3-hour session kicks off district's five-year planning initiative

    To help guide the district forward and set direction over the next five years, a community input session for strategic planning for the Crookston School District was held Tuesday at the high school. Childcare and a meal were provided in hopes of increased attendance, and it seemed to work with at least 75 people present. Crookston Schools Superintendent Jeremy Olson told the crowd that their staff have gone through a similar process with their planning sessions and he’s thankful so many people came out on a “beautiful April evening.”

    The Crookston School Board planned to take the community’s input from Tuesday’s event to their own working session Wednesday.

    Once the audience was split into their first groups, they were encouraged to “look back” over the last five years to see where the district has been with “recent successes and issues”, and add items in the four quadrants provided. The categories read either “positive” or “less than positive” with subcategories of “intended” and “unintended.”

    In the “positive - intended” category, or something that has happened that was on purpose and intended to have a positive impact, the list included: School Resource Officer, after school reading program, expanded preschool and ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education) programs, school age care, school service clubs like Leo Club/Builders Club/Terrific Kids program, orchestra and fine arts programs, dealing with truancy and frequent absences, curriculum updates, technology updates, AP (advanced placement) and CIHS (college in the high school) courses at CHS, intention to upgrade plant facilities, Crookston Sports Center partnership, special education department, PSEO (post-secondary enrollment option) for CHS students, Crookston Community Pool change of hands, transparency to community, Respect Counts initiative, parent involvement, small class sizes, ability for hands-on learning like with the Construction Trades program, all day kindergarten, increasing test scores, new leadership, social media posts for CHS and Highland Elementary, projects made in school, welcoming/personal with students, parents and teachers, breakfast in the classroom, summer food program, grants, booster club, Safety Town, extracurricular activities, greeters in the high school, trips abroad, clubs like the Science Club, education foundation, CIHS extension for sophomores, Skyward, and electronic communications like text messages from the district.

    In the “less than positive - intended” category, the list included: PSEO, failure of referendum on three issues, public relations, busing/transportation one stop, lack of communication, bullying program, parent inclement, para and special ed cuts, increasing class sizes, lack of positive outcomes for students, students can’t be in both band and choir, allowing cell phones for students/inconsistencies, lack of follow-through, lack of rigor at CHS, lack of discipline at CHS, Skyward, no written report cards at high school, splitting music classes, ECFE location, out of school suspension and the suspension system, gifted program money not used, and state dictated structure of school board business.

    In the “positive - unintended” category, the list included: Welcoming environment at Washington Elementary, community-driven athletic partnerships with CYBA (Crookston Youth Basketball Association) and Blue Line Club, community club support with Kiwanis, Lions, Rotary, hiring of the new superintendent, diversity of student body, physical space/room to grow, relative safety of schools and in the community, increased title aid, state participation for multiple school activities and sports, development of The Cove (Crookston Youth Foundation) and Builders Club, and reconfiguration of Washington Elementary and Highland Elementary.

    In the “less than positive - unintended” category, the list included: Fewer kids involved in school activities, kids and parents feeling disconnected, less family structure these days, open enrollment, earlier grades foreign language options, busing situation, childcare situation, shortage of social workers and counselors to deal with mental health, strained working relationships in the district, failure of last referendum, too many sports, lacking in technology education for students, alternative learning center, drop out rates for students/GED (general education diploma), teacher turnover, bullying, poverty, relationship with University of Minnesota Crookston, school climate of mediocrity, frustrated teachers at CHS, lack of college prep in the sciences, lack of social awareness due to social media/lack of learning skills/influences of social media, ACT (American College Testing) scores, community support UMC vs CHS, budget challenges, vaping, cell phone usage, busing of preschool students from one program to another, STEM program, PSEO (not being able to do both PSEO and high school classes), communication to parents, lack of school spirit for other achievements (Envirothon and Spelling Bee need more importance), lack of student diversity in leadership roles, and better communication at non public schools.

    Next, the audience was split into second groups and were asked by Superintendent Olson to look into the future five years for both the district’s vision and priorities.  

    “Be realistic, but dream big,” he suggested. “The challenge is to not have us put items on the list like to buy two new buses.”

    Under “Vision”, the audience thought the district could “develop, deliver, and be recognized for”: Culture of hard work and excellence, state of art technology and facilities, developing a community connection, partnership with UMC, known for fine arts, strict cell phone policy, safety with no drugs and less bullying, student internships with local businesses, more diverse school activities, prepare students to enter workforce, preschool programming, work certification, middle school concept, gifted talented programs, best customer service, a passed referendum, more rigor, more CIHS and AP options, top choices when considering open enrollment, intolerance to bullying, extra activities, improved delivery of student info systems, new bus garage, more bus stops, early childhood center, win state competitions, develop culture of success, research based practices, prepare better for college and life, recruitment, climate change, STEM excellence, child care, gravitational pull to Crookston, housing development, and a new football field and track.

    After vision items were listed, the audience received colored dot stickers to rank their top three choices. Of those ranked, the most popular items were: Culture of hard work and excellence, a safe inclusive and involved student body, strong partnerships with UMC city and community, best customer service, regional leader in strong and diverse academics, top test scores in NW region, and being an open enrollment destination.

    When it came to priorities that the audience wished the district would focus on moving forward to get to where they hoped they’d be in five years, items written by the audience included: Create a set of clear and concise standards for students, teachers and staff that emphasize accountability and excellence, academic excellence/more CIHS and AP courses, safety and less bullying and drugs plus a safe learning environment, stronger district community higher ed connections, identify declining enrollment and address those issues, incorporating life skills into classes, and more accountability for students, parents, teachers, and administration.

    Members of the audience added input at the end of the community session, too. Kim Dans suggested a recap of the findings from the session be sent to community members via letter. Elizabeth Rowan thought that high school concerns should be addressed immediately and to make sure that students also have a voice. Marcia Meine said she’d like to see more student assemblies, especially with the younger grades, as it makes students more apt to open up about concerns and to communicate what’s going on in school. Rae French asked the district to make sure the community sessions were inclusive and to include the population that’s “probably not here tonight.” She also suggested hosting an input session out in the community such as at the library or a place “more comfortable to meet.”