For more than a century our local community, with its distinctive traditions and values, has shaped the education of our children and, in doing so, propelled them to success. I want to thank the community for taking another step in that direction by passing last week's referendum questions. It is a very exciting time for our children, our school district, and our community. 

Our educational traditions go back more than a century. In 1904, The World's Work, a general interest magazine, published an article by Adele Marie Shaw titled "The Ideal Schools of Menomonie."  She wrote: "Menomonie, Wisconsin, is a little city of but 5,600 people, and yet it is the best living proof of what the public-school system to the United States can be made to do under proper conditions."

Referring to the early work of John Huff Stout, she went on to say the school "contains within a few hundred acres the most varied; the most complete object lesson in public education that exists anywhere today."  Shaw drew several conclusions about her review of the "ideal schools of Menomonie"  by noting,  "If communities were willing to spend both thought and money, they would receive in hard cash a hundredfold for their expenditure."

By the early 1900s, the schools had an international reputation. According to history, the schools, founded by James Huff Stout, had won many medals at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, and the exhibit of the Menomonie Elementary School won the grand prize in its category. Excellence and community support is a long tradition in this community.

We began with "The Great Conversation" more than a year ago, and we will now successfully move forward with facility changes that will have a continuing impact on the quality of education our community provides. Our conversations with the community led to a well-developed strategic plan and community understanding, and have now also resulted in community permission to do more with our facilities.

Community permission grows out of community understanding and community trust. Jamie Vollmer writes in his book Schools Cannot Do It Alone that community permission "may be as concrete as a 'Yes' vote in a bond election, or as abstract as a tacit nod — a 'sense of the community' — that becomes obvious only by listening carefully to the various ways that the community talks to itself."  

We will continue to embrace community building. We are not finished with this work. Our strategic plan also includes a strategy designed to grow community engagement. We must maintain a positive, ongoing discussion between educators and the people of the community we serve. 

By reaching out, we can help our community join together in common purpose to create educational opportunities that will continue to unfold the full potential of every child. This is the pattern of great school systems and progressive organizations everywhere.

Vollmer writes, "Those who work in public education cannot fulfill society's enormous collection of academic and social demands by themselves. When there is community support, friends, families and neighbors begin to act as owners of their schools." I am thankful everyday for the opportunity I have to work with our community and work in our schools.

There are many next steps. The community engagement strategic action plan has three broad objectives. They were developed by a team of 22 members of our community.  The three strategies are designed to:

— Provide more opportunities to inform the citizens of our community and our elected officials about our successes and the challenges facing the school district.

— Further develop existing — and explore new — opportunities for mutually beneficial relationships between the school district, community members, and other community agencies or organizations.

— Expand upon our current capacity to recruit new — and support existing — families within our community.

There are multiple action steps that include things such as expanding parenting education classes, hosting more school board meetings and open houses in district buildings, developing a "Safe Community, Safe Schools" speaker series, and hosting annual town hall type meetings. We have only just begun!

The establishment of our community education programming has been part of our community engagement work. We are in the first year of implementation and it continues to grow steadily. The spring classes are underway. Kale Proksch, the district's community education coordinator, has done an exceptional job and continues to collaborate with the community. We are looking forward to the possibilities that exist.

As we move forward with facilities projects, the strategic plan, and district initiatives, we will continue to embrace the opportunity to work with our community. We invite the community to contact us if an opportunity to collaborate is common to our missions.

Christine Stratton is the district administrator for the School District of the Menomonie Area.


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