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Superintendent Olson's Year in Review

From academics to the arts, from athletics to activities, 2018-19 was a year filled with growth, progress and success in Monticello School District. We believe strongly in our mission to make success a realistic outcome for Every Kid, Every Day, and we are excited about the progress we continue to make in that direction. Even more so, we’re invigorated to keep pushing forward as we work to establish ourselves as not just one of the top school districts in the area, or in the state, but in the entire country.

To give the community an idea of just some of the many things our students and staff accomplished this year, as well as a look at what we are doing to continue improving every day, we wanted to provide this Q&A style look at the 2018-19 school year. Enjoy!

Q: You set three big goals for this year - build healthy relationships, emphasize school safety, and foster a culture of engagement. How did ISD 882 go about achieving those?

A: These truly were the three focal points throughout the district during the past year, and I want to take the most time going through how we worked to achieve them.
One of the biggest things we did that positively affected all three of these goals was introducing a Social Emotional Learning curriculum in all buildings to varying degrees. This type of curriculum focuses on providing students with the skill sets they need to build healthy relationships, to understand emotion, and build the foundation needed to be successful both in academics and in life.
To help increase engagement amongst our staff and stakeholders, and to provide benefits for all students in the district, we added many other new opportunities this year as well. We created multiple parent committees, including the Choose Kind Committee and the One District Committee. Both of these committees brought staff members and parents together monthly to find ways to continue to improve the way we educate and care for our students every day. We also introduced Coffee Chats and Patron Days, which are additional opportunities for families to connect with me personally, as well as other members of the district, and provide a platform for community members to both listen and ask questions, and for me to do the same. Those events also went a long way in helping me build healthy relationships with stakeholders across our district!
As for the most important relationships in the district, I couldn’t have been more pleased with what I saw this year. I witnessed so many of our educators going out of their way this school year to create connections with students and build relationships that made students excited to come to school each day. I couldn’t be more proud of the work that our educators did this year!
When it comes to creating the most secure learning environments in the state, we continued to put our work and money where our mouth is. We secured more than $200,000 in grant funding this year for continued improvements at Pinewood. We also continue to put money from our security referendum to use, making sure every one of our buildings is up to date with the best physical security we can find. We work daily to make kids feel secure and comfortable in our buildings. School should be a wonderful place to be, and we are doing everything we can to give students that feeling every time they walk into one of our buildings.

Q: This seemed to be a particularly exciting year for out-of-classroom events and activities. What were some of the highlights that will stick with you?

A: Where do I even start? This year was filled with spectacular achievements, performances, and more. First, what a year for our music programs. Getting to go around and watch kids shine in performances at all of our buildings was one of my favorite parts of the job during this first year. Our high school students led the way, of course, with choir students using their Cantus residency to help them create beautiful music throughout the year, and the multiple bands and orchestras finding a way to wow families and the community time after time. A really special moment was the one act play of Seussical the Musical, which gave our students an opportunity to shine in a much different setting than many of them are used to - and boy did they shine!
I was also proud of so many athletes this year, for the incredible work they did and the sportsmanship they showed throughout the year. We had countless athletes compete in state meets, and I was very proud of our boys baseball team, not just for finishing fourth in state, but for the way they conducted themselves, with all of our seniors taking the time to pose with Austin’s seniors following a career-ending defeat. It’s easy, sometimes, for us adults to say it’s “bigger than a game,” but for our student athletes to live it in that moment was something that gave me chills.
Lastly, while Commencement and Senior Awards (this community’s generosity is truly unbelievable) were just spectacular, the event that really stuck with me was the Graduation Walk at our elementary schools. Seeing our seniors return to their respective elementary schools to thank their former teachers and to inspire the next generation of Magic graduates was absolutely heartwarming.

Q: Last school year, the district went through a $2 million budget alignment. What is the district’s current financial situation and financial forecast?

A: While we still fall below our fund balance policy, we are headed in the right direction. District policy calls for the general unassigned fund balance to be between 8 and 16 percent of the General Fund’s expenditures. When our fiscal year ends on June 30th, our fund balance is projected to be at $1.6 million, which is 3.5 percent of General Fund expenditures. At this time next year, our finance department is projecting that number to grow to $2.2 million, which is 4.8 percent of General Fund expenditures.
Clearly, we are not yet back to where we want to be. However, we are very confident that we have adjusted to the state’s new special education funding formula that caused some of these issues, and we will continue to build our balance back (upholding policy), while also continuing to meet the needs of our students, staff, and community. We are working harder than ever to find additional funding sources, including grant opportunities, to provide the best possible experiences for our students. We’ve had some exciting successes in those areas, which I’ll get to soon.
We prioritize our students and their success above all else, but fiscal responsibility is right behind it, and we will not blindly go after either at the expense of the other. We know that we owe it to this community to take good care of your money, to put it to good, practical use, and to get the most out of it. We will continue to work daily to do just that!

Q: What is Monticello School District doing to adapt and build a brighter future for both the district and it’s students?

A: This is where our real passion lies. In growing, improving, and working to provide each and every student with what they need to be successful in our ever-changing world.
I’m extremely excited to report that we made several major strides late this year that will help us do just that. One big piece is that we have Cindy Fasching handling curriculum leadership, working to keep us on the leading edge of how we prepare and aid teachers as well as making sure we are impacting our students with the best lessons out there, and not just recycling materials year after year.
We also just created an incredibly exciting position this month, as we will share a social worker position with CentraCare Health that is designed to build resilience in the community and with our students. This position will just further the benefits of our SEL Curriculum, and provide another resource to build off the incredible work already being done by our counselors and social workers at the building level. Sarah Welk is taking the new position and I am extremely confident that she will take her strong leadership skills from the building level to a district and community level and help our students greatly.
Our third big addition during the past year that will help us grow is that we started accessing new funding through the Minnesota Department of Education for Achievement and Integration. Melissa Erickson is the leader that will oversee this funding and help our staff grow as she instructs us to learn about our unsolicited biases on route to strengthening our philosophies, beliefs, planning work, and our ability to reach Every Kid where they are, Every Day.
Additionally, we are continuing to listen and want to be receptive and open to what our community needs. If you have thoughts or ideas that could make us a stronger district, I urge you to come to the next Coffee Chat to bring your ideas forward, or even just to ask questions that might spur new ideas. The next Coffee Chat will be held July 27th at 9 a.m. at the Monticello Community Center. All are welcome! We are proud to have Spanish interpretation at these events.

Q: What is our biggest strength?

A: This one’s easy. Our people, people, people. From our students to our staff to our community, there is zero question that the strength of our school district is the army of people that push forward every day to make the future brighter. To each and every person that played a role in making this past school year a success, I thank you. Our students thank you. The future thanks you.

Now let’s get ready to do it all again, and even a little bit better!