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  Thursday February 26th, 2015    

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Response to WEA vote of No Confidence (04/13/2008)
By Paul Durand
Over the past four years I have worked hard as the superintendent of the Winona Area Public Schools to address many issues and unique challenges. All of these efforts have been done publicly and with the full working knowledge and support of the Boards of Education. Many of the problems faced have been in Winona for many years. When I arrived in Winona, years of deep and repeated budget reductions along with program and staff cuts had seriously weakened our schools. Today, we are in the best financial shape in over a decade. We have three years of clean audits, positive fund balances and Minnesota State Finance Awards to independently verify this progress. In the past four years our budget has grown from 38 to 44 million dollars with 6 million dollars of additional annual revenues.

We have turned back many program cuts and stabilized the staffing in our school district. We currently have the lowest elementary class size average for any school district in all the Big 9 (Fairbault, Albert Lea, Austin, Owatonna, Mankato and Rochester) - this is a great asset. We have added teachers, nurses, clerical support, para-professionals and maintenance workers. All of this has been done in the spirit of improving the overall staffing ratios at all levels - this too is a great asset for our schools.

During my tenure we have made a serious commitment to improve conditions of the buildings and grounds districtwide. Renovations and new construction have improved WSHS, Goodview, Madison, Central, WALC and W-K. Grounds improvements have impyroved WMS, Goodview, Madison, W-K, Jefferson and WSHS. We have prioritized the overall health and safety of our students and staff through projects such as fire sprinkler installations and indoor air quality upgrades that equal millions of dollars of previously unmet improvements, and more importantly, priceless protection for students and staff.

In addition to these changes, we have strengthened our academic achievement by careful audits of the WSHS and WMS curriculums. Data-based decision-making has expanded significantly over the past few years, and, this summer, the Winona Area Public Schools will make a quantum leap forward in technology. We are finally in a position to greatly improve student and teacher hardware and software districtwide. This comprehensive solution will allow all students and teachers equitable access to the necessary educational equipment and software for all programs, grade levels and buildings.

All of these improvements have happened under intense public and media scrutiny. I have met continuously with parents, staff members, civic groups, school board members, teachers, administrators, support staff and the media to share ideas and communicate issues. To listen to and inform when possible our community, I joined four civic groups to date and have conducted hundreds of hours of face-to-face meetings through Twelve on Tuesday meetings, Quality Circles, PTA meetings, coffee talks, Making the Grade TV show and Ask the Superintendent radio call-in shows.

I am humble enough to know we will all make mistakes and we all miss opportunities. We all should expect stronger schools and overall excellence. As a school leader I expect no less of others than I expect of myself. However, I will not stand idly by when unethical, unprofessional or illegal activities are brought to my attention. I will make the necessary, tough, and even unpopular decisions in support of our students, the taxpayers, and our overall organization. Nepotism, favoritism and "looking the other way" is being replaced with updated school district policies, procedures and guidelines, professional ethics, and transparent financial interactions. No amount of rumors, innuendo, half-truths, blogging, biased surveying, grievances, threats, bullying or attempts at public humiliation will sway me from professional advocacy on behalf of our children. Leadership is not a popularity contest nor is it a democratic vote on every decision. This is the nature of my profession, and I intend to continue to work hard and serve as a professional to the best of my ability for the Winona Area Public Schools.



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