Welcome to warmth and sunshine! We have had a great spring and the weather has cooperated thus far. With the warm temperatures, hope springs forth as we welcome back all of our learners to more in-person learning and move beyond the challenges of the past year.

2020 and early 2021 have been wrought with an ever-changing landscape of COVID-19 testing, quarantines, isolation, and academic disruption, which certainly has weighed on the mental health of all of us.

As the adage goes, “with great challenge, comes great opportunity.” I am hopeful that the past year will provide some lessons learned and we can not only bring back normal, but bring back better.

We were recently notified that Owatonna Public Schools has been approved by the Minnesota Department of Education to offer a fully online learning program for learners in grades K-12. Our new virtual school, called Owatonna Online, offers students throughout Minnesota the opportunity to tailor learning to their individual needs and schedules. The past year has taught us to further personalize learning for students. For some students, a fully online program is the best match for their needs. Owatonna Online can also meet the needs of learners who may need a long-term leave from school because of illness or injury.

Furthermore, this opportunity may be enticing for families that have either chosen another online learning program or have homeschooled their children in the past. Enrolling in Owatonna Online provides access to our fantastic teachers, support services, comprehensive curriculum - and our full slate of activities.

We are also excited to break ground on our new Owatonna High School in May or June depending upon the weather. Many thanks to our community for supporting this project! The school board has begun accepting bids for the work, and the project is still on time and on budget. Thanks also to all those involved in keeping this project on track during the pandemic, keeping student opportunities front and center, and ensuring our new school will support our Career Pathway program.

Over the last year we have lost time with our students, and we are building a robust program of summer opportunities for all of our students. We believe these experiences will provide not only skills that may have been missed, but important enrichment to re-engage our learners with collaboration and cooperative learning. More information about these opportunities will be coming soon.

Summer planning is a little later this year because of the delay of potential state and federal funding sources. Nonetheless, we look forward to offering these unique experiences in our continued work to Inspire Excellence for Every Student, Every Day!

As always, we welcome your involvement in our schools — and your support for our students and our staff. Together, we are #OwatonnaProud!

Jeff Elstad is superintendent of Owatonna Public Schools. Reach him at 444-8610 or at jelstad@owatonna.k12.mn.us.

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