Fall is a wonderful time in Northfield. We celebrate the defeat of Jesse James and his notorious band of villains. We also head back to school. Northfield Public Schools is dedicated to continuously improving our performance for and service to students, families and the public. On Sept. 30, I will present the annual “State of the District” address at the Northfield Area Chamber of Commerce Luncheon. This is a preview of that presentation.

Matt Hillmann mug


There are plenty of successes to celebrate. Our district increased the proficiency rate of our third-grade readers on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) for the second consecutive year, seeing an 11% increase since 2017. Northfield third-grade students performed better on this measure than 86% of the public school districts in Minnesota testing 10 or more students. Third-grade reading proficiency is a critical measure. Research suggests students who read well by the end of third grade are on track for academic success. Reading makes up the bulk of an elementary teacher’s classroom schedule, so the adoption of a new curriculum is a substantial undertaking. Our community should be proud of our elementary teachers for their dedication to their students!

Northfield High School (NHS) students once again outpaced the state and national averages on the ACT in 2019. Additionally, eighty-four percent (84%) of 460 Advanced Placement tests taken by NHS students qualified for college credit. Students had an opportunity to take a unique, credit-bearing summer career/technical education elective course, one that gave them a taste of technical skills sorely needed throughout the region’s economy. Approximately 82% of NHS students participated in at least one co-curricular activity, learning social and teamwork skills essential for their future success. We strive to ensure students are choice ready when they graduate. This means they have the academic, social, emotional and decision-making skills to choose the right path for themselves after high school.

While we have many things to celebrate, there are areas for improvement. Northfield’s achievement gap, the difference in academic performance between White students and Hispanic students (in our case), is unacceptable. We will continue taking action until this gap is eliminated. Our support for students of color and other traditionally marginalized demographic groups must improve. We will attack these issues with a sense of urgency to increase both academic outcomes and the feeling of support for every student in our district.

There are issues on the horizon that give us pause. While our community has generously supported operating levies, the state of Minnesota continues to underfund schools. The state Legislature has provided an increase to the per-student formula that matched inflation only five times in the last 25 years. Northfield is also not immune to the skyrocketing costs of special education, morally imperative programming for students with disabilities. The district currently pays $5 million from its general fund to cover the costs of unreimbursed yet mandated services (commonly referred to as the special education cross-subsidy.) Through prudent management and community support, Northfield has been able to manage this financial labyrinth better than most other school districts. However, it is only a matter of time before we face some of the same financial pitfalls plaguing other communities.

Northfield is truly a special place. Our schools have a tremendous amount to be proud of and we are committed to navigating the challenges ahead to ensure every student will be prepared for lifelong success.

Matt Hillmann is superintendent at Northfield Public Schools.

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