The 2020-2021 school year was definitely unique; however, we ended the year with a return to some normalcy we had not known since March of 2020. By the end of this year, we could have a graduation ceremony that was very similar to the graduation ceremonies of the past and a musical production with a full audience and a cast without masks. In this edition of Education Matters, pictures of the graduation ceremony and the musical for Houston High School are included. Also in this edition, an article about our new website points to the improvements that are on the horizon for the 2021-2022 school year. This past year illuminated the need to provide communication in multiple formats. Our current website is not easily accessible on a phone, which has become the main venue through which people receive information. Therefore, we have been working on switching to a new website, one that can provide consistent, current information and be used for emergency messaging as well in an app-friendly format. Communication needs to be sent and received to be effective, so please download the app for our new website so we can create that necessary communication loop.
Speaking of communication, we have a new Director of Communication and Activities: Mikayla Simmons. Ms. Simmons started working on June 7 and hit the ground running finishing the creation of the new website, learning the activities and sports scheduling, and compiling this edition of Education Matters. She has already proven she will be a valuable member of the Houston Public Schools community. Other new faces will be joining the staff later this summer and this fall. One of those people will be Mary Morem, who will be joining Houston Public Schools as the new superintendent of schools on July 1. She has previously worked as a principal in Caledonia; therefore, she knows the Houston schools and many of the staff already. Houston is fortunate to have her joining the school and greater community.
New people joining the district also means that people are leaving the district. Some teachers have left to take jobs closer to family or to follow dreams that take them away from teaching. Each one of them was told that Houston motto: “Once a Hurricane, always a Hurricane.” They might not be walking the halls next fall, but they will always be considered part of the Houston Public Schools family.
I, too, am one of those who will not be walking the halls of Houston Public Schools next year as I am retiring July 1. The thought of not being in the school, planning for changes and trying to improve the education for all the Houston Public School students is still rather surreal, but it is time to step away and let new eyes and ideas set the next course for the schools. During my twenty-three years at Houston as a teacher, curriculum director and superintendent, the district has changed and improved. I have enjoyed helping to start our online programs, bringing Advanced Placement courses to the high school and assisting teachers in creating curriculum. As superintendent I was afforded the rare opportunity to address all the things that my colleagues and I had thought were lacking before I took the position. We finally got new bleachers when the high school gym got a much needed facelift; we reveled in the new HVAC at the elementary building, no longer feeling as if the top floor was an oven on those hot fall and spring days; and we could watch the students thrive in STEM classes in the renovated science and industrial tech CAD rooms at the high school, just to name a few. As a community member, I can also appreciate that these facility improvements, which totaled $6.2 million, could all be implemented without raising taxes.
Beyond improving the facilities, we also advanced the education for our students by adopting new curriculum and implementing one-to-one Chromebooks, which proved absolutely vital during the recent pandemic. At the beginning of this year, Houston Elementary School earned the honor of being named a 2020 National Blue Ribbon School. Houston High School once again was named in the US News and World Report as one of the top high schools in the State of Minnesota, an honor that has been given to the school multiple times since 2008. These awards demonstrate the effectiveness of our constant push for continuous improvement but also show the power of coupling academics with social emotional learning. Seven years ago, I shared a picture of my newborn grandnephew with the statement, “Everybody is somebody’s baby,” relating that we should treat each student and colleague the way we would want our child or loved one treated. The goal was to create a district where every student wanted to attend and excel and where every staff member wanted to work and thrive. I hope during my time here I have helped move the district closer to that goal, and even though I will not be working at the school next year, I hope the goal will remain.