We expect a lot from our schools. The changing landscape of public education coupled with evolving needs of the community has transformed the traditional model of reading, writing and arithmetic into a system that many people from my generation might hardly recognize. Or, as my sons like to remind me, “Dad, this isn’t like it was when you were a kid.”
It hasn’t been a wholesale change. There are many things you would still recognize. We have all the same sports that you likely remember. We have chorus, band and orchestra. We have drama and theater. But did you know that the high school has six different soccer teams so that any student, no matter their skill level, can participate in a competitive soccer? Did you know that middle school students can learn to skateboard? Did you know that the high school has over 80 co-curricular clubs, each with a staff advisor?
It’s not just these extra (and co-) curricular activities that distinguish our modern schools from their predecessors. We also have a robust and varied academic program at both the middle and high school. Our middle school has a popular elective program where students can choose from courses such as Music Studio (learn to record your own songs), News Crew (create a news showthat airs each week) or Yoga (we can all learn to be more flexible). At the high school we now have a “design lab” outfitted with professional woodworking tools, but also 3D printers, laser cutters and high-end computer aided design and drafting tools. This space isn’t limited to just high school students. Through a partnership with the Howe Library, the design lab is now a resource availableto everyone in our community.
In addition to the academic programs, we also have a network of support services to help students in a variety of ways. The high school is now in the second year of a program known as ‘Response to Need.’ This program provides targeted support to students that have a particular need at a particular time. The efforts of our counselors help to get students back on track and fully engaged in school. Due to the success of this program the proposed Dresden budget contains funding to setup a similar program at Richmond Middle School. At Richmond Middle School, students can take advantage of Guided Study (a study hall period supervised by a certified teacher offering students help with assignments), after school study groups and one-on-one tutors with students from Hanover High School. Finally, in both schools, our counselors offer more than just academic advising: they are trained to support students with social and emotional needs as well.
None of the academic offerings, the extracurricular options or the support services are unique to our schools. In fact, at this moment in time most of these are now expected of school systems in the United States. The challenge that the Dresden board faces each year is balancing the expectations of the community with the needs of the students and the cost to taxpayers.
Raising the bar
Because of these high expectations the board and administration are always looking to improve. This year we modified several aspects of the budgeting process to try and improve community engagement, address affordability and focus on student success. These efforts included starting the budget process earlier to allow for more deliberation, setting caps in the budget guidelines and engaging more directly with the Dresden Finance Committee.
In addition, over the next several months our entire district will embark on a strategic planning process. The intent of the effort is to develop a 3 to 5 year strategic plan that will drive the priorities and goals for the district. The process will include all our schools on both sides of the river and offer multiple avenues for community engagement. We hope you’ll join us in this effort.
Finally, despite all of these Great Expectations, what I and the full Dresden School board never expect, or take for granted, is your support of the school budget each year. Each fall and winter we spend a significant amount of time and effort building and refining the budgets that we present to you for approval. We hope that the work we have done accurately reflects the values and priorities our communities have for public education. Thank you for your generous support over the years.
— Neil Odell, Chair, Dresden School Board