Keith Jacobus, South Washington County Schools superintendent

Last week, we were excited to welcome back our students and staff for the 2018-19 school year!

While the excitement of the new school year is here, summer was a busy time for all of us in the South Washington County School District. Our staff participated in many professional development opportunities, which focused on preparing them for the start of the year and the implementation of new strategies and curriculum materials. Our support staff were also busy completing projects that can only be undertaken when our schools are empty.

If you traveled around our district this summer, you may have noticed the many construction projects we completed, including the addition to Woodbury Middle School, the first phase of remodeling of the new Nuevas Fronteras Spanish Immersion Elementary School, and the new Oltman Middle School.

Along with these large projects, we completed the resurfacing of many of our parking lots, replaced windows and doors to increase energy efficiency and performed routine maintenance of our HVAC systems.

All three of our schools that went through major construction this summer have elements in the structure designed to complement our priorities in our strategic plan. In addition, the spaces were designed to increase collaboration, student engagement, motivation, all while maximizing the instructional strategies we employ to help every student succeed. In the simplest terms, we believe the foundation of success in school hinges on the personal relationships our staff can foster with our students. These relationships help kids to take the intellectual risks needed to truly learn the content while refining their critical thinking skills. In order to help students master content and rigor, we need to know them well enough to design lessons, assignments and intervention strategies matched to their interests, skills and challenges.

We also need to get our students talking. Collaboration and discussion help all of us to refine our thinking, correct mistakes and misconceptions and help us capitalize on the collective wisdom of our peers. The design of our new learning spaces throughout the district are meant to bring kids together in formal and informal groups to set the stage for meaningful collaboration.

At Oltman and Woodbury Middle Schools, we constructed collaborative learning spaces modeled after the pod areas at East Ridge High School. The new spaces have a more flexible and open feel to allow teachers and students to use both the classroom and common areas throughout the class period. We also included a number of furniture choices students can use to complement the type of activity they are engaged in and their choice of seating types and arrangements that help them comfortably focus for extended time periods on the task at hand.

We no longer have only hard and, for many kids, uncomfortable desks chairs for kids to sit upon. We have soft furniture, standing desks, high-top tables and traditional chairs, giving kids a choice of what type of furniture will maximize their work output. Much like what you may experience in your own work environment, or have seen in many businesses, we know we do our best work when we find the best work environment.

I am excited for the new year and proud of our new learning spaces we have throughout our district. Our teaching staff came back motivated, happy, curious about how to best improve what we do for kids, and ready to welcome our students back. I know it is hard to say goodbye to summer, but I cannot wait for fall.

Thank you for your continued support of our school system. Our students are going to school at a great time in terms of what we know about teaching and learning and the opportunities they have to explore their interests and ignite a passion for lifelong learning!