By Jim Boyle
Dist. 728 Supt. Mark Bezek walked through the Elk River Area School District’s mission and core values, the history of strategic planning on his eight-year watch, the much ballyhooed delimiter process and looming budget issues one more time before making his recommendation to the Elk River Area School Board to stay the course.
The delimiters, an offshoot of the strategic planning process that involved more than 300 people from the school district and community, are the proposed parameters for which the Elk River Area School District is proposing to use to accomplish a transition and transformation of its educational delivery model. The list of them is long and includes all District 728 departments and they are all interrelated rather than housed in silos like previous administrations organized them.
“We’re in the middle of a process,” he said. “Let the process work. Let’s follow through with the process. Continue to invite feedback from your constituents. Continue to ask questions of the Collaborative Leadership Team. These administrators are the people I rely on.”
The process calls for action at the Jan. 27 Elk River Area School Board meeting.
Then in February the Elk River Area School District’s Teaching and Learning Team will work with building principals and teachers to finalize details.
“We have two more weeks of listening to the public and teachers,” said Jana Hennen-Burr, the assistant superintendent in charge of educational services. “Jan. 27, you approve or deny parts of the delimiters. If there’s approval, we will take them to the Teaching and Learning Team … to refine the different content areas, redesign, or we will create.”
Bezek and Hennen-Burr both emphasized if there’s a new and better idea that also meets the delimiters process, they will listen and do it.
Bezek said he agreed with the research presented by physical education teacher Matt Johnson that there’s no replacement for activity, “however, being in my position I am in, I have to look at the broad spectrum of preparing kids for the future.”
He explained how technology in the district is advancing, but it’s too subjective depending on the course, teacher or both. He played a video calling attention to the divide between informational technology and schools. It reported that the U.S. Department of Commerce ranked 55 industries by their level of IT intensiveness.
“Education ranked 55th, the lowest, below coal mining,” the report stated.
One educator featured said kids are having a more stimulating environment outside of school than they are in school. The video explained the workforce will call on artistic ability, ability for synthesis, ability to understand context, ability to work in teams and be multidisciplinary, multilingual and multicultural.
“Students will need to know how to find information, validate it and synthesize it, leverage it, communicate it, collaborate it,” the video stated. Bezek said the district does not have comprehensive online options. He said the district must retool its system and retrain employees. “We have to work together to make that happen,” he said.
He also said the district has no middle school activities.
“When we start talking about physical activity, obesity and what have you, those are the things we should be focusing on,” he said. “Our phy. ed. and health departments do a fantastic job, but we only have these kids for six hours a day. We need to start looking at real ways to address the real problem. I believe that’s the 3:30 to 10:30 p.m. problem, and how do we work with the community and parents to solve that issue.”
The superintendent said – with the addition of Response to Intervention, Professional Learning Communities and the Collaborative Leadership Team in combination with an updated strategic plan – the district is positioned to move the district forward, and he has been directed by the Elk River Area School Board to do this and faster than he had been. The strategic plan has 35 result statements with the goal of having them all accomplished by 2017.
Bezek said the model for education in the future calls for teachers to be facilitators of the learning process.
Hennen-Burr also said the plans before the School Board are not just a curricular plan. It’s a systemic change across the system.
“Our strategic plan is really for seven years,” Hennen-Burr said. “We’re in year two or three. We will still have more dreams to accomplish and further changes to be made. We have to start somewhere.”