Input regarding community and staff concerns came through loud and clear, Olson says
The Crookston School District’s five-year strategic plan that the school board approved last week, based on planning and input sessions with the community, teachers and staff and conversations between the district’s administrative team, is built on a backbone featuring four goals.
Going through the four-page plan, its goals and the many benchmarks, objectives and expectations included under the umbrella of the individual goals, and it’s apparent that input and suggestions directed at Superintendent Jeremy Olson and his administrative team came through loud and clear enough to be included in the final plan. It’s also apparent that several components of the plan are a direct attempt to stop and, ideally, reverse a trend of recent years of significant declines in student enrollment.
“This is the path forward,” he tells the Times. “Now we need to lay the bricks.”
The plans goals are:
• Communication: Crookston Public Schools will excel in communicating with students, parents, staff and community.
• A Culture of High Expectations: Crookston Public Schools will be a place in which high expectations are set for our students and staff.
• Relationships: Crookston Public Schools will excel in building strong relationships with students, families, staff and community.
• Exceptional Systems of Support: Crookston Public Schools will provide a strong system of mental health and academic support for students and families.
Olson’s thoughts and explanations
The Times went through the strategic plan last week in detail with Olson. While he was happy to go through the plan’s components in various amounts of detail, the superintendent more than once stressed that it’s a “living, evolving document” and that teachers and staff won’t dive into it in detail until workshops that take place late in the summer before the 2019-20 school year commences. While there are some things in the plan that can be tackled immediately in the first year, Olson said timelines regarding things that will be expected of administrators, teachers and staff in the plan’s subsequent years still need to be discussed.
Saying he wants to avoid having teachers and staff read especially detailed explanations of the plan’s various expectations of them in the newspaper before they are officially brought up to full speed on the plan, Olson said he’s providing a “30,000-foot view” of the plan at this point, with an eye on really diving into it during workshops to come.
“I want to be face to face with (teachers and staff) when we really start getting into what this plan is all about and what it seeks to accomplish,” he added.
Goal by goal, here’s a rundown of some of the highlights of the strategic plan that Olson touched on:
• Communication: A fair amount of the goal’s expectations involve parents of CHS students being able to get a better grasp of their child’s academic performance through the online grade platform, Skyward.
“We talked about parent concerns and one is not having grades updated,” Olson explained. “Some teachers are great at this, while others are not. It’s that inconsistency that leads to angst with parents. You don’t want your kid failing and not finding out until later.
“Not having grades updated…that’s a concern across the board,” he added.
Whether or not a student is failing or otherwise struggling, the plan calls on teachers and/or school administrators communicating more frequently with parents.
• Relationships: All staff will be trained on how to specifically build long-lasting relationships with students, parents and families. A part of that will involve “Trauma-Sensitive Schools Training” district-wide – it’s been delivered at Highland School previously – with follow-up through the district’s various “professional learning communities.” The district’s Enrollment Committee will gather student feedback through surveys and other methods to identify how the staff’s efforts to build relationships are going.
Olson said the trauma-related training is key.
“We have students who have experienced trauma, and there’s a whole range of what that looks like,” he said. “We want to make sure that, district-wide, we incorporate these practices. There are particular ways you handle students, and it’s important that we make our approach uniform across the district.”
There are several references in the language included as part of this goal relating to student mental health and maximizing the resources available to kids who need help. “We want to align our approaches and interventions,” Olson said. “We need to focus on the triggers.” He said the district is working closely with the Northwestern Mental Health Center to maximize the use of available resources. “We want adequate support in every building,” he said. “We’ll struggle to reach that, but we know that the amount of support our kids need is quite intensive.”
The superintendent is also encouraged by efforts that will engage student’s views more. CHS students were already surveyed at the end of the 2018-19 school year, and parents district-wide were surveyed. The idea is establishing a benchmark of data and building off that.
“Students are refreshingly honest and they have some really, really good input,” Olson said. “I feel like many of their concerns are accurate, too. We feel like we can do a better job.”
• A Culture of High Expectations: Another initiative implemented at Highland, “Responsibility-Centered Discipline,” will be expanded district-wide, and involves kids who are being disciplined being involved in the process and taking responsibility for their behavior.
An expectation of the staff under this goal’s umbrella involves enforcing district policies regarding, among things like wearing hats, cell phone possession and use.
It’s an issue that cannot be ignored, Olson said. Currently, at CHS, students can have them at passing time but cannot have them out during instructional time, at no point. “We’ll be reiterating this based on feedback we received,” Olson said. “This was a big issue that came up (in the strategic planning process), and it is a big issue. In the community forum, it came through loud and clear that this is a focus point.”
Olson added that it’s possible the student cell phone policy will be “ramped up a bit.”
“Obviously, kids aren’t going to be happy, and parents won’t be, either, in some cases,” he explained. “But we think we need to take a step forward in controlling phones at the high school.”
Another aspect of this goal seeks to boost academic rigor. For instance, one expectation would have all CHS staff give a “comprehensive final examination” in their classes. More than any other topic in the plan discussed with Olson, he said this is one that needs much further discussion with teachers, both in general and when during the plan’s five years such an expectation would be implemented. “This came more from the community than the staff, but the administrative team agrees,” he said. “It prepares them better for college. We want kids to understand and know what they’ve learned, but also we want to put in place some processes that they’ll see in college.”
Also included in this part of the goal is an emphasis on writing in all courses.
“Writing across the curriculum we feel is very important for our kids, even if it’s a health journal in phy-ed,” Olson explained, adding that this won’t be implemented in year one of the plan. “We want kids exposed to writing and comfortable with writing. It’s an important skill and we need to prepare kids for the level of rigor that will be expected of them.”
Overall, Olson says he knows the strategic plan is not perfect, but mapping where the district goes from here and referring to that map constantly is of critical importance going forward. “I feel we’ve been pointed in the right direction,” he said. “Now we need to put a work plan in place and figure out specifically which items we’re going to take on and who is responsible.”