By Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Schatz
Each year I speak publicly at various events about the Fargo Public Schools. These presentations contain basic facts about the district as well as identify some of the challenges facing the district. Most recently I spoke at an event hosted by the Fargo, Moorhead, and West Fargo Chamber of Commerce. In my presentation, I shared some of the challenges facing the Fargo Public Schools, which include:
- Funding: Securing sustainable funding at a state and local level is needed to ensure that we can continue to support a strong and viable comprehensive experience for our students. As we know, State funding resources are limited as districts across the state are experiencing flat or declining revenue resources. Fargo Public Schools will actually see less state funding next year due to increased local property valuation and the deduct applied by the state regarding our local mill levy. The pending 2018-19 legislative session will be an important one for the future of K-12 funding.
- Student Mobility: Each year, a number of students come and go in our District. During the 2016-17 school year, more than 1,100 students transferred out of the district while 960 students transferred into the district. This consistent coming and going of students causes disruptions in a student educational experiences. This is challenging for the students and teachers as they try to ensure continuity in the educational process. Many times students who move several times fall behind and struggle to catch up in their learning.
- Social Issues: Higher expectations on schools to provide more services to address social issues in the community to include mental health and challenging student behaviors. I often times state that our schools are a reflection of our community. In many instances, the issues facing our community become a school’s issues. Mental health issues, drug abuse, socioeconomic hardship, and an increase in working with challenging student behaviors are all issues in which we struggle to address.
- Homelessness: Homelessness continues to be an issue in the greater Fargo-Moorhead community. On any given evening, more than 2% of our students and their families find themselves needing assistance locating a warm place to stay. Transparent as it may seem to the average citizen, homelessness is a real issue in our community and impacts a student’s ability to be prepared for school each day.
- Social Media: Social media continues to change the landscape of communication. On a positive note, the internet and social media platforms provide an opportunity to access information that can be helpful in acquiring knowledge. Unfortunately, the down side of social media includes an increase in cyberbullying, negativity, and instant access and dissemination of information that may or may not be true. All of these combined make it very challenging for schools to navigate.
Other challenges facing K-12 school systems include outside forces pushing in on an already stressed system. More and more is being asked of administrators and teachers each day, such as increased standardized tests, legislative mandated professional development, community workforce solution initiatives, changes in technology, misinterpretation and representation by political pundits regarding student achievement data, and many more pressures demanding for schools to do more with less. The impact is immense and hampers the ability of the K-12 system to stay focused on the development and education of the students we serve.
So where is the silver lining? It is in the teachers, administrators, and support staff who come to work each day and hurdle the challenges facing them to educate the students they serve. Our staff is dedicated to ensuring our youth can learn, grow and develop into strong young citizens prepared to take on whatever they choose to do once they leave the school system.
I believe that the work of the teachers, administrators, and support staff does make a difference, and for that they should be commended and rewarded by the community they serve. Our public school system is the epicenter of the community and the future of our community is only as strong as the system serving it. To the teachers, administrators, and support staff – thank you for what you do and for the many contributions you make to ensure a strong a viable future for our students and the community.