Marshall School District discusses strategic plan

MARSHALL -Marshall School Board members, student representatives, principals and other personnel gathered together in small groups to discuss the district’s “Vision ’16 – A Plan for the Future” strategic plan at a work session meeting Tuesday.

“The strategic planning process and document provide a framework that guides the future of our district and our schools,” Marshall Superintendent Klint Willert said. “Ultimately, this effort is to support the district in achieving our mission, which is developing the potential of each learner for success in a changing world.”

Along with reflecting on the district scorecard, the small groups reviewed the district’s core values: being committed to student-centered excellence, continuing to focus on the future, utilizing data-driven processes and decisions focused on results, embracing ethical responsibility for the students and the community served by the district and valuing an engaged and learning workforce and embracing partnerships.

“It can be the good, the bad and the ugly,” Willert said. “But let’s discuss the current reality in Marshall Public Schools today.”

Group 1, which was comprised of student rep Sydney Hey, board member Bill Mulso, Marshall Middle School Principal Mary Kay Thomas and MMS Assistant Principal Jeff Hansen, shared that the current school system involved batch grouping mentality, courses that were fairly rigid, was teacher-driven and had changing demographics.

Other groups also contributed to the discussion, questioning whether the district was collecting the right data to make the best decisions, the need to be flexible but also grounded and if test scores were staying the same.

“We have to remember that very few school districts do a strategic plan like this and put it on the website,” Willert said. “It’s not perfect, and we can celebrate our successes, but the real question come next: what changes do we need to see happen? Where do we go now?”

Marshall High School Principal Brian Jones said he believed that school systems have somewhat lost the ability to teach creatively, noting the shift from Profiles of Learning, a project-based method, to the current standardized learning.

“Ever since the standards movement took hold, we’ve been political puppets,” he said. “We’re at the will of those in power.”

Jones has sensed a recent change in thinking, however.

“I think the pendulum has shifted,” Jones said. “It could give us the opportunity to bring back creativity, not just in teaching, but also in learning.”

Willert then led the groups through the final question, which was how the district got to a certain point. Issues identified and solutions offered will be brought back to the table, and the administrative team will take a look at them in the near future.

The board also heard about the second round of the Race To The Top grant application process, which includes a total of $400 million for districts that are selected.

“We’re currently working with a grant writer through the (Southwest/West Central) Service Cooperative,” Willert said.

Buffalo Ridge Education Alliance (BREA), a consortium that includes Marshall, along with the districts of Minneota, Lakeview, Windom, Pipestone and Jackson, have a combined total of 6,655 students and would receive a grant total of $20 million if chosen, with the possibility of another $2 million also up for grabs. The grants would be utilized over a four-year period.

Willert called the application “Project IGNITE!” which stands for Individual Growth Nurtured by Innovation Through Education.

“The mission of BREA in Project IGNITE! is to create personalized learning environments and experiences that prepare students for career and college success in an ever-changing world,” he said. “The vision of BREA schools through Project IGNITE! is to create a future where all students in our care can pursue their individual passions and goals in the 21st century and beyond.”

The three key areas are career/college readiness, personalized learning and high quality educators. Providing students a quality, 21st century learning experience includes the skill development of collaboration, cooperation, communication, creativity, organization, problem solving, self-direction and social responsibility and technology fluency.

“Those skills were identified by employers today,” Willert said. “Education is moving towards mass customization.”

Willert said he liked to use the analogy of Apple’s iPhones to make the point.

“Apple has sold a lot of iPhones, but I bet none are organized and structured the same way,” he said.

While assessments will always be used, a new education method might not be through testing, Willert said. The core content would also remain consistent, even if the education system is overhauled, but the way educators approach it and apply it may vary, he said.

“The learning is what is important,” Willert said.

Public meetings will be held in the near future regarding Race To The Top in addition to the referendum.

“Ultimately, it’s a chance to do things a little differently,” Willert said. “The Race To The Top is not a replacement to the referendum but rather an enhancement.”

Sixteen districts across the country were awarded grants a year ago. This round of grants will be awarded in December.