Minnesota Revenue offers two valuable tax benefits for parents who purchase school supplies for their K-12 students, the K-12 Education Credit and Subtraction. These benefits can reduce parents’ taxes to increase their refund, but is only available for those who keep their receipts. Purchases for most school supplies, field trips, and musical instruments for school band are eligible.

Most Minnesota parents qualify for the K-12 subtraction, which reduces their taxable income. Parents under certain income limits may also qualify for the K-12 credit, which can refund up to 75% of their costs – even for parents who don’t owe any taxes. Visit the Minnesota Revenue website for details.

  • A Tight Financial Forecast Given the current state of affairs across the state, nation and world, the forecast reports on business, government and personal finances appear grim. States, local governments and other public entities ...
    Posted May 31, 2020, 10:00 PM by Brenda Williams
  • Celebrating our 2020 Patriot Seniors and A Challenge to Define the Culture The class of 2020 has been dealt a hand of cards that includes the loss of many important milestone events that typically take place in the final months of a ...
    Posted May 18, 2020, 5:19 PM by Brenda Williams
  • Finding the Silver Lining There is no disputing this COVID-19 scenario has created a bunch of negatives in our lives. It seems that the simple days of doing what you want, with whom ...
    Posted May 1, 2020, 1:21 PM by Brenda Williams
  • Breaking Down the High Reliability Schools Framework: Level Three--Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum This is part three in a three-part series focusing on levels 1-3 of the High Reliability Schools Framework. Part one of this series focused on Level 1: Safe ...
    Posted Apr 16, 2020, 7:49 PM by Brenda Williams
  • Together I hope that you are all well and safe during this challenging time. Your families are our families and we are truly thinking about all of you... “When you can ...
    Posted Apr 5, 2020, 4:43 PM by Brenda Williams
Showing posts 1 - 5 of 120. View more »

A Tight Financial Forecast

posted May 31, 2020, 10:00 PM by Brenda Williams

Given the current state of affairs across the state, nation and world, the forecast reports on business, government and personal finances appear grim. States, local governments and other public entities, including school districts, are consistently advised to maintain a fund balance sufficient to weather financial downturns. Governed by law or policy that sets a target fund balance and in some cases criteria about when and how the funds can be used, the amount of maintained fund balance determines the ability of the entity to ride out the financial storm. If there ever was a time to be in a financially responsible position with the capability to weather a storm, that time is now.

The Government Finance Officers Association, GFOA, has a “Best Practice” Statement regarding the appropriate level of unrestricted fund balance for governmental entities. The recommendation is to maintain an unrestricted fund balance in the general fund of no less than two months of regular general fund operating expenditures. Two months, or one-sixth of a year, equates to an unrestricted fund balance of 16.67%. Presented this metric, how is ISD 186 doing?

School board policy requires an unrestricted fund balance of at least 12% and the board’s consistent goal has been to maintain an unrestricted fund balance of 15%-17% which supports the two months of operating expenses recommended by the GFOA. Over the past five years, the general fund unrestricted fund balance ranged from a low of 12% in 2015 to a high of 18% in 2016. The last 3 years are consistent with an unrestricted fund balance of 16% and 2020 is tracking to end the year at 16%. If graded based on the GFOA’s benchmark of 16.67%, ISD 186 is getting an “A” due to enrollment growth and the board’s excellent planning, decision making, and discipline.

Financial forecasts are certainly looking ugly; however, our district will weather the storm better than many districts. Belts will need to tighten, some fund balances will need to be spent down, and some reductions may not be avoidable in future years. That said, we are better prepared than most districts to cushion the blows, and we will step through these times with the same discipline and focus on our mission that we’ve demonstrated for many years. We are after all, the Patriots!

-- Heidi Hagen, Business Manager

Celebrating our 2020 Patriot Seniors and A Challenge to Define the Culture

posted May 18, 2020, 5:19 PM by Brenda Williams

The class of 2020 has been dealt a hand of cards that includes the loss of many important milestone events that typically take place in the final months of a student’s senior year in high school. They’ve been dealt a bad hand. There’s no way to hide or sugarcoat that reality, and we’re so sorry for our students that have had to work through being a senior during a global pandemic. Staff, administrators, community members and parents have all worked hard to try and make lemonade out of this big lemon, and there have been some great moments to cherish no doubt, but it would be wrong to say we have a nice glass of lemonade… Patriot seniors, it is very much ok and understandable to feel angry, to feel grief, and to carry disappointment. Please know that we - your Patriot family - stand with you in this emotional time, and we will keep standing together as all good families do. We celebrate the many ways you’ve made a positive impact on our lives, and we look forward to seeing the impact you are certain to make as you step into the world as a Patriot alumni.

Patriot community, last August I included an article in the school district newsletter called “Please Join Us in Creating A Safe and Supportive Culture for Every Student” that included the following challenge: Learning to value the opinions of those we disagree with is a learned behavior, and I’m calling upon our community to serve as a model for our students to learn from, as it certainly is not being modeled at other levels of government. Would you please join us in helping our students learn what honorable and compassionate civic engagement looks like? And would you please join us in helping to make sure every student feels safe and supported while in our schools? It is definitely a responsibility we all hold together. I am resharing this challenge in a time when the tone of public discourse is more divisive, destructive, biased, misinformed, and disheartening than ever before in my memory. Times of crisis throughout world history have sharpened our view of what lies in the hearts of those around us and this crisis is no different. What are we modeling for our students in social media, in conversations, and by what we are choosing to watch on television? The eyes of children are always on us, and they are learning from what we adults choose to read, say, and listen to. Author Dr. David Walsh said, “Those that tell the story define the culture.” Are we telling the story for our children or is it the for-profit news media, social media, or those with biased and misinformed opinions? My hope is that we adults are intentionally defining the culture by telling the stories of compassion, respect, grace, team work, resilience, and love. May we be a community that models an American spirit of collaboration, respect, community, care for others and grace.

Patriot seniors, thank you for blessing us with so many years of great memories and for making our schools a better place to be. Thank you for continuing to raise the bar and for challenging us to keep improving and innovating. And now, “May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine upon your face. And rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.” - Irish Blessing

-- Chris Lindholm, Superintendent of Schools

Finding the Silver Lining

posted May 1, 2020, 1:21 PM by Brenda Williams

There is no disputing this COVID-19 scenario has created a bunch of negatives in our lives. It seems that the simple days of doing what you want, with whom you want, are a distant memory. We don’t gather for church, take road trips to sporting events, buy tickets to concerts or even hug anymore. Of course this isn’t because we don’t want to, but because we have to in order to be a good citizen, take care of our neighbor and protect those we care about. It isn’t all bad, though.

There is a silver lining in today’s hysteria, many silver linings actually. For many people in my age bracket, there is no time to stop and chat during “normal” life. There are constant schedules, events, activities, obligations, etc. This isn’t true just for the folks with kids in school, but true for many of us. We fill our lives with activities and things to do. Yes, some of those aren’t available right now, but so many other pure ones are, those that we may have ignored for a while.

When you take a walk now, do you really appreciate that walk or embrace what you see and hear? I know I do, much more so than I did before. When you talk to family and friends, are you more invested? Are you less distracted and paying more attention? I know I am. Our family has taken time to write cards to family we can’t spend time with. We’ve sat around the kitchen table for hours doing puzzles. We’ve spent time together doing homework. If we were in “regular” life, we may not have done those things or for as long. We all sit around the table and eat together, often. A simple drive around the countryside is something we all look forward to.

There is no doubt that our world is different. It can be debated if it is forever changed, but I’m not sure any of us know for certain. What I do know is the silver lining we can all embrace if we just grasp it, is appreciation. An appreciation for normal. An appreciation for all of those doing jobs we may have never noticed before like stocking store shelves. We can appreciate how lucky we are to have family and friends in our lives or cherish how much the memories of those passed on mean.

You can find the quote most anywhere, but it reads, “Enjoy the little things in life, as one day you will look back and realize they were the big things.” I’m not sure most of us can hear that enough. It is true, that the current state of our world is challenging, but instead of looking outward to all the negativity, I challenge you to look inward and appreciate all you have. Find a way to notice the “silver linings” and appreciate each and every one of them.

-- Rich Spiczka, Community Education Director

Breaking Down the High Reliability Schools Framework: Level Three--Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum

posted Apr 16, 2020, 7:49 PM by Brenda Williams

This is part three in a three-part series focusing on levels 1-3 of the High Reliability Schools Framework. Part one of this series focused on Level 1: Safe, Supportive and Collaborative Culture. Part two focused on Level 2: Effective Teaching in Every Classroom and the focus of today’s writing is Level 3: Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum.

In his book, What Works in Schools, Robert Marzano states that “A guaranteed and viable curriculum is the number one factor impacting student achievement.” (Marzano, 2003). That is a lofty claim, but one that makes complete sense when you understand the meaning of the terms guaranteed and viable.

A guaranteed curriculum assures us that specific content is taught in specific courses and at specific grade levels, regardless of the teacher to whom a student is assigned. The fact that it is viable indicates that there is enough instructional time available to actually teach the content identified as important (Marzano and Dufour, Leaders of Learning, 2011).

At Pequot Lakes Schools we have been working hard this year to ensure that we have a guaranteed curriculum for all learners. The importance of this became increasingly clear as we entered into distance learning. With students across the district engaging in learning from home, it is important that all students in a grade level or in a specific course receive the same content. The only way to guarantee this is to make sure that teachers have reviewed the standards, aligned the curriculum and have created units of instruction that are consistently taught by all teachers within a grade level or course. The curriculum must also be viable under the time constraints imposed by our current reality.

We are fortunate in the Pequot Lakes School District to have a school board, superintendent, building administrators, teachers and support staff who are committed not only to providing a guaranteed and viable curriculum, but also to ensuring that our schools meet the goals set forth in the High Reliability Schools framework.

-- Michele Zeidler, Eagle View Elementary HRS Coach

Together

posted Apr 5, 2020, 4:43 PM by Brenda Williams

I hope that you are all well and safe during this challenging time. Your families are our families and we are truly thinking about all of you...

“When you can’t change the direction of the wind, adjust your sails.” H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Distance learning is defined as a method of teaching and learning in which lectures and learning activities[1] [2] [3] are broadcast or conducted by correspondence over the Internet or through materials mailed back and forth, without the student needing to be physically onsite at the school or college. This is our reality, the adjustment of our sails. We hope you are working to adjust yours and come along for the ride! I am so very humbled and proud to work with this amazing staff. Taking the essence of classroom community, connections, relationships along with academics into a correspondence[4] and digital format poses some unique challenges. The evidence of collaboration is what our students are seeing daily in Seesaw. Our commitment will not change; we will provide the best education possible in this new format. The goal is to provide meaningful learning activities for all of our students.

This is a new adventure for all of us and we may have some bumps in the road as we begin as we are learning too. We understand that families are also adjusting to this new reality. We want you to know the staff are going to show up, check-in and care enough to make the best of this adjustment of sails. We hope this teaches your child that people will persevere when things aren’t easy, be flexible and adapt, and most of all that our communities work together for the greater good.

Together as a society, we have been asked to #stay home for the health and safety of self and others. 

Together, our teachers transformed daily instruction into a distance learning model in record time. 

Together, our paras, custodians, office staff, kitchen staff, bus drivers and anyone else available have pulled together to provide emergency daycare, prepare meals, and deliver technology and materials for students.

Together, our families are working and learning together at home.

“There is no “I” in team. “

“Together, Everyone Achieves More.”

“We are better together.”

These statements have never been truer than now. The halls of EV miss our students, but for now we are creating new “halls” and memories. Seeing the buses drive away Monday & Tuesday last week with the meals and deliveries brought the same emotion felt on the first day of school. PATRIOT PRIDE shines brightly during this storm and it will continue to do so.

-- Melissa Hesch, Eagle View Elementary Principal

Believing in Miracles

posted Mar 25, 2020, 2:33 PM by Brenda Williams

I had the pleasure this past week of celebrating a birthday in the midst of the chaos that has been unfolding around us, and wow, did I get the most amazing present this year! The staff and leadership teams at Pequot Lakes Schools gifted to me - and to all of us - such selfless, innovative, and tireless efforts that I think it’s safe to say we should probably believe in miracles.

The pressure on schools to implement and change protocols to help students and the community stay healthy felt enormous as our spring break came to a close the week of March 9-13. Our teams had prepared all throughout spring break by intensifying cleaning routines, purchasing supplies, and outlining new protocols to put in place as students returned amidst the growing fear of a pandemic. Then on Sunday morning, March 15th, the Governor announced the closure of schools and a “land a man on the moon” directive to prepare for distance learning for every student so it could start as early as March 30th. By noon that Sunday, our district administrators were assembled at the district office, and we took a moment to watch the two-minute clip of Apollo 13 in which the scientists and engineers were told to bring the men back to earth alive as failure was simply not an option. Indeed, it felt - and still feels - very much like an Apollo 13 moment for those of us working in education.

Within days, we began serving meal bags with breakfast and lunch for all children 18 and younger. If the Governor extends the closure, Pequot Lakes Schools will begin delivering those meals via regular bus routes and group drop-off locations. Childcare services were launched immediately at Eagle View Elementary for families that serve in healthcare, emergency services, education, and now also core public operations such as maintaining our food supplies and core utilities. Last week on Monday and Tuesday, our school leadership teams assembled to map out an eight-day Apollo 13 process and on Wednesday and Thursday, all staff began the work of redesigning education to facilitate distance learning for every single student.

For my birthday this year, I received the opportunity to work side by side with leaders that simply refuse to consider failure an option. I’ve seen job descriptions and normal work roles become irrelevant, rigid mentalities about what school is supposed to look like be blown away in an instant, and I’ve seen the amazing love that our entire Patriot staff has for our students on display in magical and moving ways. Our team has made some mistakes and experienced some failures, and we know more of those will happen as we work through thousands and thousands of “what abouts.” However, this team has been demonstrating a spirit of recklessness for doing the greater good that has left me in awe over and over again...

Patriot staff, thank you for the most amazing birthday present ever. To our Patriot families, the days ahead are uncharted territory, and I can think of no other team I would rather be part of to dive into such a challenging, but also exhilarating, endeavor. We ask for your patience and flexibility, and we also ask that you join us in creating an absolutely overwhelming culture of love, care, respect, innovation, and small-district pride so that every student and parent feels cared for and a part of something magical and positive. Only together can we achieve the goal of loving, caring for, and educating each and every student. We will be stronger and better for it. Stay healthy and GO PATRIOTS!!

-- Chris Lindholm, Superintendent of Schools

How Do You Go About Replacing Over 120 Years of Service?

posted Mar 5, 2020, 10:44 AM by Brenda Williams

In case you haven’t heard, the Pequot Lakes Public Schools are hiring! With eleven staff members retiring this spring, our buildings are faced with the challenge of replacing several long-time colleagues. At the middle school alone, our four retirees represent over 127 years’ worth of experience to the profession! Before moving on, I want to be clear that I’ve always struggled with the term “replacement”. When we’ve had teachers leave for another endeavor (whether a different career path, or in this case, retirement) I’ve found that we’d be foolish to attempt to walk into the hiring process with the concept of replacement in mind. Each teacher brings a unique brand to the “art” and “science” behind classroom instruction, and to think that we can seek to replicate that is simply not realistic.

Beyond the years of service to the students and families of Pequot Lakes in the classroom, it is important to also highlight the countless hours served in the gyms, courts and golf courses over the course of the last three decades. During that time, our community has experienced abundant change. We’re talking about teaching careers that began when Reagan was in office and Apple Corporation first released the Macintosh computer. They have witnessed the evolution from chalkboards to electronic file sharing; from overhead projectors and film strips to high definition interactive screens and beyond.

If we look at 120-plus years of service a different way, one can assume that the coaches in this group have logged enough miles on a yellow school bus to go around the equator at least a couple times riding to matches and games. They’ve most likely contributed to the harvest of an entire forest worth of trees courtesy of papers that have been graded on the living room couch. Most importantly though, is the countless growth exhibited by students who traveled through your respective classrooms. Their nurture, compassion and competence have helped many students to experience exponential growth, not only in academics, but as young men and women as well.

Though this spring will be filled with tributes to these storied staff members, I feel that no “Thank You” card, gold apple, or retirement party can approach the gratitude that our community should demonstrate toward these long-time teachers. Thank you to Bret, Monica, Steve, and Jan, for your incredible impact on our community and beyond. Words cannot express the magnitude of influence you have had over the last three decades in our school district. We are excited, though, to know that you will continue to coach, and maybe even find yourself back in the classroom next fall as a sub.

Due to these retirements …Yes, we’re hiring … and we’re out before many of the other regional school districts. With three positions already hired at the middle school, I also wanted to say thank you to all of you, our readers. I say thanks, because at the end of every interview, we always finish with two simple questions: “Why you?” and “Why us?”. After pontificating about why we should hire them, candidates often cite our wonderful community as a primary draw. Many have fallen in love with the small-town feel with larger school offerings. Our supportive community and wonderful students make my job a whole lot easier!

To our readers, please take a moment to send a former teacher a thank you. Whether Steve, Jan, Bret, Monica, or one of the other retirees from 186, it is incredibly powerful for educators to receive a note that reinforces that they’ve made a difference.

-- Mike O'Neil, middle school principal

Have It Your Way

posted Feb 24, 2020, 12:07 PM by Brenda Williams

For nearly 40 years Burger King had the slogan “Have It Your Way” as a reminder to customers of their desire to make every burger to the specifications of each person’s preference. Starbucks has revolutionized the coffee industry by creating a beverage experience catering to the unique demands of each customer. In the early 1900’s you could get a Ford Model T in any color you wanted, as long it was black. Now, customers can order their car online and specify endless options to customize their ride. Each year, new barriers are broken. Where once there were no options, now businesses are catering to consumer demands to “Have It Your Way.”

Education is not immune to the demands of consumers. Colleges were the first to identify the competition of for-profit colleges that offered a degree that could be earned entirely from the comfort of your living room without the need to travel to a college campus. As colleges have adapted and online offerings have become more the norm, this has pushed high schools to adapt to the reality that students can complete courses online and with PSEO options. Students no longer need to have transportation to campus to access these classes.

We are seeing an increased demand to cater to the individual needs of students and families. For an institution built in an era when students had no other option for schooling other than coming to a building, all our structures and practices are based on face to face interactions with students. This is still the best form of instruction, as it allows for the most effective adaptations and individual support for all learners.

All things change with time and at PLHS we have been responding to these pressures from parents and students to create more flexible options for students to achieve their learning goals. While we do have limitations, we are looking to create more flexibility and options for students while maintaining the same rigor students would experience in the classroom. We have added Advanced Placement options, College in the Schools options, blended online learning options, and developed trades academies that provide students with the opportunity to gain college credits or specific skills not available in the school 15 years ago.

In the future, schools will continue to change. At PLHS we see this as an opportunity to provide families with more options that fit their unique needs. It may become possible to see learning become year round, students progressing through grade levels based on their readiness for learning, students attending classes in multiple sites, and the learning day become 24 hours in length. Whether good or bad, these changes reflect the nature of a consumer-driven economy that demands more flexibility and opportunity than in the past. It is quite possible that the image of a learning institution built with bricks and mortar will someday be a laptop and a video chat.

-- Aaron Nelson, High School Principal

2020 Vision Update

posted Feb 10, 2020, 12:14 PM by Brenda Williams

The strategic roadmap and the 2020 Vision for Pequot Lakes Schools were adopted in June of 2014 and, well, it’s now 2020!! The school board is preparing to update the roadmap and invites all members of the community and friends of the Patriots to provide input by filling out a brief survey. The “2020 Survey” is linked to the district website (www.isd186.org) under the “News & Media” menu and will remain open through the month of February. Along with the 2020 Survey you will find a link to a 2020 Vision Report that highlights some of the great work and accomplishments from the past five and a half years. The Patriots have a great deal to be proud of!

The 2020 Vision challenged the staff at Pequot Lakes Schools to be a world-class learning organization that provides a rigorous, relevant, and personalized learning experience for every student. That work started with significant changes for teachers in 2014-15 with the creation of empowered school leadership teams that continue to drive improvement efforts. Investment in high quality professional development was increased significantly, resources were allocated to curriculum development, and the district’s technology infrastructure was expanded to facilitate the transition to a 1:1 technology rich learning environment. This coming summer Pequot Lakes Schools will transition to a new student information system (PowerSchool) and a new learning management system (Schoology) providing robust platforms to personalize learning pathways for students. In addition, since 2014 the high school has added Advanced Placement courses, Robotics, Aviation, a Cultural Perspectives course, the annual career fair, a strong internship program and a school trap shooting team expanding opportunities for every student.

Another great highlight from the 2020 Vision Report is the celebration of all three schools achieving High Reliability Schools level 1 certification!! The certification requires school leadership teams to provide strong evidence of systems, practices, and efforts to create and maintain a safe, supportive, and collaborative environment. All three teams are already working hard on levels two and three which focus on high quality instruction and a guaranteed and viable curriculum.

Finally, the 2020 Vision Report highlights efforts to improve the effectiveness of district operations and to cultivate strong community partnerships. The district has had a consistently balanced budget, updated the bus fleet, invested in buildings & grounds equipment, installed a solar panel system with no cost to taxpayers, added a Career Advisor position in partnership with Rural MN CEPT, expanded Community Education programs, augmented the Bridges Program, and cultivated strong partnerships with area businesses and organizations. Much of the 2020 Vision has come to fruition due to the hard work of our excellent staff and strong, positive leadership from the school board. Please take time to provide your input in the 2020 Survey so we can make the next 5 years just as successful! Go Patriots!

-- Chris Lindholm, Superintendent of Schools

Breaking Down the High Reliability Schools Framework: Level Two--Effective Teaching in Every Classroom

posted Jan 23, 2020, 10:11 AM by Brenda Williams

This is part two in a three-part series focusing on levels 1-3 of the High Reliability Schools Framework. Part one of this series focused on Level 1: Safe, Supportive and Collaborative Culture. The focus of this article is Level 2: Effective Teaching in Every Classroom.

The first thing to understand is that effective teaching does not mean perfect teaching. The goal is to help teachers continuously improve their practice. In a study conducted by Wright, Horn and Sanders (1997), it was concluded that:

The most important factor affecting student learning is the teacher. In addition, the results show wide variation in effectiveness among teachers. The immediate and clear implication of this finding is that seemingly more can be done to improve education by improving the effectiveness of teachers than by any other single factor. (p. 63)

One of the ways we strive to improve teacher effectiveness at Pequot Lakes Schools is by providing clearly defined instructional models, based on best practices. These models allow teachers to discuss instructional practices using common language. In addition, these model allows teachers at all levels of expertise the opportunity to grow in their practice.

With instructional models in place in each of our three buildings, all teachers can focus on professional growth goals tied to the instructional model. Each teacher chooses a goal for the year and administration and HRS coaches work hard to provide job-embedded professional development opportunities which will allow teachers to meet their goals. These opportunities include observing other teachers, collaborative team time, book studies, instructional coaching, a variety of in-house staff development sessions or attending a workshop outside of school.

Growth toward professional goals is monitored via the district’s teacher evaluation system. Administrators observe and evaluate teachers according to this system on a rotational cycle--the goal being the demonstration of continuous improvement. All of this is done in an effort to provide the best and most comprehensive learning experience for students, while at the same time, demonstrating the importance of life-long learning.

Pequot Lakes School District is committed to excellence. Ensuring effective teaching is taking place in every classroom is a large part of that commitment.

In April, I will wrap up this series with an explanation of Level 3: Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum.

-- Michele Zeidler, Eagle View Elementary HRS Coach

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