Fargo's State of the Schools address focuses on strategic planning in changing times
Superintendent Rupak Gandhi used a digital format to solicit feedback on how Fargo Public Schools to modern student needs.
FARGO — Fargo Public Schools Superintendent Rupak Gandhi gave his State of the Schools and Public Focus Group address Thursday, Jan. 13, at Fargo South High School, focusing on how the district's strategic plan can better reflect changing technology and times.
Before he spoke, a lively 11-person student jazz band from Davies High School kicked off the event to an audience of about 50 people.
Gandhi discussed the challenges and opportunities that the coronavirus pandemic has brought into focus, but changed the meeting’s format near the end by asking people to use digital technology, laptops or smartphones, to provide feedback to four questions pertaining to the district’s strategic plan.
“Times are changing, the way we do information is changing as well,” Gandhi said. “We’ve learned a lot over the last couple of years, and it is time. It’s an opportunity we can capitalize on as a district. Reset our goals as we move forward with Fargo Public Schools.”
The first question, proposed by Gandhi, was: "What conditions have changed in the external environment or organizational environment since the district wrote the strategic plan in 2014 that should be considered for potential updates?"
Many people in the audience said increased mental health needs of students was one of the major concerns. A few audience members were worried about the area becoming more diverse, and how the district could purge Marxist and anti-American doctrine from spreading.
Associate Superintendent Robert Grosz asked the audience: "Do the mission statement and strategic goals continue to express our vision of schools and the things we need to do to reach that vision?"
The average score the district received from the second question was 3.41 out of 5, or strongly agree.
Associate Superintendent Missy Eidsness asked the third question: "Has the district learned anything from the implementation efforts that would require modifications in the district’s strategic plan?"
One suggestion supported by members of the audience was for the district to make sure all students were celebrated, not only the majority, and that the strategic plan should include sexual orientation, disability, religon, gender identity and citizenship status.
Liann Hanson, director of standards-based instruction for the district, posed the last question: "What is missing from our strategic plan? What should we be focusing on?"
Cultural sensitivity, delivering instruction, alternative discipline, inclusivity, a literature audit, patriotism and virtual learning, were some of the responses the audience gave the district.
Before Gandhi gave his speech, he stood casually in front of the stage at Fargo South High School, and he said every year, the goal of the State of the Schools address was to receive input from the district’s stakeholders on how to better offer an equitable education for all students.
During the past two years, however, the information Gandhi and the district has learned through navigating 11,278 students in 23 facilities through the coronavirus pandemic has shown him the need to focus strongly on the strategic plan.
“We are better as a collective voice,” Gandhi said.
And as the district prepares to end the mask mandate on Jan. 17, Gandhi is confident in the system, stressing the importance of leaving emotions and politics behind in the decision-making processes that he and the Board of Education must make.
“We all have our own emotions, but we are tasked to do what we have to do. Emotions can create more divisiveness. My function and the school district’s function is to follow the guidance from the health department, and we will continue to work with them,” Gandhi said.
Fargo Public Schools began work on its first strategic plan in 2000, and during the 2014-2015 school year, a new strategic plan was created.
The current plan was approved by the Fargo Board of Education on June 9, 2015, and Gandhi’s State of the Schools address was a “renewal of the strategic plan in 2022,” according to a press release.
After Gandhi’s speech, preregistered audience members split into groups to further discuss the questions the district posed to them, and how the ideas could be incorporated into the current strategic plan.