ISD 728 is proud to continue to be an educational partner and leader for thousands of families throughout our Elk River, Zimmerman, Rogers, Otsego and surrounding communities. Together, we have continued to navigate the pandemic, and are looking forward to a breakthrough year in 2021. In addition to “doing school,” we will:

1. Implement additional opportunities for students to gain career and college readiness skills.

2. Enhance collaboration with local businesses, city, and county partners.

3. Provide additional learning opportunities for students who prefer to learn in person, through distance learning, or in a system that provides a combination of both (i.e. blended learning).

4. Increase mental health support for our students.

5. Fulfill promises made related to construction and maintenance of school buildings (i.e. renovations, parking lots, heating/cooling, new school in Otsego, stadiums, etc.).

6. Implement Department of Health and Department of Education guidelines related to such things as saliva testing, social distancing, vaccines, etc.

7. Explore options to best utilize space throughout the school district, while looking for ways to increase services for all students, especially those who have special needs.

8. Demonstrate leadership throughout our communities by facilitating conversations, increasing awareness, and identifying ways to best support ALL students regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc.).

9. Work to ensure no child goes hungry or worries about having a safe place to sleep.

10. Communicate and remain transparent in everything we do.

The education we received as children is nothing like what we are experiencing today, or will experience in 2021 and beyond. Remember the importance of reading, writing and arithmetic?

How about going to the computer lab once a week to learn how to type? Do you remember the excitement of going on field trips, attending band concerts or football games, and getting to see your friends at lunch in the cafeteria? How about prom? Graduation? Homecoming?

Historically, schools were a place not only to learn, but a place to gather, socialize, and build relationships. That was not necessarily the case in 2020, and will never quite be the same.

Most educators seek employment in a school district to teach, share knowledge, and help students learn and grow. While all of that remains important, because of the pandemic, we found ourselves spending an enormous amount of time giving health advice (via the Department of Health), conducting contact tracing, quarantining students and staff, ensuring that every child had a device to learn remotely, providing internet hotspots for students who did not have access; providing childcare, serving meals curbside, and reacting to school and community COVID-19 outbreaks on a daily, and often hourly basis. We worked late into the evenings, early in the mornings, and each and every weekend reacting to cases of COVID, sending communication about who could and could not come to school, and trying to figure out how to find enough bus drivers, lunch room assistants, teachers, and even principals to keep schools open. We spent countless hours providing accommodations for students and staff with underlying health conditions, trying to keep students learning at school, in a hybrid model, and in distance learning, sometimes all at one time. We responded to thousands of communications from families, all of which had ideas about how best to “do” school, how we should spend money, and why following health guidelines from the Department of Health and orders from the Governor and Department of Education were a wonderful or absolutely ridiculous idea.

In 2021 and beyond, education will continue to evolve, some of which we can control and some of which we cannot. We will likely continue to navigate the pandemic, react to mandates from the Department of Health and Department of Education, and continue to support students and families in new and creative ways. We will implement and communicate health mandates, administer COVID-19 saliva tests, partner with various counties to give the vaccine to those who wish to get it, and offer opportunities for students to learn in person, through distance learning, and in a system that provides a combination of both.

In addition, we will continue to increase opportunities for children to “catch up” and/or get ahead due to opportunities lost as a result of the pandemic. We will look for ways to support students with their own mental health and well being, and we will look for ways to make our schools even more inviting for all students, not just some. We will continue to engage our students, staff, and families in discussions that raise awareness, increase collaboration, and bring people together.

We will provide leadership in our communities, work collaboratively with outside partners to increase opportunities for our community members, and look for ways to help and support local businesses.

As we look to the beginning of the year, know that we are working tirelessly to bring about a final half of the school year that celebrates and supports all students. We know that changes will continue throughout the early portion of this year, as more and more restrictions are lifted and we create our new “normal.” We look forward to having all students and staff back in our schools, hopefully soon, and gathering to cheer on our student athletes and performers when it is safe to do so.

We appreciate our continued partnership and learning with and from you. Because of you, we have been able to transport, feed, teach, and care for so many children in new and exciting ways since March. We know the pandemic has not been easy for anyone, but recognize that we will use the lessons we have learned to create and provide an even better educational system for our students and families in the future.

Thank you for being part of ISD 728, and for all that you do. Please enjoy some time to rest, reflect and rejuvenate this winter season. We are looking forward to a wonderful New Year. — Dan Bittman, superintendent of Elk River Area School District

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