Talk of the District: More than 8,000 reasons “Why”

Let’s face it. We all have days when the alarm clock goes off and we just do not want to crawl out from under those covers. So when that feeling kicks in, what is it that motivates us to fight off the desire to fall back asleep? What is the “why” that gets us going each day?

Stillwater Area Public Schools Superintendent Denise Pontrelli

I posed this question to the staff of the Stillwater Area Public Schools at the start of this school year. I asked them to reflect on their jobs, and consider why it is they do what they do. It’s been incredible to hear their stories. Each one is different, and yet, each has a common theme – it’s all about the kids.

As educators and support staff, we have more than 8,000 reasons “why” to show up for work each day. Whether staff members work directly with students in the classroom or sit in an office processing payroll, they’re all in this for the same reason. To make a difference in the lives of our students.

You don’t have to look hard to see this is true. Check out our website and Facebook pages. You’ll see a story about teachers who took time to write personal, hand-written notes to each of their students just to tell them, “You matter!” You’ll read about high school staff who listened to teens share their experiences about what works and doesn’t work in the classroom. You’ll see photos and videos of kids and paras and cooks interacting and engaging personally. You’ll see children smiling. You’ll see staff beaming with pride. You’ll see people who are truly in love with the work they do and deeply committed to the kids they serve.

Students are at the heart of this organization. When making decision, we do our best to ensure that the outcome benefits the most kids possible. More than ever, we’re inviting students to the table to share their perspectives. Our students are taking part in community conversations to share their ideas with parents and residents, and they’re meeting in small groups with district leaders to give advice and offer feedback. They’re speaking up and we’re listening, because really, there is no one more invested in making our schools work than the students who attend them every day.

Improving our schools and enhancing learning experiences for our kids is one of our most important tasks. This year, as we are embarking on a new strategic planning process, we’ve been very intentional about thinking about what our students will need for success in the changing world. We’ve been asking students, parents, business owners, community leaders, retirees (really anyone who will talk to us) what it is they want to see from our public schools.

Nearly 2,000 people have already shared their ideas. Here’s just some of what our community has told us so far.

  • Students need opportunities to learn life skills – like balancing a checkbook or investing for retirement.
  • You believe that critical thinking and written and verbal communication are the most important skills that a graduate from our district needs.

  • Other attributes you said our students need are a strong work ethic, accountability, and the ability to think creatively and collaborate as part of a team.

  • You said you’d also like us to provide more opportunities for kids who may not be interested in college, and provide more personalized learning for kids.

We’ll be taking all of the feedback we’re gathering and use it to create Stillwater’s Portrait of a Graduate, a document that will serve as the foundation of our next strategic plan and define what skills, attributes and experiences our students need for success after high school.

If you haven’t shared your ideas yet, take this short survey now! Or to learn more visit our website at stillwaterschools.org/portrait.

This community has a long tradition of supporting its kids. We look forward to continuing to work with you to make sure our students remain at the center of “why” we do what we do.

  • Randy Marsh

    Thank you Denise for making our school district better for all of its students! The difficult decisions you on the school board have made are appreciated by those of us who can actually see the forest through the trees.