• In the Know Column: Embracing lifelong learning

    Posted by Rick Sansted on 11/9/2022 9:30:00 AM

    This past Halloween I had the opportunity to be around a number of eighth-graders who were enjoying our unseasonably warm end of October. They were pleading for a 2-hour late start on Nov 1 so they could stay up a little later.  A clever recommendation by a group of 13 and 14 year olds.  

    What these eighth-graders may not have known is that the 2-hour late starts along with full day professional development events allow us at Alexandria Public Schools to live out our mission that includes “… inspiring a lifelong passion for learning.”   Alexandria Public Schools has a long tradition around the investment in the learning of the adults who work and serve our students and families.

    Every two years, our district calendar committee establishes the calendar for the school district.  Embedded in the calendar are days that allow us as a school district to invest in the learning of our adults. Part of that structure includes 2-hour late starts at various times of the year as well as full day professional development opportunities. We recognize as a school district that this is also a sacrifice for families and we say thank you for the time and space to help our adults continue to grow their skills. We had the opportunity to engage in one of our professional development days this past week on Monday, Nov. 7.

    I had the opportunity to attend a session on Monday morning related to how we as adults better understand how the brain works so we can help students learn and grow.  A sample of areas of focus staff were able to learn more about included supporting students in the area of working/short term memory, supporting students who have difficulty with transitions or supporting students with sensory processing challenges who might be more susceptible to sounds, movement or changes in their surroundings.  All of the sessions described above are grounded in research around how the human brain functions – which we continue to learn more about.  

    As staff register for the various sessions, they can think about the students that are currently in their classrooms and how they as adults can improve their skills to improve our student learning. 

    This is just one example of some of the investments in staff during this school year.  This past summer we have supported training in literacy, school safety and new science and arts standards. We continue to support all of our new teachers with a three-year mentorship program by meeting monthly outside of the school day to focus on enhancing their skills to better support our students.  

    Over the past three years, we have invested in providing science of reading training for all of our early education and elementary teachers. Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) training is having an impact in our elementary classrooms by providing more explicit instruction around how the brain learns to read.  

    As I visit classrooms across the district, I get to see the application of this adult learning. Last week I was in Carlos Elementary School.  It was great to see the application of some of our past training. I witnessed this in Mrs. Weisel’s first grade classroom as well as Mr. Noble’s music class. I want to say thank you to our community for supporting lifelong learning for the adults in our school district so they can better support our students and families.  

    I will need to circle back to our eighth-graders and let them know the 2-hour late starts are strategically placed to allow for teacher analysis of assessment data. Teachers use this data to tailor learning for students.  Unfortunately for our teenagers – this does not happen around Halloween.     

     

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  • In the Know Column: Excitement is building for Alexandria School District

    Posted by Rick Sansted on 7/27/2022 7:00:00 AM

    I am excited about our upcoming school year. Classrooms are being cleaned, entry ways polished and parking lots updated.  As we come to the conclusion of July and turn the corner to August there are a variety of areas I am excited about for our upcoming school year.

    Facility openings

    We are excited to get into our new spaces at the Early Education Center (EEC) and Discovery Middle School.  The opening for our classrooms at the EEC will coincide with the start of the school year. 

    Our Shenanigans indoor playground will follow as we look to have that ready by the end of September. Over at Discovery Middle School, we are on target for a November opening for our new gymnastics center and additional gyms for the students at Discovery Middle School. These additional gyms will also provide much needed community recreational space for youths and adults.

    The Gymnastics Center will serve both school and community gymnastics teams and provide an opportunity to host regional meets bringing economic value to our community. Both facility additions reduce the district’s reliance on leased space.

    Mark your calendars for our facility celebrations:

    • Early Education Center Addition - Tuesday, Oct. 11, 4-5 p.m. ribbon cutting; Saturday, Oct. 15, 9 a.m.-noon open house, community invite.
    • Discovery Middle School Addition - Tuesday, Nov. 15, 4-5 p.m. ribbon cutting, celebration; Saturday, Nov. 19, 9.a.m.-noon open house, community invite.

    New staff

    Our hiring process for the upcoming school year started back in February. Thanks to all of the efforts by our Human Resources department, along with our leadership team, to help recruit new staff to help support our students and community. 

    We do still have openings in a variety of support positions.  Our district has a great purpose and working with kids brings energy to your day. Check out the district’s Career Opportunities page,  https://alexschools.tedk12.com/hire/index.aspx, if you are interested in being a difference-maker in the lives of students.

    New experiences

    We are excited to offer some additional courses for students at our secondary schools including an elective titled the Great Outdoors at Discovery Middle School. Providing students with authentic experiences is crucial to their motivation.  We also are excited to offer some new courses at Alexandria Area High School  including one that blends business and marketing in a digital age.  

    Safety and Security

    The safety of our students and staff is our top priority. The district has a strong relationship with our city and county emergency management teams to ensure our Emergency Operations Plan is up-to-date and thorough. Work and collaboration has been taking place this summer and ongoing communication will be shared with our families and community. 

    A new beginning

    I accepted the superintendent position in February of 2020 and a few weeks later the world shut down due to COVID. I am personally excited about the opportunity to be able to serve as superintendent in what is hopefully a more typical year – where we can change our acronyms from PPE (personal protective equipment) to positive parent engagement.  

    The excitement is building…

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  • In the Know Column: Partnership and service are keys to learning

    Posted by Rick Sansted, Superintendent on 4/13/2022 7:00:00 AM

    Alexandria Public Schools’ vision is to be an extraordinary school district that tailors learning for each child, by working together.  I want to focus my sharing this week on the “working together” portion.  The following are just a few recent examples that come to mind - there are many more, but impossible to fit in the space limitations of the column.

    Starting with our earliest learners, we are working in collaboration with the Alexandria Area YMCA and All-Pro Childcare Center to conduct early childhood screenings for 3-year-olds.

    In our elementary buildings, the Junior Achievement program supports students in understanding the basic concepts of business and the important role education plays in their future.  Junior Achievement volunteers dedicate their time and energy to supporting student learning. 

    We also recently held our annual STEAM Expo.  Community partners such as the Alexandria Education Foundation, Alomere Health, Pope/Douglas Solid Waste Management, Sanford Health Alexandria, ALP Utilities, Alexandria College, REA and 3M engage students in a variety of activities to help create hands-on activities to better understand the world around us.  Our PreK through grade 8 students and families had a great time learning and engaging with the themes of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

    Our middle school opportunities continue to grow.  Coming up in May is our annual Day of Caring for our 8th-grade students.  This is a partnership with the United Way of Douglas and Pope Counties.  This program has our 8th-grade students along with staff and volunteers conduct service projects all over the community.   Students help community members and organizations with a variety of tasks including yard clean up, garden prep, window washing, and other outdoor services for homeowners or the community.    We also have invested in our outdoor learning spaces at Discovery Middle School.  Our summer maker camp has greatly appreciated the support of local volunteers and businesses, including Hilltop Lumber, Contech and Stennes Excavating.  The results of the work are not only adding to our outdoor learning spaces but also access to nature through a network of trails located on the Discovery Middle School campus.  

    At Alexandria Area High School (AAHS) we are able to offer students real-world experiences through our community partnerships.  Our annual Career Expo was recently held which is part of the Freshman Academy experience but all grade levels had opportunities to participate. Several area businesses had exhibits in the booth area and/or speaker sessions where they shared their knowledge specific to their industry and how that relates to career path opportunities for students. Another example was through the 9th annual Empty Bowls Project held last month. The AAHS Civic Service and Engagement class partnered with United Way and Calvary Church with all proceeds supporting The Outreach Food Shelf, AAHS’ The Shelf, Discovery Middle School’s The Shelf and United Way’s Backpack Attack. This event raises awareness and donations to address community hunger and provides invaluable service-learning experiences for students.

    Coming up on May 23, is our annual Honors Night where our community supports our high school graduates with traditionally over $240,000 in scholarships.  This event will likely be live streamed, so check out alexschools.org/aahs if you'd like to tune in. 

    This past Thursday we also had a partnership return to AAHS. The Golden K Kiwanis members have a long tradition of greeting our high school students each Thursday morning when they arrive. I know this is a great start to the day for our students and also for our Golden K members.  It was heartwarming to see this group back in the building this week.   

    I want to conclude with a huge thank you to our staff and our community - our parents, our business partners and our non-profits.  These opportunities would not be possible without the commitment of all involved and a spirit of service and helping others.  This is how we as a community live out our vision to create an extraordinary school district - by working together!    

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  • In the Know Column: School Safety - a top priority

    Posted by Rick Sansted, Superintendent on 1/5/2022 9:00:00 AM

    As we welcome students and staff back for the new year I want to share some of our practices regarding student safety.

    You are likely aware of the national events in December related to a social media phenomenon that caused school closures across the country.  The impact of social media has certainly added complexity to school and community safety. Know that as a school district we continue with our preparations around student safety.  This update feels timely given the events of last month.

    Access to buildings
    Our buildings welcome students in the mornings before school through a multitude of entrances.  Staff are often at the doors or in the halls greeting students.  Once we start our school day all exterior doors are locked except for the main entrance.  Access for visitors and students after the start of the school day takes place only through the main entrance.  

    Visitor registration
    Per our policy, all visitors must sign in at the main office.  Just prior to COVID hitting our world, we implemented the Raptor visitor management system.  This allows for screening/registration of visitors and prints off a temporary photo visitor badge.  We will continue to roll this system out at all locations as we move through this school year.  

    Security Cameras
    We have over 200 cameras that support monitoring of entrances, hallways and parking lots.  These cameras are not monitored on a continuous basis, but allow for follow up should events occur in those areas. 

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

    Each school has a plan that is specific to their building and the plan is reviewed and revised 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.

    Regional approach
    We partner closely with our local law enforcement including the Alexandria Police Department and Douglas County Sheriff.  Over winter break local law enforcement had a chance to do some training within our facilities.  We also partner on a regional level with Julie Anderson, Douglas County Emergency Management/Public Information Officer who helps facilitate crisis response for the region.  

    School Resource Officers
    We have full-time School Resource Officers (SROs) at Discovery Middle School and Alexandria Area High School. Our SROs are committed to developing relationships with students and to supporting administration as needed.  Their presence in the halls, cafeteria and at school events provides a sense of security and community for our schools. We appreciate the partnership we have with our SROs to keep our school safe.

    Communication
    Communication is critical in an emergency.  Earlier this year we practiced our rapid notification system (Blackboard Connect) prior to our first weather impacted day.  We will continue to utilize this system as we move forward in response situations.

    Digital awareness for parents
    Social media is a powerful tool often used to influence others; unfortunately, not always for the good. The situation last month serves as a good example of why it is important to avoid sharing posts online that refer to school safety threats. Even if they are not credible threats, they can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety for our students, families, and staff.  We encourage parents to be attentive to their child’s use of social media.  We invite them to take time to talk to their child/ren about the influence of social media and the potential consequences of engaging in unsafe, disruptive behavior.  A resource for parents regarding appropriate boundaries for social media usage was shared following the events last month.

    Rest assured, the safety of our students and staff is our top priority. We appreciate the partnership and support of our families and community members to ensure safe, secure, and positive learning environments for our students and staff. 

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  • In the Know Column: Strong schools, strong communities

    Posted by Rick Sansted on 9/27/2021 10:45:00 AM

    By Rick Sansted, Superintendent, Alexandria Public Schools

    Strong schools build strong communities.  It has been great to have all of our students learning in person to start the school year.  We are excited to welcome over 4,000 students on a daily basis across our district.  

    Our homecoming week helped highlight the start of the school year: dress up days, fireworks, hall of fame induction and the community parade helped create a fun week.  We have a number of celebrations and points of pride to share as we start this school year. 

    • The school district is proud to welcome over 30 new teachers to our A Team! These new teachers will be supported through our New Teacher Induction Program, a three-year mentorship program that embeds professional development and peer support.
    • Over 800 students, grades 6-12, are participating in co-curricular activities this fall.
    • Fourteen Alexandria Area High School graduates and current students have been named 2021 AP Scholars based on their performance on Advanced Placement (AP) exams.
    • Jessica Chipman, theatre arts/English Teacher at Alexandria Area High School, was named the Minnesota Educational Theater Association Educator of the Year for 2021.
    • Jason Lattimer, spplication specialist at Douglas Machine, is the 2021 recipient of the Alexandria Public Schools annual ACE Award (A Champion in Education). The award recognizes individuals who support public education through advocacy, partnership, service, or donation of resources. Jason has volunteered over a span of more than 15 years in a variety of areas that have enhanced our students’ educational experiences. 

    Student service
    A couple of themes that come to mind when I think of our community include service and generosity.  These themes are playing out with our young people as they continue to look outside themselves in how they might support others in our community and beyond.  Some examples of student service that have taken place or are in the planning stages this fall include:

    • Our wrestling team completed a cleanup for Smokey Timbers Camp on Lake Miltona.
    • Tom Roos and our girls soccer program supported the Haitian Initiative Soccer Camp this past summer.
    • Dig Pink fundraiser supported by our girls volleyball team focused on cancer research and a team effort for a Habitat for Humanity home build.
    • Our cross country teams completed a ditch clean up on Douglas County Highway 4.
    • Go4theGoal fundraiser conducted by the boys soccer team to support pediatric cancer research.
    • Our girls swim team is teaming up with Sauk Centre this year in October for a breast cancer fundraiser and will promote awareness by wearing pink swim caps.

    Thanks to our students, parents, staff and community as we kicked off this school year.  Strong schools, strong communities. 

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  • In the Know Column: A Culture of Continuous Improvement

    Posted by Rick Sansted on 6/23/2021 9:00:00 AM

    By Rick Sansted, Superintendent, Alexandria Public Schools 

    Alexandria Public Schools is committed to building a culture of continuous improvement. This ensures that we live out our district mission as a lifelong learning organization. With that in mind, this year we initiated an Academy Model Review. We partnered with Shakopee Public Schools, which also has an academy model high school, to conduct a comprehensive review of our programming and student experience. Included in the review were focus groups with students, staff and school board, analysis of survey data, academic data and participation data. 

    The recommendations from the Academy Model Review will be presented to the School Board in July.  One of the affirmations from our Academy Model Review included the great partnerships that exist with our business community. To that end, Alexandria Area High School (AAHS) will be hosting an Alexandria Chamber of Commerce Wake Up event on Friday, July 16th at 7:30 a.m.  We will share highlights of our programming, hear from our students and get a tour of the high school.  If you are new to the community or a parent in the district who would like a tour of the school, our student ambassadors will be available that morning.

    One of the recommendations of the Academy Review was to continue to enhance the classroom and business partnerships.  On Monday, June 7th, AAHS teachers spent the morning in businesses throughout our community.  The intent of these externships - or visits to our local businesses - is to build authentic experiences for students through our classroom curriculum.  We are so grateful to our business community for supporting our teachers.   

    Student voice and choice
    Each school year our school board meets with students in grades 6, 8, 9 and 12 in meetings known as Student Connections. Two to three board members and administration have the opportunity to hear from, and gather feedback from, a dozen or more students in each of the grades mentioned.  Student Connection forums provide greater opportunity for student voice to be considered in planning and decision-making. Students affirm parts of school they appreciate from course offerings to teacher support.  They also provide feedback on what might be missing. This past fall, one student shared that he really wished we had an aviation course.  After some research regarding high school aviation programs, additional conversations with our students and staff and reaching out to Kreg Anderson, manager at the Alexandria Airport, we will have two sections (60 students) enrolled in our aviation class this coming school year. 

    One of our goals with the Academy model is to provide opportunities for students to earn career-related certifications. The aviation course intends to prepare students to pass the FAA Private Pilot Knowledge written exam. This is an example of an additional certification that adds to our current options.  A few of our students connected to our new aviation class will be on Open Line on the morning of Wednesday, June 23rd at 9:05 a.m. I invite you to tune in and learn more about this exciting new opportunity for high school students.

    Your interest, support and engagement in Alexandria Public Schools is appreciated as we continue to provide quality experiences for our students and families.

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  • In the Know Column: A plan to turn the corner on COVID

    Posted by Rick Sansted on 3/15/2021 9:00:00 AM

    By Rick Sansted, Superintendent, Alexandria Public Schools 

    As a former history teacher, I enjoy learning about and from the past. It was about a year ago I was hired into the position of superintendent in Alexandria.  Just before the world changed due to COVID-19. I think about all of the experiences from the past 12 months that may not have existed or been as common prior to COVID.

    • Watching church from our living room
    • More family dinners
    • Kids learning how to cook
    • Going for a walk -- just for fun
    • Ordering take out 
    • Getting creative with workouts at home
    • ...and finally making a reservation at a restaurant so we can eat in a fish house!! 

    All of the innovation and change in behavior came out of the challenge of COVID. For us as a school district we are looking to our next steps as an organization as we look to turn the corner on COVID. 

    As a district leadership team and school board we did some foundational work around what are the next steps for our school district. Alexandria Area High School has been going through an Academy Model Review.  In partnership with Shakopee High School - the only other full academy model high school that I am aware of in the state of Minnesota - it was timely for us to pause, reflect and gather insights about how we can be our best to serve our students and families. We have conducted focus groups with students and staff to help gather feedback to help set the direction for what’s next.

    Now we need to hear from our students, parents and staff about their desired daily experience. All three groups have grown their technology skills this past year.  Which experiences do we carry forward and what do we exit ASAP?  How might we use our technology experiences to inform our future? What cannot be replicated or duplicated through a screen?

    As Alexandria Public Schools begins the process for District Strategic Planning through the Fall of 2021, we are starting with a survey of students Grades 5 – 12, Parents / Guardians, and employees for your descriptors of what you would like for daily experiences and outcomes. These stakeholder groups will be asked two simple demographic questions and then asked to enter one to three descriptors of their desired daily experience. Students, parents, and employees are asked to provide input for what applies to them. All responses will remain anonymous, and initial processing of all results will be provided by an external partner. We will also look to conduct some focus groups to gather additional insights in the coming months.

    Our hope is to take some of the innovation and creativity that COVID thrust on us and apply some of the ideas as well as new ones to forge the future experience for our students and families. Our schools are at the heart of the community. Your support, interest and engagement are always valued.

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  • In the Know Column: Post COVID-19 planning - and thank you

    Posted by Rick Sansted on 12/8/2020 9:00:00 AM

    We have learned a great deal about our processes and practices with our experiences in our learning models, assessment practices, the importance of relationships and human interaction and being flexible.

    By Rick Sansted, Superintendent, Alexandria Public Schools

    As we continue to tackle the challenges that COVID-19 has brought us, we also continue to plan for the future.  Many businesses and industries are going to look different in a post-COVID world.  Alexandria Public Schools, and education as a whole, have learned a great deal about being creative and intentional in how we serve our students and families.

    I want to share a couple of pieces as we begin some of the planning process for the 2021-22 school year.  

    Future Planning
    Given the volume of change that has happened in the past nine months - again across industries and organizations - we will be collecting input from our students, parents, staff and community in the next couple of months. 

    We will be gathering that input a variety of ways. Surveys and focus groups will take place in the coming months to help gather input about the desired daily experiences of our young people.  

    We have learned a great deal about our processes and practices with our experiences in our learning models, assessment practices, the importance of relationships and human interaction and being flexible.

    Space and facilities to meet district and community needs
    We also continue to ensure that our spaces meet ancillary facility and programming needs. We are working with Alexandria Technical and Community College and Pope Douglas Solid Waste Management to transition properties with a lens to a community approach to meeting the needs of our individual organizations.

    Once Alexandria Area High School opened in 2014, our property on 18th Ave seemed to be out of place.  The property aligns with the campus at ATCC. We are working with the college on the sale of that property in the coming months.  The school district would seek a new home for our transportation shop where we conduct repairs on our bus fleet, our buildings and grounds department, food and nutrition services department and district storage.  Look for additional information as those shifts move forward in 2021.

    The district also has some leased facilities in the community.  I believe long-term it is in the best financial interest of the district to look to either secure long-term leases where it makes sense or shift those leased spaces to ones the district owns.  Look for additional information regarding the future of our facilities in the coming months.

    Business Partnerships
    We are so grateful for the business partnerships that have supported student learning even in this COVID experience.  Our AAHS CAPS (Center for Advanced Professional Studies) program has been able to function in part thanks to our wonderful business partners in the community. Our students greatly appreciate the authentic experiences that are provided by our business partners. Your flexibility along with your ability to adapt during this time is greatly appreciated.

    EMTNR CAPS
    District and school representatives celebrate with senior students in the EMTNR (Engineering, Manufacturing Technologies, & Natural Resources Academy) CAPS class from Alexandria Area High School who worked with Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County since September to help build and finish 2020 Habitat for Humanity homes. This crew of Cardinals brought enthusiasm for leaning and their handy skills to the Habitat build sites.

     

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  • In the Know Column: Ready for an uncertain school year

    Posted by Rick Sansted on 8/31/2020 9:50:00 AM

    The best part is our teachers have been thinking about these opportunities - and they are ready to act and lead our students as they return.

    By Rick Sansted, Superintendent, Alexandria Public Schools

    Ready, set, go...

    I am excited.  I am nervous.  I am filled with anticipation  - both good and bad.  How will my first day go?  Will I have any friends in my classes?  Will I remember my lunch number? My locker combination?  What time does my bus arrive?

    All of these questions and emotions are present for students at the start of a typical school year.  This year those questions are present along with many others.  I want to highlight a couple of areas that have been in action over the summer as we prepared to start our 2020 school year.

    Communications:  I hope that our communication efforts with our community have helped outline our safe start practices as we look to kick off the 2020 school year.  I also want to recognize that this year is different.  Different procedures, different protocols, different schedules.  Things are different. Thank you to our staff, students and parents for your responses, input and feedback as we have worked through our planning stages together.  Your continued attention to building level and district wide communication is needed as we get the school year started. 

    Teacher connections:  I just saw one of our teachers in the hallway prior to sitting down and typing out this column.  His first response was excitement.  He has not had a chance to connect with students in person since March.  He and his department colleagues have thought about how they were going to help kids grow in a new way given the protocols.  How can we get students outside more frequently?  How do we adjust our learning activities to support student learning and development?  How do we build time for students to reconnect with each other?  

    The best part is our teachers have been thinking about these opportunities - and they are ready to act and lead our students as they return.

    And vs. but:  In times when stress levels are higher than normal our desire for control seems to go up.  This summer I have partnered with our state department of education, local public health officials and our Alexandria Public Schools staff.  I have worked hard to not shut down creative problem solving to use the term and instead of the word but.  And provides for continued flow of problem solving whereas but often puts others in a defensive posture.  Once a shift to defensive posture is made, collaborative problem solving becomes less likely.  Our vocabulary matters.  Small words can make a big difference.  Collaborative, creative problem solving needs to include the language of and rather than but.

    Clarity vs. Certainty:  Having been on numerous Zoom and GoogleMeet calls this summer, I had a chance to listen and dialogue with educators from across the region and state.  One take away for me was the desire for certainty.  You have heard numerous times since March - these are unprecedented times.  The level of uncertainty is high.  In talking with parents over the summer many were asking for certaint and in many cases I was not able to provide them the certainty they desired.  What I am seeking to provide is clarity.  Clarity in process.  Clarity in schedules.  Clarity for building teacher student relationships.  This summer and going forward our school district will look to provide clarity even when we cannot provide certainty.  

    Safe Start: As we start the 2020 school year we seek to fulfill our district mission of inspiring a life-long passion for learning and our vision of tailoring the learning of each child by working together. 

    I am excited.  I am nervous.  I am filled with anticipation - of that I am certain.  And we are READY to reconnect with our A Team students and families!   

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