The Board of Directors of Fosston Public Schools desires to provide the best possible education for tomorrow’s workforce -- our students. The board is also committed to being fiscally responsible. In order to do this, the board has determined that developing a strategic plan -- a plan that provides a road map for everyone in the school community -- is an important activity. You might ask, “Why is strategic planning so important?”
Imagine, if you will, going on a two week vacation, without a plan. You have a general idea of the time, but no specific destination. You might have a budget, but you haven’t set priorities, so your money is spent as costs come up, which means you may or may not have enough for the full two weeks of vacation. You don’t know where you are going, so you don’t know when you’ve arrived at your destination. You didn’t get your car serviced before you went, so you might run into emergencies along the way which eat into your budget. And because you haven’t prepared, you don’t know the rules of the places you might visit, so you might end up in trouble. For some, a vacation without a plan is fun; for others, it’s a nightmare. But imagine spending a whole year or longer in this state.
The dangers of operating without a plan are multitude - whether you are taking a vacation, or operating a business -- and especially so for a larger organization. Decisions are made out of necessity. People end up reacting to situations, rather than preventing things. Budgets become broken. Because staff don’t have a common direction, tensions can rise and communication diminishes. Eventually, there is a state of constant panic and chaos. However, all of this can be avoided if an organization develops a strong plan of action.
Strategic planning is a process that brings stakeholders together to discuss hopes and dreams, values, what’s working, and what’s not. From there, SMART goals are set, with specific check-points and deadlines for completion. After the plan is developed and approved by the board, it’s up to district staff, the board and the community to make sure the plan is implemented. As decisions are made, the overarching question to answer is “How will this decision help move us forward with our plan?” Resources can be allocated to the priorities in the plan. All in all, a good strategic plan provides direction for all involved, and keeps an organization moving forward systematically, for the long term.
Just like when we plan for vacations, strategic planning requires frequent check-ins toward progress. A good plan will include specific dates for those check-ins, and enough flexibility to address shortfalls or changes along the way. So, how do we begin developing the plan?
To start the process we are asking for your opinion, and few moments of your time. We have several on-line surveys available at our website. Go to: https://www.fosston.k12.mn.us and look along the left side under “Quick Links”. Click on the link most applicable to you and share your responses. Please do one survey, even if you fit various descriptions. The links will be open until mid-November. We will also have listening session meetings coming up in the various communities that comprise ISD 601. Watch for dates. We at ISD 601 are excited to engage in this process, and hope that you -- our community -- join us.
Imagine, if you will, most children across the State of Minnesota -- as young as third grade --sitting in front of a computer screen, reading questions, answering, solving math equations, or interpreting a science experiment’s results. If you have a child in school, this is likely a scene with which you are familiar. Students take the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) in reading, math and science, every spring. And schools get the results officially, towards the end of August. Schools get individual student results that are shared with parents, and districts get information about how their whole student body, as well as various smaller populations ‘measures up’ in terms of proficiency and growth. Comparisons can be made between state results and local results, as well as changes from year to year, locally. The results are released to the media and the public at large.
Achievement is measured against the standards for each subject area (Reading, Math and Science) that are to be taught at each grade level. The content becomes more difficult each year, and in the case of science, students are only tested in grades 5, 8 and 11, so they are often covering 3 years worth of concepts in a test. With the math test, children are expected to understand algebraic concepts as early as 5th grade! Reading also becomes incrementally more difficult, with students having to interpret themes of literature as early as grade 5. There are four categories assigned: Exceeds, Proficient, Partially Proficient and Does Not Meet. The North Star Report, released by the state, includes information about changes in student achievement -- moving from one level to another.
So, what does this all mean for Fosston ISD 601? The results from the Spring 2019 MCA tests give us something to celebrate. In all of the tested areas, our children showed levels of proficiency that were above the state average. In math, 60.5% of Fosston students tested were proficient (meaning they met or exceeded expectations)-- the state average was 55%. In reading, 66.2% of Fosston’s students tested were proficient -- state average was 59.2%. And in science, 57.6% of Fosston’s students tested were proficient -- state average was 50.7%. This tells us instructional practices at ISD 601 are above state averages.
We also look at results from specific groups within our school population, to make sure that we are addressing achievement gaps and that all students are showing growth. Those groups include students eligible for free and reduced lunch, American Indian students, students whose first language is not English, etc. Again, when comparing the results for ISD 601 students to state averages, we are doing better than the state. And more importantly,our students are performing better this year than they did last. We see percentage point gains in the exceeds, meets and partially meets categories -- and smaller percentages of students in the “does not meet” categories.
Included in the states “North Star Report” is a breakdown of graduation rates (usually a year behind). At 98.3% for 2018 (4 year rate), Fosston Public Schools is ahead of the state rate (83.2%). Additionally, our graduation rates for students eligible for free and reduced price lunches, and our graduation rates for our American Indian students are above state average. This same report includes data on consistent attendance - the percentage of students who attend school 90% of the time. At Fosston Public Schools, 83.65% of students maintain consistent attendance.
MCA tests function as a “systems check” to make sure districts are teaching to the standards in a systematic way, that is equitable. These tests are a snapshot in time, and we know we cannot measure the success of a school on one result. However, this snapshot, when combined with other data points, and taken over time to examine trends, allows staff at ISD 601 to measure the success of programming. This data will be reviewed by teaching staff and administration, and from this information, teachers will set SMART goals to keep us always moving forward.
Watch for more information about how ISD 601 is doing to reach its goals when the World’s Best Workforce report is made public.
Oh Those Pesky Hot Lunch Forms
“I’m not filling out that form. What I make is no one else’s business.” “My kids don’t eat school lunch, so why should I fill out the form?”
Families at Fosston Public Schools ISD 601 will soon be getting a letter from the district office about school lunch prices, and the federal application for benefits (the free and reduced price lunch form). For a variety of reasons, including the ones stated at the opening of this article, some families choose to not fill out the form. But there are several very good reasons to fill it out, even if your student doesn’t eat lunch at school.
The most important reason for YOUR schools is financial. The district is eligible for funding from the state called “compensatory education dollars”. These dollars are awarded based on the number of students eligible for free and reduced lunches. However, ALL students attending ISD 601 benefit from those funds. The money becomes part of the general fund, and can be used to help students who need extra support to be successful in school. That might mean support in reading and math. That might be support with mental health or behavioral health (working with a social worker or counselor). And, these are services that any student can access. This funding helps keep class sizes lower, which benefits all students. Completed free and reduced forms also help with something called “e-rate” which is a federal subsidy for internet and telephone services , which allows our students access to educational programs and services that they might not get if the subsidy didn’t exist.
When we receive additional state aid, we are able to continue offering programs for students. Like many rural schools, we are experiencing declining enrollment. Declining enrollment leads to fewer dollars available. Costs continue to rise. If we are able to generate additional state aid dollars for the students we do have, that will allow us to continue to offer strong educational programs to our community, that will help OUR children be successful. Filling out the hot lunch forms is one simple way we can make that happen. And, this state aid does not add to local property taxes.
So, please, when you receive the letter from the school about lunches, take 10 minutes (or less), fill out the forms and return them to the school. Our goal is 100% return. If you need help with the form or have questions, please call the district office at 218.435.6335.