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Keith Dixon: The first day of school is always evolving

After a busy July and August, we celebrated our first day of school on Thursday. I enjoyed talking with parents, students and staff at several back-to-school open house events, and then visiting schools on that important first day. As an educator...

After a busy July and August, we celebrated our first day of school on Thursday.

I enjoyed talking with parents, students and staff at several back-to-school open house events, and then visiting schools on that important first day.

As an educator, nearly 40 years of first days come to mind. In some ways the images are similar: school buses full of children; principals standing outside to greet parents and students; schools smelling of freshly polished floors; classrooms decorated by teachers for the beginning of the school year.

A few things have changed, of course, since I started out in education - classrooms now include computers, and in many of our schools the old chalkboard and whiteboards are missing, replaced with electronic Smart Boards, which is a very neat teaching tool, by the way.

A few weeks ago we got together with our principals to talk about our goals for the coming year.

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We also met with site councils at each of the schools to help them work on site plans that align with those goals. Site councils are comprised of parents, teachers, staff and community members; they advise our principals and help create school plans.

We build our planning around our three aims: high achievement for all; a safe and welcoming environment for everyone in our schools; and effective and efficient systems. As a district we then have overall goals that align with those aims. Schools align their goals with district goals, and individuals align their goals with school goals.

This year under high achievement we have goals to increase student performance in mathematics and reading, increase parent involvement in our schools and assess our

current curriculum review and adoption process.

Under safe and welcoming environment, we're working to increase cultural awareness and understanding, develop an organizational code of conduct, and work on providing personalized and responsive service to all staff, students, parents and community members.

In other words, we want to become a people company, focused on learning.

We continue to have goals related to effective and efficient systems. We're working to provide timely data to staff so instruction can be modified to meet student needs, and we'll begin a conversation with the community to develop a long-range program plan.

Another important goal is implementation of the long-range facilities plan.

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During our meetings, we talked a lot about the new long range facilities plan and its implementation, and we came to an important conclusion.

If we, as staff, look at this plan as having "winners" and "losers," we all lose.

We all win, if we look at this as an opportunity not to "lose" schools, but to take the best that we offer at each of our existing buildings and make a smaller number of even-better new schools.

This is an opportunity few school districts ever see: to improve their school buildings and school programs at the same time. It's an exciting vision.

Our overall goals are what we call "the big rocks." An organization like ours has, of course, a thousand smaller rocks to deal with on a daily basis, but if we're all working together on our major aims and goals, we can make a substantial difference in our organization.

Our goals are challenging but definitely attainable.

Thank you for everything you do to support those goals, and best wishes for a successful school year.

Please continue to share your advice and considerations by e-mailing me at keith.dixon@duluth.k12.mn.us or sending a letter to Keith Dixon, Superintendent, Duluth Public Schools, 215 North 1st Avenue East, Duluth, MN 55802.

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