drivers to custodians, food service associates to administrative support professionals, principals to teachers, we are all committed to making sure our students are on the pathway to success. We are ready to work collaboratively to ensure that each child in our district receives the best education possible. I look forward to working with you to help us realize this vision for our students. Here’s to a great school year!

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  • Mental health and wellness in schools

    Posted by Julie Critz on 4/18/2018 9:00:00 AM

    Preparing all of our students academically for success in the future is our goal. Safeguarding students’ mental health and wellness is integral to fulfilling that goal. The mental health of our students allows them to establish and maintain healthy relationships, make good life choices, avoid risky behaviors, handle the ups and downs of life, and discover and grow towards their fullest potential. To that end, I want to share with you some of the strategies we have in place to address the mental wellness of our students.

    On-site mental health services
    Alexandria Public Schools provides a range of mental health supports by blending school resources with community resources. The district has numerous programs, interventions, and licensed staff in place to support students. Our team includes the district Student Support Services Department, and school guidance counselors, deans of students, psychologists and social workers. 

    Our Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) includes Student Intervention Teams that meet weekly to identify students who might benefit from mental health supports. The student might be struggling with a family crisis, experiencing a loss or dealing with another personal or overwhelming issue. The goal is to help them reach a stable place emotionally so the child can continue their education successfully. This proactive approach allows our school system to be responsive and get students and families connected to services.

    Alexandria Public Schools understands that accessing mental health services can be challenging for students and families. Our district has benefitted from long-standing partnerships with other local agencies (Lakeland Mental Health, Family Innovations, Village Family Service Cooperative, etc.) to provide access to qualified mental health professionals within the school setting. Services come to the building and in this sense, our schools create bridges to the mental health system.

    Providing students’ access to mental health services during the school day reduces barriers to services. Parents do not have to leave their place of employment to pick up their child and bring him/her to a mental health appointment. Students can access mental health services on-site, creating consistency and limiting or avoiding missed class time.

    We very much appreciate the collaborative relationships we have developed with these agencies to enhance the conditions for learning by providing easily accessible support.

    Potential of expanding support systems
    Additional funding as part of a school safety package is being discussed at the current state legislative session. The money could be used to enhance programming and provide greater support in some of the schools with additional counselors and expanded school-linked mental health services.

    Building connections and relationships
    We recognize the important role schools play in addressing the mental health and wellness of our students and families. Our district and building action plans identify strategies around building connections and relationships that support students and families. Here are just a couple of examples:

    Our staff work hard to ensure that each student is known by name and that each student has a connection to a caring adult in their school – someone they can go to and talk to for emotional support.

    The Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) program, staffed by licensed early childhood and parent educators, is a program for parents and their children birth to kindergarten entrance. Our goal is to offer play and learning experiences for children that encourage the development of skills and readiness for school, and provide important resources and support for parents.

    Our Lunch Buddy program creates a connection between an elementary student and an adult volunteer. Adult volunteers are important role models for our youth and can influence a child in a positive way. Anyone can be a role model or mentor, it does not take a degree; it just takes a caring person and a commitment of time. Many of our adults that get connected to students through the Lunch Buddy program stay in touch with their buddy beyond elementary school – the connection and the support from the community remains.

    We invite all caring adults to get engaged with our youth in whatever manner you can – through church, by volunteering in classrooms, youth organizations, and in a number of other ways.

    Mental health issues encompass the entire community
    We are also aware that mental health is a community-wide issue that needs discussion and action on a broader scale. As part of a mental health coalition, Horizon Public Health aims to build strong families by bringing community partners together to collaborate and focus in on mental health prevention strategies. What if mental health could be detected early or avoided all together?

    I am encouraged by this collective awareness and commitment to all of us working to strengthen children and families who are most in need of support. Alexandria Public Schools’ looks forward to the ongoing partnerships and discussion with our community.

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  • A commitment to school safety

    Posted by Julie Critz on 1/31/2018 9:00:00 AM

    Student safety is a top priority in Alexandria Public Schools. Recent events in the national media remind us of the importance of that focus and give us cause to reflect on our preventative and responsive practices. This week’s column provides a timely opportunity to share with you a broad overview of safety and security precautions and procedures the district has implemented to help keep students and staff safe.

    Security Measures Relating to Access into the Building during the School Day
    Prior to the start of the school day, doors are open for students when they arrive and supervision of students is provided, and/or staff are interacting with students and parents, or staff are present in hallways and other building areas. Once the school day begins, all of our exterior doors are locked. Access for visitors and late-arriving students is permitted only through the main entrance, where school personnel must buzz and sign them in.

    All buildings have lockdown buttons. When utilized these lockdown buttons lock all exterior doors, close and lock all fire doors, make an announcement, take over the digital signs, and notify Law Enforcement of our need for help.

    Security Cameras
    We have increased the number of security cameras, with over 200 cameras installed throughout our eight buildings. These cameras cover entrances, main hallways, locker bays, parking lots, and playgrounds. These cameras are not monitored continually but do provide important video footage of activity within and outside the school environment.

    Practice Drills and Training
    Each school has a school safety plan written specifically for that building, and the plan is reviewed and revised, as needed, every year. We train staff at each location to respond in a timely and effective manner in an emergency or crisis situation to provide a calm, confident and safe environment for the students.

    Students and staff members conduct regular drills on a variety of safety procedures, including natural disasters, fires and those related to intruders at schools.

    E-911 Services
    Our phone system has been upgraded to support E-911 services. When you dial 911 from a school, E-911 services allows the 911 operator to know what classroom or location you are calling from in the school building. This enables emergency personnel to know where the caller is located and provide assistance.

    Training
    We have undertaken training and studying of best practices provided to us by the School Safety Center, Homeland Security and Emergency Management division, under the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

    Emergency Operations Plan
    We have a comprehensive Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) put in place districtwide. We collaborate with local law enforcement and emergency response agencies to conduct a comprehensive review of the EOP and related policies. The plan addresses emergency preparedness and response to fire, bomb threats, threats with weapons, demonstrations, natural disaster/severe weather, utility emergency, hazardous material accident, and national emergency situations.  

    School Resource Officers
    In partnership with the Alexandria Police Department, we have a School Resource Officer (SRO) at Discovery Middle School and Alexandria Area High School. It is typical for a district our size to have School Resource Officers. School Resource Officers have all the same training and authority as any other police officer, but have also attended specialized training for the SRO position. The main role of an SRO is to be visible in the building and to make connections with students. It’s about prevention and relationship building. An SRO works with school administrators and teachers to make the environment safe and welcoming for all students and staff.

    Communication
    Communication is critical in an emergency and your cooperation is equally important and necessary. During an emergency, information will be distributed through phone/email/text utilizing our rapid notification system (Blackboard Connect), the school district website, and local media partners. If necessary, parents/guardians will be contacted directly by phone. It is very important that all emergency contact information be current. Parents/guardians are asked to review this information each year as part of back to school processes. It can also be updated throughout the year by contacting the school directly. Parents should not attempt to contact the school, as the phone lines will be in use by the school district to coordinate emergency services.

    In closing, rest assured Alexandria Public Schools is committed to taking proactive measures to protect the safety of all our students and staff members. If you have any questions about your school’s safety plan, please contact your school principal.

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  • Ag education blooms in Alexandria Area High School

    Posted by Julie Critz on 11/13/2017 12:00:00 PM

    Since the opening of the new high school in 2014 and the implementation of the Academies of Alexandria programming model, we have seen student interest in Agriculture Education bloom at Alexandria Area High School (AAHS).

    As an outgrowth of this significant student interest and need, the Alexandria School Board responded by building a Agriculture Education Center at Alexandria Area High School. The center opened in the spring of 2016. It includes two greenhouses, two classrooms, and a headhouse space. These spaces are used all day and every day to support 11 courses offered in the Ag Education Center. This school year, these courses will impact 495 students. We are excited and proud to say that we now have two full-time Ag Education instructors on staff at the high school.

    The courses offered appeal to a wide variety of student interests. In addition to agriculture and animal science courses, students can take classes in horticulture and plant genetics. Planning the ag education coursework engages a number of different people from the community with a wide variety of experiences in the ag industry. This includes, for example, Douglas Scientific, Cenex Harvest States Cooperative, a dairy economist and a plant geneticist – a community member who retired to Alexandria whose career background was plant breeding and he also holds numerous corn patents in the U.S. These community partners are giving input to the kinds of things we should be doing that will bring real-world expertise and application to our curriculum and student experiences.

    The Ag Education Center supports the district’s goal of project-based learning by providing hands-on, inquiry-focused learning activities. Project-based learning is learning that is more authentic for students because they actually get to practice it and try it out, not just hear about it. Instead of reading about growing plants in a book, students are learning by doing. They get to actually plant the seeds, watch how a plant grows, evaluate how much sunlight or shade it might need, and determine the amount of proper fertilizer and/or pest control to help the plants thrive. It’s more real life application and it helps students gather a deeper level of knowledge.

    Students also experience the interactive aspects of the classes, like working in the greenhouse. Plants grown in the greenhouse are used in the landscaping class where students get to plant outside and see first-hand how the plants are being put into another use. Additionally, students plant the school garden and harvest vegetables such as potatoes, zucchini and carrots that are being used in the school meal program.

    Additionally, we are working more openly with teachers in other content areas and hoping to continue to expand that, as we get further into our academy model. For example, we know that farming involves more than numbers/farm prices - it also encompasses economics with yield factors, history and literacy with the need to write well. We’re excited about bringing projects together that teach more than just a single topic or focus area.

    Recently, we hosted a tour at AAHS from the University of Minnesota-Crookston focused on encouraging students to choose agriculture as a career. We are excited about the possibilities to partner with them to promote agriculture, ag economics, ag production, and agribusiness. We are proud to have a program with growing interest on the part of students and regional post-secondary partners.

    As part of the EMTNR (Engineering, Manufacturing Technologies, and Natural Resources) Academy, we are seeing students take advantage of the academy model to explore their interests throughout high school. We have many students now interested in pursuing agriculture-related careers. The modern agriculture industry encompasses hundreds of different job opportunities in fields beyond farming. Agriculture needs to feed a growing world population while facing a shortage of qualified workers. We need to attract students from beyond the traditional farm background to meet that shortage. Expanding the program has allowed us to attract non-traditional ag students and expose them to these career opportunities.

     

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