Happy New Year

As we look back at the last year, we have much to celebrate. Duluth has some of the most experienced, educated teachers in the region, and our schools offer a wealth of course choices and extracurricular opportunities. Enrollment in our high school career and technical-education programs continues to grow, and our Ojibwe and Spanish language-immersion programs are attracting more families. Duluth has high school students graduating with up to two years of college credit or other accredited post-secondary programs completed in auto tech, construction, health care, or the culinary industry. We have students excelling, outscoring state and national averages, and achieving in academics, music, athletics, and more.

Much of 2018 included preparations to renew the local education levy in Duluth, which was scheduled to sunset. We asked our community for thoughts on what education should be in Duluth through "Think Kids" conversations; meetings with staff, families, and local leaders; and a community survey conducted over the summer. With the help of a dedicated citizen committee, we shared information about the proposed levy questions, what the funds would be used for, and how it would impact individuals in the community. In November, voters passed renewing and increasing the local education levy. As we move forward, we'll work to ensure funds are used to hire more teachers and to put even more focus on student needs.

That needs-based focus on students will guide some of our most important work this year. Our goal as a state and as a community is all students realizing success. We're working on it, in our schools and in our region, but we're not there yet. Part of the challenge is that the support needed is different for each student. It can be academic, social, behavioral, or related to housing, medical or dental care, or mental or chemical health.

Another challenge is the need to address systemic racism and bias and to increase our cultural competence as educators. It's our goal to join together with community partners to support the needs of every student and, in doing so, to help them achieve.

Last year we worked with local legislators on support for public education in Duluth. Revenues from the state and federal government make up the majority of a school district's working budget. We'll continue to encourage leaders to increase funding based on inflation.

We testified before the Senate E-12 Policy Committee in St. Paul last year. Tom Melcher, director of the Program Finance Division at the Minnesota Department of Education, presented information to the committee clearly showing how current funding formulas negatively impact a few school districts, including Duluth. We worked with other Minnesota school leaders at the state Capitol to advocate for changes to the way special-education services are funded and will continue to be funded. In order to meet the needs of all students and provide the best education possible, we urge the state to fully fund statutory obligations to special education.

Duluth is a community that values education, whether preschool or K-12, or postsecondary or apprenticeship programs. People care, and that's what counts. That's what I'm most grateful for as we reflect on the past year and look to the future. I am confident that together we can build a stronger future for our students, our schools, and our community.

Column written for the Duluth News Tribune