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Your Schools: Teamwork abounds in this city

In my last column, I wrote about the district's process of achieving a favorable bond rating from Standard and Poor's in order to refinance old building bonds at a considerably lower interest rate.

I mentioned that the bonding company asked many questions about the community, including its businesses, demographics and overall quality of life in River Falls.

As I responded favorably to questions about quality of life here, I couldn't help but think about the many opportunities for partnering, interacting and networking with others I had through the school district. One of the advantages of a community like ours is that there are many opportunities for partnering with other organizations. As a community person, you might think that we're isolated institutions that rarely interact with one another, thereby duplicating efforts or missing opportunities.

Just the opposite is true, and here's a sampling of what I've seen in the past few weeks:

The school board and city council, along with members of each organization's staff, met jointly for several hours last week to discuss projects each entity was involved with to explore partnering opportunities to prevent duplication of efforts.

The River Falls Chamber of Commerce recently named the School District of River Falls as 2010 Business of the Year for the district's active involvement in the chamber and the work our district has done to engage the community in the strategic planning process.

I'm part of an Alumni Advisory Board for the College of Education and Professional Studies at UW-River Falls. Along with several of our teachers in the district, I have the opportunity to give feedback on teacher training courses and learn about professional opportunities available for our staff at UW-RF. Many of our staff members teach at UW-RF or are guest speakers for classes.

Our strategic planning team utilized meeting spaces at St. Bridget Catholic Church in January, and similar space at United Methodist Church last April. At the meetings were staff representatives from all buildings, community businesses, UW-RF, Chippewa Valley Technical College, churches, city and town municipalities, private schools, 3M, various civic clubs, the RF Chamber of Commerce, and health care industry, along with parents, students, senior citizens, and other stakeholder representatives.

The River Falls Rotary Club is planning to promote literacy for students in schools beyond the Westside Rotary Readers and the High School Strive projects. Other civic organizations regularly support school programs, too.

The Salvation Army and newly created homeless shelter, Our Neighbors' Place, approached me about starting a program in March of sending home backpacks of food on Fridays with elementary students whose families indicate a need for assistance. Local churches and the food shelf will provide the food and fill the backpacks, while school counselors and office personnel will assist in identifying students and distributing the foods.

UW-RF Chancellor Dean Van Galen, River Falls Mayor Don Richards, and I met, as we do every couple of months, to discuss partnering opportunities, sustainability and ways to support the work of our three organizations. Likewise, I meet regularly with City Administrator Scot Simpson.

The Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club is planning for high school sophomores to visit area industries in May to learn about careers and businesses in our local community.

A meeting was held at the public library recently to seek ways to promote local food sourcing for use by nonprofits such as schools and hospitals in the region.

The executive director of the River Falls Area Hospital Foundation, knowing that our strategic plan included a strategy and eight action plans on student and staff health and wellness, offered to bring health professionals to meet with district administrators to find ways for the hospital/clinic to collaborate with us to better meet community health needs. That meeting is set for March.

The list of partnering goes on. I've certainly missed hundreds more that have happened just this year. Our strategic plan challenges us to find even more ways to work together with other community partners to make for a stronger community and a stronger school district. We're on it!