By Julie Critz, superintendent, Alexandria Public Schools

Signs of fall are everywhere: Boats and docks being pulled from the lakes, trees changing colors — and yellow school buses on our roads. Thank you for keeping an eye out for children walking, biking and busing to school each day.

In the Alexandria Public Schools, we are honored to work with 4,261 students every day. Each September we welcome them, start their new routines and begin the nine-month process of learning and growing together. We appreciate your ongoing support for our students!

We have a number of things to celebrate already this school year – here are a couple highlights:

● Lincoln Elementary School has been named a 2019 National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education! Lincoln is one of nine schools in Minnesota in the category of Exemplary High Performing Schools.

● The Minnesota Department of Education recently received a federal grant to promote positive school cultures throughout the state of Minnesota, and our district is one that has an opportunity to participate. The belief is that when schools take specific action to create positive school climate, the experience of everyone in the school community improves, leading to better student engagement and connectedness to school.

● A 3,550 square foot addition to Miltona Science Magnet School was completed. With the addition, there are two more full-sized classrooms plus a special education suite, providing much needed instructional and intervention space to serve students.

As we embrace the new school year, the district will maintain our focus on learning through being personal, comprehensive and responsive. These have been the cornerstones for the work of the district for the past few years and essentially keep us focused on creating a culture where every student has the opportunity to thrive.

I’m particularly proud of the college and career-ready model in our high school that is helping us be intentional about preparing our students to be successful beyond their K-12 experience in the 21st century. Some examples include:

● Increasing the number of experiences where teachers engage students in instruction that is interesting and relevant to the real world by giving kids authentic learning experiences. The Business CAPS class alone has resulted in 17 business partnerships in which juniors and seniors look at real-world application of what they’re learning, connecting their school work with future goals and opportunities. Additional examples of student success stories include feedback from employers who share that students have reached out to their businesses in hopes of completing their rotations at the clinic and hospital or to student teach in our school system.

● Higher numbers of kids taking Advanced Placement (AP) and/or dual credit college credit bearing coursework at the high school campus.

● Shifting the philosophy from years past when primarily only students who knew they were four-year college bound took the ACT college entrance exam. Rather than inviting students to test on a Saturday, the exam is administered during the school day to all juniors. As a result of more students taking the test, the high school score has mostly remained steady, or seen a slight dip, from the state average. We view this experience as valuable – it helps raise the aspirations for all students and leaves the door open for a two or four-year post-secondary path.

● Introduced evening welding classes where students are able to get skills needed by business and industry, mentored by industry professionals. Not only will the program serve students, it will help serve the larger Alexandria region as the need for high qualified welders continues to increase.

● Specifically teaching characteristics that grow each child’s ability to be self-directed, critical and creative thinkers, civically engaged citizens and strong communicators as part of our Portrait of a Graduate work.

Our schools belong to our community. I encourage you to learn more about our school funding request on the Nov. 5 ballot: Visit our website at alexschools.org/referendum or come to a public information session on Thursday Oct. 10, 7 p.m., at the School District Welcome Center, Oak Conference Room, 1410 S McKay Ave in Alexandria. Please learn more and make an informed vote on Nov. 5.

Here’s to a continued great year — for our students, our staff and our community!

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Julie Critz is the superintendent of Alexandria Public Schools. “In the Know” is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.