Shakopee Public Schools

As it likely will be for the next few years, the Shakopee School Board agenda was full for their regular meeting on Monday.

The school board discussed topics which will continue to play out over the following school year, including attendance area redraws, district credit card policy changes, an update on the Academies of Shakopee implementation as well as hearing public comment at the end of the meeting.

Academies of Shakopee

Shakopee High School Principal Jeff Pawlicki gave an update to the board on the Academies of Shakopee, including introducing the student ambassadors tasked with providing information to visitors about the academy model.

“We’re going to have a lot of interested parties in what we’re going to be doing,” Pawlicki said. “(The student ambassadors) are the ones that will be doing information sessions, they’ll do tours, they’re going to be providing the leadership on the student end of things to really tell our story.”

Many of the student ambassadors attended the meeting and spoke to the board about the academy model.

“We want courses that are going to prepare us, not just for high school or finals, but prepare us for the rest of our lives,” student Ruby Jimenez said.

Several student ambassadors said the model allows them a chance to explore and control what they’ll study in the future.

“It gives big schools a small school feel and really prepares us for college,” Akhil Uppu said. “It lets us explore all these different types of majors and categories. If we don’t like something, we can go to something different.”

Many of the students expressed interest in a variety of the academies. In the future, there would be multiple ambassadors versed in their academy specifically, Pawlicki said.

Residents are more familiar with the academy than they might realize, as more specific courses have cropped up at the junior high level, School Board member Shawn Hallett said.

“Work on these academies started several years ago by redesigning the curriculum in the junior highs,” Hallett said. “Your kids don’t know it and you don’t know it but your kids have already been experiencing the academy model if they’re in junior high.”

An open house for the new high school will be Aug. 29 with sessions at 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to learn more about the academy model.

Learning in one academy doesn’t mean a student couldn’t go on to participate in a number of other careers, Pawlicki said.

“I would argue, no matter what, my kid could go into arts and communications, but if she decides she wants to become an engineer, regardless of what the academy is, I know she’s going to have the tools to do that,” Pawlicki said.

District credit card and reimbursement policies

The finance department is continuing to look at district credit card and reimbursement policies following the resignation of former superintendent Rod Thompson after an investigation into his district credit card use.

The policy updates mostly clarify language to make enforcement easier, Finance and Operations Director Suzanne Johnson said.

“We’re wanting to add language to clarify things,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t say that a lot of the context or what’s in here has changed.”

The updated language clarifies that pre-approval will be required for all travel, no reimbursement is allowed for meals provided by a conference and a limit of $25 for meals will be in effect while traveling.

District leadership will also continue to look at how to enforce policies, whether by the district or outsourcing to a firm specializing in this kind of oversight.

Attendance area redraw

Data and Testing Administrator Dave Orlowsky gave an update on the attendance area redraw proposals.

A website for the project is up and running, where people can get more information about the possibilities, look at frequently asked questions and submit questions and comments.

“I’ve tried to make sure that anybody who does take the time (to respond), we want to make sure they know we appreciate them getting involved this way,” Orlowsky said.

Most of the responses have been people saying they prefer one of the three options over another, he said.

The attendance area task force had its public meeting Tuesday. The task force consists of parents, principals, city officials, school board members, the communications department and more.

“We tried to get a broad group,” Orlowsky said.

Public comment

The school board held a public comment session during the meeting. Some residents expressed concern over the $2 million for the high school expansion which was recently revealed to have been erroneously used elsewhere.

“I just don’t know why getting our class sizes back down wouldn’t be more efficient than moving ahead with the ambassadors and the whole bit,” resident Deb Krause said. “I wish the board and the superintendent would revisit that. The (Academies of Shakopee) is a conception, so maybe we can find some dollars there, at least for the meantime.”

Resident Carrie Ferris said all construction contracts should be reexamined.

“It’s better to get all of the warts out on the table and let them fall where they may rather than have speculation run through the community,” Ferris said.

Some said the district should move forward and focus on the students.

“Last year was one of the hardest years I’ve experienced as a teacher of this district,” Shakopee High School teacher Thom Amundsen said. “The academies are something the community needs to realize was far beyond one person’s vision. The fact of the matter is, on Sept. 5, my greatest concern is going to be for my students when I walk into my classroom.”

Shakopee resident Leo Budija said the continued focus on the past is hurting teacher and student motivation.

“Teachers and many of the older kids are on social media — they read and listen,” Budija said. “Next time you are thinking about saying, posting or commenting about something, please think twice. I hope you choose to be positive. Watch as the dark cloud over time gets replaced by beautiful sunshine and blue skies.”

Maggie Stanwood was born and raised in small-town Iowa before moving to Wyoming in middle school. After her brief stint in the Wild West, she attended the University of Missouri - Columbia, where she graduated in May 2017 with a Bachelors in Journalism.