Talk of the District

with Tom Nelson, Superintendent

Talk of the District is a site to post your questions, concerns, ideas and participate in an on-line discussion with the Superintendent and other community members.

Superintendent Tom Nelson can be contacted via email at nelsont@stillwaterschools.org.

The recommendations made to the Stillwater area school board last month by a group of district residents is generating quite a bit of buzz about the future of our schools. This group, called the long-range facilities planning committee, has been working for nearly 10 months to build a plan that would address the district’s facility needs both now and well into the future. The committee believes that changes are necessary to keep the school district competitive by providing quality learning environments for our students and our communities.

There is no question that the committee did their work and did it extremely well. The plan laid on the table for the school board is necessary, exciting, and will energize the district to produce new learning opportunities for our students. They did their job, now it is up to all of us to do ours.

Our job is to read the recommendation, attend meetings, listen carefully, ask questions, give advice, and help shape the final plan. You can learn more about it on our website, www.stillwaterschools.org/facilities.

This plan consists of four main ideas:

  • Change the grade configuration in the district
  • Enhance learning spaces
  • Resolve capacity issues
  • Expand access to athletic/activity spaces

Our district is one of a very few in our metropolitan area that is organized with junior high schools. Just about every other district is organized with grades 6-8 middle schools and 9-12 high schools. The plan under consideration would create new space for preschool students (4-year- olds) at our elementary schools, allow our sixth graders to find new learning opportunities in a middle school environment, and open up a whole new world of learning for our ninth grade students.

The plan also seeks to improve learning spaces throughout the district. Science labs at both the high school and at Oak-Land Junior High need to be updated and enlarged. There is a need to upgrade our heating-ventilation-air conditioning (HVAC) systems in several of our buildings, including Afton-Lakeland, Lake Elmo, Lily Lake, Oak Park, Oak-Land Junior High and Stillwater Junior High. Our elementary playground spaces need more accessible surfaces and many spaces – specifically at the high school - need improvement.

The plan also begins to address the overcrowding of our southern elementary schools.  We are seeing steady growth in the Lake Elmo and Woodbury portions of our school district, with little room in our existing southern schools.  We also share an elementary building (Valley Crossing Community School) with the South Washington County District and the North St. Paul District.  This plan calls for the purchase of Valley Crossing School from the other partner schools or to sell our portion of Valley Crossing and build a new school for this area.

Finally the plan calls for improving the athletic/activity spaces at the high school. Pony

Stadium would receive a facelift, and a community center with a walking track would be added to the high school building for additional gym space and community use.

All of this can be achieved without an increase in taxes. Our school district is almost debt free. Our remaining bonds will be paid off in 2017 and 2019. If we held taxes steady, we could accommodate the changes proposed without a tax increase.

This is way too much information for one short column. We will follow up over the next couple of months with more specific articles around each of our proposed changes. We encourage all to get informed in this proposal to improve the Stillwater Area Public Schools.

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Contact Tom Nelson at nelsont@stillwaterschools.org

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