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Three simple words, one powerful direction

Post 29 of 31
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Dear Parents and Community Members,

Inspire. Greatness. Together. Three simple words that, when combined, create a powerful direction for our school district.

Five years ago, a group of 27 stakeholders – representing parents, business people, community leaders, support staff, teachers, administrators and school board members – came together and created a Strategic Plan. The process ensures that improvements will be planned and managed; that we will create the future for the students in our classrooms, not merely react to it. Over that period, we have seen tremendous progress in our three goal areas:  scholarship, character and relationships. I would like to highlight just a few examples of that progress.



We have increased rigor with, as an example, more Advanced Placement courses at the high school. More importantly, larger numbers of students are both accessing those courses and passing AP tests. Our work in this area is one reason we are consistently recognized as one of America’s Best High Schools by prestigious publications such as U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek and The Washington Post.

For the past three years, Orono High School has been among a select number of schools nationwide to participate in the Global Learning Network. This allows OHS to compare the performance of its 15-year-old students to their counterparts around the world. The average score of Orono students who took the latest test was higher than the average score in the top-ranked country as were the percentage of Orono students who ranked in the top levels of the test. This serves as evidence we are providing a world-class education.

The adoption of new curricula in literacy and mathematics is helping more students achieve proficiency in these critical subjects. For students who need additional support, a number of intervention efforts are underway. These include the afterschool SPARKS program in Maple Plain and Long Lake, which we operate with the assistance of dedicated volunteers.



One of the reasons we were named one of only three National School Districts of Character (2013) by the Character Education Partnership is that “character” has been integrated into our curriculum at every age/grade level and into every aspect of our operation.

The blood drives, food-packing events and charity fundraisers certainly merit praise. Yet, our character education program goes beyond an event or two. It represents ongoing efforts in anti-bullying and inclusion such as the Buddy Bench and Unified sports teams. It embodies positive school climate in the form of kindness retreats, leadership symposiums and training by the Positive Coaching Alliance.

Further from the spotlight, but just as noteworthy, are the dialogues on ethics in high school classrooms and the discussions between a principal and student about the Pillars of Character when behavior falls short of expectations.

Colleges still consider grade point averages, test scores and cocurricular activities as a basis for admission. However, an applicant’s leadership qualities and character have become increasingly important. Orono, unlike any other public school system in Minnesota, provides its graduates with “the full package.”



Our ongoing relationships with families, parent organizations, booster groups and the Orono Foundation for Education remain critical to the success of students. Perhaps one of the most visible new partnerships is with Best Buy, which helped us bring the technology initiative Orono PLUS (Personalizing Learning for Unlimited Success) to life.

Support from the business community also helped us purchase a new scoreboard for Pesonen Stadium. What an honor it was for the Long Lake Area Chamber of Commerce to select Orono High School Principal David Benson as its Person of the Year in 2017.

Additional examples of productive relationships are our continued cooperation with local law enforcement agencies to strengthen campus security procedures, and with the city and county to improve traffic safety.


Last spring, we assembled a new group of stakeholders to review our progress and set the direction for the coming five years. The consensus was that we had accomplished much, but that there is still work left to do: the perfect incentive for an organization dedicated to continuous improvement.

Scholarship, character and relationships remain the priorities of our community. They continue to be our goals, but also hallmarks of the Orono Schools experience – the areas of excellence and progress that distinguish us from other public and private schools.

Our mission has not changed: Our students will maximize their potential in life because of their experiences in Orono Schools. Our commitment to fulfilling that mission is stronger than ever, and we’re excited to blaze new trails on the roadmap to the future.


Dr. Karen Orcutt
Superintendent of Schools