Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Looking Back

As I reflect on the past three months it seems as though March 15th was years ago. It was on that day we were informed our district would be entering a new era of education entitled, Distance Learning. Our experience with this had its ups and downs along the way and we are certainly hopeful we can return to school in August as normal.

I personally want to thank all of our staff members for rolling up their sleeves and doing their best to make a less than ideal situation a positive experience for our students and families. In addition, I want to thank our students, families, and community members for their patience, understanding, and support during that transition and throughout the experience.

As a school district we certainly understand that through this experience there were times of celebration but also times of learning and growing. I sincerely appreciate those students, families, and community members who shared their specific needs directly with our staff in an effort to improve our distance learning experience (i.e. instruction, childcare, food service, mental health support, etc..). Your direct communication was important and appreciated.

Here are some points of interest regarding our distance learning experiences:

  • We provided childcare for anywhere between 35 and 50 children on a daily basis. 
  • We served 41,110 meals during our distance learning period.
  • We provided over 100 devices for students in need.
  • We provided 45 access points for our students and staff in need.
In closing, thanks to all of you for a wonderful year, have a great summer, and we look forward to seeing you all again soon!



Monday, April 6, 2020

And the winner is...

"Education is an ornament in prosperity but a refuge in adversity."
~ Aristotle

It has been a while since I submitted an article to the Lakes Area Review. Things have been a little out of the ordinary for all of us. With two weeks of distance learning behind us, I have found a sliver of time to compose this article of appreciation.

Over the past two weeks I have been asked several times to describe what we experienced here at New London-Spicer Public Schools. The only response I could think of that would answer those questions is the following.

"It is as though each of us have found ourselves staring in a recently released movie. One we did not audition for, however, we somehow got the part and are all doing our best to win an academy award for our performance."

Although I realize that analogy may not be the best, we want our students to be the "winners" in the end. Those of us drawn to the calling of education are well-prepared to deliver instruction, build relationships, assess outcomes, manage classrooms, and innovate. With that being said, our undergraduate work, graduate work, post graduate work, and other experiences never covered the topic, "How to respond, educationally, in times of a pandemic." With little time to prepare for distance learning, I firmly believe our staff, students, families, and communities did exceptionally well.

To our students...I'm sorry you are experiencing this unusual situation. We are committed to making this an effective and positive experience for all of you. Our hope is that you return this school year so that we may offer a proper goodbye. Please remember that we are here to support you in any way, always.

To our families and communities...Thank you for your patience, understanding, and flexibility throughout this process. We chose this profession to be in the presence of children as they motivate and inspire us to do our work. The New London-Spicer staff will maintain it's strong commitment to educational excellence and we hope to welcome all children back soon.

To our teachers...When you were called to put together a distance learning plan, you rolled your sleeves up and got to work. Your call to service was to think differently and continue delivering high quality, equitable education for all. Whether it be developing instruction, counseling services, health care plans, individualized education plans, and other coordinated efforts, you met those goals! Your commitment to continuous improvement is admirable.

To our paraprofessionals...You are appreciated! Many of you are working in positions in which you did not apply for but are doing so with energy and passion. You have been amazing in providing childcare, gathering resources, and anything else you've been asked to do. It is clear your commitment to our students in strong!

To our custodians...Thank you for working relentlessly in ensuring our buildings are clean, sanitized, and disinfected. It seems as though your required responsibilities change on a daily basis as determined by current information. I sincerely appreciate your ability to work through these times with an open mind and your strong commitment to adjusting course.

To our food service staff...You had two days to put together a food services program which would provide meals to all children in our school communities 18 years and younger. Each of you jumped right in and got it done. We started with just over 300 meals and are now north of 900 meals daily. Most impressed!

To our office staff...Interpreting new legislation, answering phones, gathering materials, coordinating events, and ensuring strong communication are just a few things you took on to maintain an effective transition. Thank you for providing the necessary work to ensure our planning moved forward.

To our transportation company...Transportation of school age care for essential employees, meal deliveries, and resource delivery is your new normal. With each new challenge, you all responded with, "How can we help?" That simple question during a challenging situation made a world of difference.

To our technology team...Your quick work to ensure our students and staff were well equipped was remarkable. With only eight days you had to make sure all software and hardware were sufficient to ensure experiences for all were positive. 

To our administrative team...Thank you for working around the clock to pull everything together. Your willingness to share openly, disagree, compromise, interject, and reach consensus for the benefit of all New London-Spicer students was outstanding and appreciated.

To our school board...Thank you for trusting in the leadership of our entire staff and supporting our decisions. In most circumstances, you are directly involved in the decision making process but acknowledged that this situation did not have the benefit of time to include you throughout the process. Your support, trust, and confidence in all our staff is appreciated.

In closing, it is clear that putting together the unimaginable is not possible without a team approach. Each member listed above is a vital part of the New London-Spicer Team. Losing just one of those members would be detrimental to our organization. I am thrilled to be on this team!

And the winner is...New London-Spicer Students!



Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Serving for the Greater Good

"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service to others."
~ Mahatma Ghandi

From February 17th to the 21st it was School Board Appreciation Week. I wanted to spend some time recognizing those fine folks that have decided to provide a service to the students of our communities. So, let the acclamations begin!

Our elected school board members dedicate approximately 50 hours per year in official meetings related to school district business. These same folks spend much more time above and beyond these scheduled meetings reviewing materials and communicating with constituents. Their jobs are extremely important and our elected board members take them seriously. Here are some highlights of their responsibilities as provided by the Minnesota School Boards Association (MSBA):

As the entity legally charged with governing a school district, each school board is responsible to its community to govern efficiently and effectively. This obligation imposes some fundamental duties on the board.

VISION: The board, with community input, envisions the educational future of its community and then formulates the goals, defines the outcomes, and sets the course for the New London-Spicer School District.

STRUCTURE: To achieve its vision, the board establishes a structure and hires a superintendent to accomplish that vision.

ACCOUNTABILITY: The board is accountable to the community for constantly monitoring the conditions affecting the district as a whole.

ADVOCACY: The board advances its vision by focusing on student achievement, partnering with the community, and being proactive in addressing issues that affect education on local, state, and national levels.

CONDUCT AND ETHICS: The board, as a whole, provides leadership to the community on behalf of the district by conducting its business in a fair, respectful, legal, and responsible manner.

I am thankful that we have seven highly effective school board members ensuring our school district's vision, structure, accountability, advocacy, and ethics are forward thinking and student centered. Thank you for all you do for the students of our communities. You are appreciated! Please thank the following board members when you see them.

Lucinda Dahlberg, Chair
Susan Lange, Vice Chair
Renee Nolting, Clerk
Mark Peterson, Treasurer
Gary Danielson, Director
Cherrish Holland, Director
Nancy Wehseler, Director

Friday, January 31, 2020

Unsung Heroes


"A hero is an ordinary person who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles." ~ Christopher Reeve

We've all heard the phrase, "unsung hero" or at least I assume most of us have. Although many of us have heard the phrase, I am not sure as many have reflected on who those heroes are in our lives. So, I've decided to dedicate this article to a reflection of identifying those unsung heroes.

Typically when people think about public education they identify teachers and administrators as those that have the most influence on student learning and development. Although there is truth to that assimilation, there are many unsung heroes in our learning organizations. Bus drivers, paraprofessionals, custodians, administrative assistants, cooks, coaches, advisors, directors, school board members, and all others not mentioned also play a vital role in the development of our learners and should not go unnoticed.

This year Governor Walz proclaimed the week of January 27th to January 31st, Paraprofessional Week. According to Merriam Webster's Dictionary, unsung heroes are those that do not receive recognition for the heroic work they do. All groups I mentioned previously fit into that definition and due to the Governor's Proclamation, I would like to focus on the work of our paraprofessionals.

The New London-Spicer paraprofessionals are a group of extremely committed professionals dedicated to assisting our teaching staff in their pursuit of providing a high-quality education for all students that enter our schoolhouse gate. These individuals are responsible for providing supplemental support that goes above the general education obligation. In many cases, their work is full of unique circumstances and challenges. What I am most impressed with here at New London-Spicer is this group's unswerving commitment to providing a positive experience for each of the students they are responsible for throughout their day, which leads to an astonishing daily success rate!

In closing, all individuals within our organization are of extreme importance. Should you encounter any of our staff members, please thank them for their service. In addition, in recognition of this proclamation week, please thank a paraprofessional. We appreciate these unsung heroes and are fortunate to have them on our team!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

School Closing Announcements

Well, here we are, another winter welcomed us with a grand entrance. Being that this is my first year being the individual to determine whether school takes place or not, I felt it would be of great interest to provide you with some background on how these decisions are made as outlined below.

Cold Weather Related

As you might recall, in the past (last year), we had several school days closed due to excessively cold weather. I am hopeful that we will not experience those extreme temperatures this year.  With that said, I would like to remind our constituents of guiding principles for closing school due to extreme temperatures.

  • Our school buses are housed indoors and are in excellent condition.  In the unlikely event that mechanical failure would occur during cold weather, there are backup buses that can respond to lend assistance in short order.
  • Wind chill temperature, actual temperature and frostbite time frames are taken into consideration when making a decision to stay open or closed. I utilize the NWS Wind Chill Chart as my guide.  If frostbite times are in the 30 minutes range, it will be my recommendation to hold school as planned provided other issues such as snowfall, visibility & road conditions are acceptable.
  • I believe that if we operate within the wind chill parameters set forth above, we are putting the safety of students first, but also providing opportunities to continue school on regularly scheduled days.
  • I ask that parents pay special attention to proper clothing for their children during the winter season and especially during these very cold conditions.  Whether a child is in Kindergarten or in 12th grade, all students should have proper winter apparel including mittens and hat before venturing out.
  • If the decision is made to hold school on days of negative wind chills, it is the parent's final responsibility to determine whether it is safe for their child to go to school.  Throughout our district, we have so many different circumstances with different families that a single decision by the superintendent may not properly respond to the consideration of a particular family.  If parents elect to hold their children home due to inclement weather, the absence will be considered an excused absence.


Please make certain that your alert system information (Infinite Campus) is up to date as we rely on this system to communicate messages regarding school closures.

Precipitation Related
Whenever extreme precipitation events are in the forecast or under way, the Superintendent works directly with the transportation company, county road officials, and area school districts to determine what action needs to take place to ensure student safety. Although, area school districts are consulted, each district comes to their own conclusions based on local road conditions and visibility.

When possible, these decisions will be made in the evening prior to 10:00 pm. However, often times this cannot take place due to a variety of reasons. If decisions cannot be made the prior evening, we will strive to make the call by 6:00 am.

Weather announcements are delivered in the following formats listed in order of priority:

  1. Infinite Campus Messenger System (Please make certain that your alert system information is up to date.
  2. Social Media Networks (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram)
  3. District Website
  4. Television News Stations
  5. Radio Stations

Those are the general guidelines I use in determining school closures. As stated above, if the decision is made to hold school on days of negative wind chills or inclement weather, it is the parent's final responsibility to determine whether it is safe for their child to go to school. Throughout our district, we have so many different circumstances with different families that a single decision by the superintendent may not properly respond to the consideration of a particular family. If parents elect to hold their children home due to inclement weather, the absence will be considered an excused absence.

It is my hope that this information has been helpful. Enjoy the upcoming weather!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Engaging Collaboration to Improve Achievement


In August of 2015 the New London-Spicer School District embarked on a journey to embed professional learning teams (PLTs) into their practice in an effort to positively impact student achievement. This journey commenced with a three day training for staff conducted by Solution Tree, Inc. Throughout time the yearning for additional PLT time has grown to our current reality of 2-hour late starts built into our district calendar. It is with this communication I hope to explain our PLT process.

In a traditional school setting, teachers work in isolation with minimal collaboration taking place. In isolation, teachers work within the four walls of their own classroom with minimal interaction with colleagues. The outstanding practices of the best teachers are rarely shared in a building engaged in isolationism. A PLT shifts mindsets from that of isolationism to collaboration. 

In a PLT, professionals work collectively to develop responses to student learning. The adults engage in collaborative conversations that enrich their professional practice and improve student learning. Collaborative conversations are conversations in which professionals work interdependently to make progress toward meeting student needs.  These collaborative conversations typically focus around four guiding questions and three big ideas.

Four guiding questions:

1. What is it all students must learn?
2. How will we know they have learned it?
3. How will we respond if they have learned it?
4. How will we respond if they have not learned it?

Three Big Ideas:

1. A focus on learning.
2. A focus on results.
3. A focus on collaboration.

Staff members at New London-Spicer are committed to this work by setting aside, at a minimum, 30-minutes weekly to engage in collaborative conversations focused on the four guiding questions and the three big ideas. The 2-hour late starts are being utilized to dive deeper into conversation and develop ongoing, sustainable responses to student assessment outcomes. We are proud of the commitment of our staff in ensuring our students meet their full potential in pursuit of college, career, and life readiness!


Thursday, October 3, 2019

"When you have more, you have less."

"When you have more, you have less." ~ New London-Spicer 2nd Grade Student

Today I had the opportunity to read a story to Mrs. Gramstad's second grade students. The book I chose was one of my all time personal favorites, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. This book has been interpreted to teach many different lessons throughout the years. Today's experience opened my eyes to a new interpretation, one I found to be pretty profound.

When I finished reading The Giving Tree today, I asked the students, "What lesson does this story teach us?" They were informed that there was no wrong answer as their interpretation was the correct interpretation. The first second grader I called on said, "When you have more, you have less." For those of you that have read the book, you probably understand the correlation. For those of you that have not, I'll attempt to explain.

In the story, Shel Silverstein follows a young boy and his relationship with a tree. Throughout the boy's life, he has many interactions with the tree in which he asks for various gifts and the tree obliges. In the end, the tree is reduced to just a stump as it provides it's one final gift to the boy, a resting place.

The correlation that I drew from this second grader's perceived meaning was that as each gift was provided, there was less to receive upon his return. When the apples were gone, they were gone. When the branches were gone, they were gone. When the trunk was gone, it was gone. Each of those gifts were never to be received again as they no longer existed. 

Now you might ask, "What is so profound about that?" Well, here's my attempt to explain it. The boy in the story felt the material gifts were of great value throughout the time with the tree until the end.  It is then he realizes that the one constant in each return was the relationship with the tree. In essence, when he took a moment to reflect, he recognizes, "when you have more, you have less." In this case it was a positive and lasting relationship. Sometimes it takes a journey and reflection to know what you're looking for. You can learn a lot from a second grader!

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1tp4_my8ui5vrmWUCvT8yBbDr2iGppwO2