Story by Deb Seminary, contributing writer
As it oversees the education of over 120,000 students across the state, the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) partners with many educational and noneducational entities to carry out its mission. Most people may not realize NDDPI is in a unique position compared to its counterparts in other states.
“In North Dakota, NDDPI doesn’t oversee everything that has to do with education,” said North Dakota Assistant Superintendent Laurie Matzke. “There are many departments and organizations working together. Superintendent Baesler has, over the past eleven years, worked hard to create and strengthen partnerships so we can collaborate on projects.”
Matzke is also an integral factor in the partnerships, facilitating meetings to ensure the partners stay updated on ways they can support and team up with one another, as well as taking care of numerous other projects.
What follows are just a few examples of the many NDDPI partnerships across the state.
Matthew Lonn, executive director of the North Dakota Center for Distance Education (NDCDE), appreciates how their partnership with NDDPI has grown over the past few years.
“Our communication has improved, and I like the opportunity to meet with their team monthly,” he said. “We can really work on supporting each other’s initiatives.”
The pandemic improved that relationship even more.
“NDDPI promoted our online courses during COVID,” he explained. “And they continue to promote them to districts, as they are a solution for many things.”
In the fall of 2021, NDCDE announced their partnership with EmpowerU, a youth mental health pioneer.
“We looked for a way to provide mental health support to students,” said Lonn. “Telehealth needs continue to grow, and this social-emotional learning curriculum is tied to a mental health professional that is in daily contact with the students, usually through texts. NDDPI was able to provide matching grant dollars to help districts enroll students, so it only costs the districts half.”
When NDDPI entered into a contract with Edmentum to provide an opportunity to help those that have fallen behind, they asked NDCDE to serve as a consultant on the panel to work with the vendor to make sure the correct things were in place. The program offers personalized online instruction in mathematics, reading, and language arts to students in grades K-12.
“They leaned on us in the online space and wanted to know what they should be looking for,” said Lonn.
The Bank of North Dakota has a variety of programs and services they support financially that impact K-12 education. One of the ways they support NDDPI is during College Application Month.
“The Bank of North Dakota pays the $25 fee for a senior in high school to apply to a North Dakota College during College Application Month,” said Ann Ellefson, NDDPI’s academic support director. “Additionally, they provide volunteers to go into the schools to help with the application. And this is just one example – there are many programs they support, including covering dual credit expenses for at-risk students, which reduces barriers in a lot of ways.”
An organization that provides numerous learning opportunities for students and educators is Prairie Public. They have an educational division with people that are focused on providing educational programming and professional development and support. NDDPI shares a lot of their resources, and PBS Learning Media has a library of free content for parents, students, and teachers.
“North Dakota provided funding to help them add an additional education coordinator to offer webinars and professional learning to North Dakota educators,” said Ellefson.
The North Dakota Department of Human Services partners with NDDPI in a number of areas, including behavioral health initiatives and food insecurity. Most recently, the Early Childhood Division was created in July 2021 to align and focus programs and resources on a key department priority: early childhood experiences.
“Ninety-five percent of brain development occurs before age five, so supporting quality early experiences is extremely important,” said Chris Jones, North Dakota Human Services executive director.
Jones said the new early childhood team will help support parents and early childhood caregivers in two ways: the division will ensure that more North Dakota children enter kindergarten ready to learn and that more early childhood care providers participate in the quality rating improvement program.
“A lot of people don’t realize that without quality childcare, people get removed from the workforce,” said Jones. “So, our unemployment rate is disproportionately affected by parents having to stay home with their young children.”
Jones went on to stress the importance of their many partnerships with NDDPI.
“We have really improved how we work together over the past few years,” he said. “It has created awareness and greater transparency for how we can create a culture of collaboration. We work together on our goals of improving affordability, quality, and accessibility of care and education for our children.”
Dan Wuori, from the Hunt Institute, who works to help with initiatives, agrees.
“Most states don’t have agencies that work this well together,” he said.
Another state agency that has many partnerships with NDDPI is EduTech, the educational technology services division within North Dakota Information Technology.
“Our mission is focused on PK-12 education,” said Rosi Kloberdanz, EduTech director. “We provide leadership, education technology services, and professional development services to the North Dakota PK-12 community. We are heavily focused on ensuring educators have the tools they need to effectively use technology in the classroom.”
“When Superintendent Baesler was elected, one of the first things she reached out to us about was North Dakota assessment training,” added Tabitha Teel, EduTech’s manager of professional learning and outreach. “We now have weekly meetings, just on that one initiative. Rosi and I also meet monthly with NDDPI to keep on top of the different projects and give updates. The increased communication and willingness to partner has been huge.”
As technology transforms every occupation and every industry, the demands for a highly-skilled workforce continue to grow. Kloberdanz heads up the PK-20W initiative that led to North Dakota becoming the first state in the nation to adopt computer science and cyber security standards. This was an important joint effort with NDDPI and has been recognized at the national level.
EduTech also partners with NDDPI, Bismarck State College, and North Dakota Career and Technical Education (CTE) to provide professional development at the annual Ignite ND conference. Besides gaining a wealth of information, teachers are able to qualify for their computer science and cybersecurity credentials so they can help their students become equipped with essential 21st-century skills.
NDDPI has come a long way in a few short years building partnerships across the state.
“We have to work extra hard to work together due to our small staff size,” said Matzke. “NDDPI has 76 employees, which is down from 101 in 2012. Superintendent Baesler frequently says, ‘We are small but mighty.’”