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21 Women Making An Impact: Beth Slette, Superintendent, West Fargo Public Schools

Beth Slette
  • United Way Volunteer and Investor
  • United Way Advocate and Community Partner
  • United Way Emerging Leader

How do you see United Way as a partner for our education system and business community?

The longer I am in education, the more importance I place on the value of community collaboration. The school cannot solve today’s problems alone. One example of a community partnership began in the fall of 2018. United Way partnered with West Fargo Public Schools and the YMCA of Cass and Clay Counties to provide new pre-K opportunities for children at the Lodoen Kindergarten Center. Because of United Way’s investment, scholarships for low-income working families are available to ensure that they can access high-quality early learning opportunities for their children. Early results are showing that 97% of children are developmentally on track with literacy skills and 87% are on track with social- emotional and cognitive skills, demonstrating they are more prepared to enter kindergarten ready to succeed. It’s necessary for our school districts to have partners like United Way who have the willingness and resources to open doors for our students and families.

From your perspective, why is our business community and education codependent on one another?

Our district created the Profile of a Graduate (POG), which outlines eight essential skills that all WFPS graduates are expected to have attained prior to graduation: collaboration, compassion, resilience, responsibility, reflection, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. The development of these skills is critical to our district mission of preparing today’s learners for tomorrow’s world.

Students need the opportunity to practice these dispositions in authentic ways; that is where our business community comes in. Our business community expects the district to send them employees that have the skills and dispositions to fill their job needs and serve our communities, and we need help from the businesses to provide authentic learning experiences so our students can practice and develop these skills. The business community needs us and we need them.

What are ways our business community can complement and help the goals of our school district?

During the years of No Child Left Behind, districts were forced to adhere to an accountability system that focused on proficiency, attendance, and graduation rates. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015 requires states to measure so much more. North Dakota stakeholders have adopted the framework of choice ready as an indicator to measure school growth in high schools. We are tasked with preparing students to be prepared for two of three areas upon graduation: post-secondary ready, career ready, and/or military ready. This concept focuses on the accumulation of academic growth and gains, in combination with specific indicators of school success for postsecondary, workforce, and military readiness. The Choice Ready framework is inclusive of all students and helps students identify career clusters and related skills which prepare and enhance success in multiple areas beyond high school.

The state’s mission statement is: “All students will graduate choice ready with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to be successful.” With that as our end goal, our district needs the help of all community stakeholders. Students need opportunities to not only show competency on essential skills, but to also engage in community service hours, completed work-based learning experiences, and to show competency in 21st century skills. By partnering with community businesses, we can have opportunities for business leaders to come into our schools and share their knowledge and expertise, as well as to provide internships and shadows for students to take part in outside of the school.

What is something you wish the business community knew about the community or your school district?

I think it is human nature to think the generations that come after us have it easier than we did. Therefore, the first thing I want the community to know is that our schools have high accountability and high rigor, and today’s learners have higher expectations than ever before. The rigor of our guaranteed and viable curriculum far exceeds the rigor of the curriculum many of us had when we went to school. Kindergartners are expected to read books by the end of the year. Fourth graders are expected to take math assessments on computers that many adults would fail. The rigor of our proficiency scales and the high level of accountability placed upon students and educators is higher than it has ever been. The world is experiencing exponential advancements in technology that require our learners to prepare for jobs that do not even exist today. Our educators are being asked to do more than they have ever been expected to do, and they are stepping up to the challenges.

Second, our students are dealing with mental health issues at a higher rate than when we were growing up. Meeting the social-emotional needs of our students is critical because if they are not mentally healthy, it is very difficult to learn. Because of United Way, the district has a program that provides social-emotional training in school for parents, students, and teachers in partnership with community mental health professionals. WFPS middle and high school students have access to onsite mental health therapy that reduces barriers and minimizes lost class time. This is all made possible by United Way and the people that give to the organization.

Third, I want the community to know we have children in poverty who are hungry. Last spring, 2,312 children received food on the weekends and during summer when school was not in session. This was made possible by United Way and the Great Plains Food Bank, whose child hunger programs get nutritious food into the hands of children, oftentimes when other food resources are not available. The School Supply Drive, School Pantry Program, and Summer Lunch Program – all of which serve students of West Fargo Public Schools – would not have been possible without United Way.

What do you think?

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Written by Brady Drake

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