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Building on summer success, District 191 schools invests in accelerating learning in 2021-22

It’s the start of a new school year, and while it may be more “normal” than the start of last school year, it’s still not business as usual, and it shouldn’t be. 

Not only are we still in the midst of a global pandemic, we have to address the disruptions of the past year when it comes to students' learning, social and emotional development, and family engagement. 

So that’s what we’re doing. 

Thanks to support from the federal and state governments, we have a plan and the funding to make an impact in those areas. 

First and foremost, we have to be able to provide a safe and healthy learning environment for our students. Starting Sept. 8, we will have more students physically in our schools than we have in almost 18 months. To make schools as safe as possible, we’re doing all the individual things that we know help prevent the spread of disease: wearing masks, watching our distance and washing our hands. 

But beyond simple, individual hygiene, we’re also taking steps like enhanced ventilation and cleaning of high-touch surfaces. Plus, we’re continuing with 1-to-1 personal learning devices - even at the youngest grades - to minimize sharing of resources and provide flexibility for individual learning. And of course, we’ll continue close-contact investigations when there are cases of COVID in our schools so we can minimize spread and keep more students in school for more days. 

When it comes to addressing disrupted learning, our plan includes targeted investments where we think they will make the biggest impact.

It started this summer with expanded access to summer school and partnerships that provided free enrichment experiences like theater, coding and engineering classes, camping and much more. 

It will continue during the school year with additional classroom teachers in our youngest grades, helping build relationships as students start their learning journey. It also includes math specialists at the middle school level, where assessment data shows learning was significantly disrupted over the past year. At the high school, additional credit recovery specialists will help students catch up on credits if they fell behind so they can still graduate in four years. 

Beyond the classroom, we’re expanding access to after-school enrichment programs like Burnsville Youth Collaborative and providing more tutor-mentors for students.

All of this is supported by changes that were already underway, like the advisory model at middle and high schools, as well as the new schedule at the middle schools. 

Last but not least, we know that connections between families and their schools have been more difficult to maintain due to distance requirements. As District 191 works to accelerate learning for our students, building strong connections with families will be essential to student success. 

This started with extending support provided this summer by cultural liaisons and school social workers, and continues with expanding the district’s “FIRE Academy” program that helps parents understand and connect with their students’ school system, the creation of two new “community connection coordinator” positions, among other efforts. 

As much as we might wish we could just “return to normal,” that’s not what we need right now. We need to accelerate forward, growing and meeting the needs of our students, families and community. I’m proud of the plan we’ve put in place and excited about what’s ahead for District 191.  

  • Superintendent's Column