• 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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