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Alexandria superintendent speaks about the 'state of the school district' in Listen and Learn event

Enrollment is up in the district.

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Rick Sansted
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ALEXANDRIA — In moving from the pandemic to an endemic, Alexandria Public Schools Superintendent Rick Sansted says he wants to not only communicate with parents, but also with the public.

Sansted shared information about the "state of the school district" during a Listen and Learn event Aug. 17 through the Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.

He not only provided information about the upcoming school year, but he also shared information about facilities, along with safety and security.

More elbow room

The newest addition at Discovery Middle School, a 30,000 square-foot addition, provides space for physical education curriculum and Alexandria Community Education youth and adult recreation. It is expected to open in November.

He said the new space offers the potential to host larger youth athletic tournaments. Sansted said the district continues to have extremely high numbers for middle school activities, as well as high school activities. And, from a chamber impact, the district will be able to host outside events, which brings money into the community through restaurants, hotels, etc.

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The cost of that project is roughly $8 million.

Another facilities update Sansted talked about was the new addition at Woodland Elementary for the Early Education Center, which he said is “really looking good” and just about ready to go. This addition replaces the gymnasium space leased from Douglas County. The 9,539 square-foot space was designed to meet the needs of students, parents and community, Sansted said.

It provides added activity space and provides room for two classrooms.

The activity space will house Shenanigans, an indoor play area for children. Shenanigans is currently housed inside the Douglas County Service Center, but will be moved over to the new space at Woodland soon.

“Shenanigans has been a popular place for our little people in our community and has been used for lots of birthday parties,” said Sansted. “We’re excited to have that open up here.”

School safety

Switching gears, Sansted said with what happened with the school shooting in Texas this past May, there was a lot of reflection around safety and security not only from the school district’s standpoint, but also from law enforcement.

During this summer, the district has updated its software, which includes the ability for all staff to activate an emergency response if need be. And the district updated its resources, including updating the emergency response guide for school leaders and staff members and building maps for all schools and centers.

The school district and community partners, including law enforcement, fire and EMS, participated in an active assailant training, which Sansted briefly talked about.

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Many entities were involved, including the Alexandria Police Department, Douglas County Sheriff's Office, Alexandria Public Schools, Alexandria Fire Department, North Memorial Ambulance, City of Alexandria and Douglas County.

“It was great to be able to partner with everyone and be present together,” he said. “It was great to be able to partner with all those agencies and make sure we’re on the same page from a communication standpoint and a planning standpoint and I just really appreciate the relationships we have with these community partners.

From a state level, the district has 11 mandated drills per school year, including five lockdown and intruder drills, five fire drills and one severe weather drill.

Sansted said once school starts back up, the district will continue to inform parents on safety and security measures and how they might be able to talk with their children.

“I think it is important for parents to be aware of what the plans are at the school so they can help answer questions,” said Sansted, noting that the school will also have staff members who can answer questions students might have. “We want to make sure parents have a chance to talk with their kids if needed if they have concerns about some of the drills and things that we do that are a part of our world today.”

He shared some statistics from a survey parents filled out that indicated that 97.5% of parents said their child feels safe at school at the elementary level and 87.9% said they feel safe at the secondary level.

Enrollment, activities and more

Sansted said there has been conversation about decreasing enrollment in schools around the country but that's not happening in Alexandria.

The enrollment on June 1, which was the end of the 2021-22 school year, was at 4,039. As of Aug. 12, the enrollment is at 4,064, an increase of 25 students.

“That’s a good sign,” he said.

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He also touched on the number of students who have signed up for fall activities. To date, there are nearly 400 students signed up for all sports.

“Activities are a good thing. Data shows that kids who are in activities do better in school, have a higher GPA and they learn how to work together as a team,” said Sansted. “We’re super excited with these numbers as we come back to our fall activities. Just really strong numbers across the board.”

Exit interviews were something that started for the Class of 2022 and Sansted said the district will continue doing them. Next spring, he said the district will be looking for community and business partners to volunteer to conduct exit interviews for those graduating in 2023.

“Student have an interview where they get to demonstrate all of their skills and all of their content mastery,” he said, adding that the district received positive feedback from seniors, saying it was good for them to reflect on what they’ve done and how they have invested in themselves during their time at Alexandria Area High School.

He also said it is great for the business community and business leaders or others to hear from the students about the work they have put in to get themselves ready for the next step, whether it’s college, going into the military or starting a career or job.

During the 45-minute presentation, Sansted touched on a number of other topics and answered questions from people who were listening live to the presentation. The whole presentation , along with the slideshow presentation , is available on the Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce website. On the homepage, go to the resources tab and click on event resources . Listen and Learn events dating back to July, 28, 2020, are available to watch and listen to.

The next Listen and Learn event is Wednesday, Aug. 31 from noon to 1 p.m. The speakers, Scott Chazdon, an evaluation and research specialist and Jennifer Aranda, an educator, are both with University of Minnesota Extension. They will be sharing the results from the welcoming and inclusive community assessment. This will also be posted on the Chamber’s website after the event.

Celeste Edenloff is the special projects editor and a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. She has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in 2016 to once again report on the community she calls home.
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