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Our greatest challenges (09/12/2007)
In previous editorials I wrote about the many positive areas identified by our voters in last April's community survey. The Center for Community Opinion conducted this research on behalf of the school district. This year the school board, staff, and community will use this valuable information to help develop our comprehensive plan. In addition to many strengths identified in this study we also have areas of concern and many opportunities for improvement and growth.

The following are a few key challenges we are working hard locally to address:

Building Trust - In conversations with community members related to this issue, many people refer to decisions made by district personnel or school boards with which they did not agree. School district representatives have the responsibility to make decisions based on all available information, working within the resources on hand, and with consideration for legal implications and the needs of the entire district. Nearly every decision related to our school district will bring about differing ideas as to what is best for our schools and ultimately, the children that we serve. We are blessed to have very passionate people in our community who care deeply about issues surrounding our schools, so it is not surprising that many have very strong feelings about decisions that do not align with their beliefs. It is my hope that whether or not one agrees with decisions made about our schools, we can agree that we all have a common goal of providing the best possible education for all our children. It all falls, in my opinion, to intent. If we can assume positive intent (API) of those on both sides of an issue, we can continue to work together to model respectful and constructive interactions for our youth.

Improving Communication - We are very grateful for the wonderful involvement of parents, staff, and community members in the various venues for the exchange of ideas. Through these discussions, we are better able to address the needs and concerns of those we serve in this district. We understand that people learn and absorb information in a variety of ways.Ā  So, as a school district we try to ensure that forms of communication are varied to give everyone the opportunity to be informed. Here are some of the ways to learn more about the school district:

Written forms of communication-- newsletters, district website, group e-mails, Guest-View editorials

Visual/verbal forms--Making the Grade T.V. show, Winhawk Wake-up radio spots, regular Good Morning show interviews and the "Ask the Superintendent"¯ radio call-in show

Face-to-face communication opportunities"”Parent-Teacher conferences, "Twelve on Tuesday"¯ parent meetings, school board community forums, and regular "coffee talks"¯ around Winona and "Quality Circles"¯ for staff within our schools.

Most importantly, we welcome questions, concerns, ideas or feedback at any time. Please continue to share your thoughts. Your feedback is very important to us!

Stabilize Funding and Budgets - Ever-changing state and federal mandates along with major increases in energy and insurance costs have made school finances extremely complicated. Thanks to local public support in the form of a levy referendum our finances are in the best shape they have been in over a decade. We have added staff, rebuilt programs and services along with improving facilities district-wide. In the past three years, District #861 has twice received awards for outstanding financial management from the State of Minnesota. Yet, even with tremendous local support and careful fiscal management the education funding from the state does not provide sufficient funds for Winona to break even once we factor in enrollment declines and inflation. Public schools are funded primarily through a complex formula developed by the State of Minnesota. The bulk of our budget is generated from state aid based on student enrollment. In 2007-08 we receive a 2% increase and the 2008-09 amounts equals 1%. A study conducted by the Rockefeller Institute of Government, shows out of 50 states Minnesota ranked 46th in spending growth between 1997 and 2003. States that historically rank low on K-12 spending, including Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama, far outpaced Minnesota. 16.8% is the national average spending growth. Minnesota's growth was 9.4%. Please contact your legislator and tell them we simply cannot afford to let public education in rural Minnesota remain under funded.

The Board of Education, staff and administration for the Winona Area Public Schools understand that we must build upon our strengths and acknowledge our limitations before we can ever hope to improve as an organization. We have dedicated employees who are committed to working in partnership with the community to provide students the best possible education. We value the input from the community and will use the data to develop a comprehensive plan to improve our schools. For those interested in viewing the whole community survey it is available on-line at www.winona.k12.mn.us. Or, if you would like to join us as we develop our comprehensive plan please call Vicki Andring at 494-0861 to be included as the process begins.



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