My student is ill, when should my student stay home?
Rochester Public Schools

Staying at home is also one of the best ways to keep others from becoming ill. It is often difficult to decide whether it is necessary to keep your child home. Below are some recommendations to guide decision-making regarding exclusion of ill children. The intent is to promote a healthy school environment by preventing exposure and spread of illness.
Reasons why children should stay at home:

  • Severe colds, coughs, or sore throats
  • Eye infections, especially when discharge is present
  • New skin rashes, especially when draining— unless medical opinion states rash is not contagious
  • Temperature of 100º or more with or without symptoms of illness
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain
  • Any other sign of acute illness
  • Until results of laboratory tests (i.e., throat culture, nasal swab) are known

Children may return to school when:

  • Well enough to participate in normal school activities
  • Free of all symptoms for 24 hours (no vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain)
  • Temperature remains normal for a 24-hour period without the use of fever reducing medications
  • On an antibiotic for at least 24 hours
  • Or your healthcare provider states your child can return to school

For questions, please reach out to your school nurse.

November 2022 Letter from Superintendent Pekel
Mamisoa Knutson

Dear RPS Staff, Parents and Caregivers, and Community Partners, 

Big changes are taking place in Rochester Public Schools (RPS), and I am writing to update you on the many exciting initiatives we have underway in our school district. 

While the strategic plan that the Rochester School Board unanimously approved in June of 2022 identifies the broad shifts we will be making in our district’s processes and organizational structures over the next three years, the strategic plan does not include detailed roadmaps for how we are going to reach those destinations. We are now creating those roadmaps through working groups that are setting measurable goals, recommending new initiatives and changes in current practices, identifying needed resources, and developing timelines for implementation. 

Here are twenty tasks that our teams are undertaking: 

  1. Developing a framework for deeper learning that will shape our academic agenda in the years ahead. We are studying and adapting the work of Dr. Jal Mehta and his colleagues at Harvard to define the kind of deeper learning we want all RPS students to experience. In our emerging thinking, the RPS approach to deeper learning will have three components:  

  • Mastery: Students master important knowledge and skills 

  • Identity: Students form a personal connection to the material they are studying 

  • Creativity: Students create or do something that is meaningful to them. 

  1. We are working with the University of Minnesota to evaluate the status of the following three tiers of educational support for students in Rochester Public Schools: 

  • Tier One: A significant majority (i.e. 85%) of students are provided with a high-quality foundational educational program that meets their learning needs 

  • Tier Two: A subset of students is provided with targeted interventions that help them succeed in the foundational Tier One educational program 

  • Tier Three: A small group of students receive intensive supports that enable them to succeed in largely – though not necessarily entirely – separate educational settings. 

  1. We have launched a new school-wide continuous improvement plan (SCIP) process that helps schools focus on and implement best practices in the following four areas: 

  • Student academic knowledge and skills

  • Student social and emotional skills 

  • High-quality learning environment for all students 

  • High-quality work environment for all staff 

  1. Staff in our new Office of Academics are conducting a comprehensive review of the strengths and weaknesses of district curricula in English/language arts (including reading at the elementary level) and science from early childhood through 12th grade and will recommend changes by July 1, 2023.

  2. Teams of teachers and other staff are reviewing the Grading for Learning initiative in RPS and will make recommendations before the end of the calendar year.  

  3. We are implementing the FastBridge frequent assessments in reading and math from kindergarten through 12th grade in most schools and the PreACT exam at Century High School to provide teachers, administrators, and other staff with accurate and actionable information on students’ levels of knowledge and skills in those subjects following the disruptions of the COVID pandemic. 

  4. We are implementing the EduCLIMBER technology platform to enable teachers and school teams to aggregate and disaggregate data to improve instruction and design interventions. 

  5. We have brought a group of RPS staff and students together to co-design processes, practices, and structures that help all students and staff think and feel that they belong in RPS schools. This initiative is being facilitated by Jess Roberts of the University of Minnesota using a process that has successfully brought diverse perspectives together to create new ways of thinking and being.

  6. We are working with a national technical assistance organization to identify school bus transportation route structures that could realistically be implemented in Rochester to enable elementary schools to start at times that optimize learning for younger students while preserving the benefits of later start times for secondary students. 

  7. We are developing a new framework for community engagement that RPS schools and the district as a whole can use to build authentic partnerships with a range of community organizations. One of the first applications of that new model will be an effort to increase extracurricular offerings at the middle school level through community education and community partnerships.

  8. We are reviewing research on educational leadership to identify a set of competencies, attitudes, and behaviors that RPS will seek to continuously develop in current and future leaders.

  9. We are defining the knowledge, skills, habits, attitudes, and other characteristics that RPS seeks to help all students develop by the time they graduate from high school and are developing a set of steps that students should take in elementary, middle, and high school to be ready for success in postsecondary education and a career.

  10. We are conducting a needs assessment to review the programs and services that RPS currently provides to support student and staff mental health and researching ways to identify struggling students and to expand treatment options for both students and staff. 

  11. We are working to select and, as necessary, adapt a research-based framework for authentic and effective family engagement that will help RPS schools and staff members build productive partnerships with parents and other caregivers to meet student needs.

  12. We are developing strategies to further improve the availability of substitute teachers.

  13. We are designing a proposal for the 2023-2024 budget that further reduces the district’s structural budget deficit while also investing in the priorities of our strategic plan. 

  14.  We are studying options for an operating referendum that the RPS School Board may decide to put before the voters in the fall of 2023 and/or 2024. 

  15. We are making plans to redesign the RPS website to better meet the needs of our families, schools, and community. 

  16. We are planning professional development initiatives that will help all staff understand and avoid language, actions, and attitudes that convey racial or ethnic bias and microaggression. 

  17. We are identifying additional investments in the physical infrastructure of our school buildings that would further enhance the safety of our students and our staff.

The initiatives listed above are all being planned (and, in some cases, implemented) during the 2022-2023 school year. During the following school year (2023-2024), a second wave of changes called for in our strategic plan will be put in motion. Those initiatives include changing the way we fund and staff our schools, enhancing recruitment and induction of new staff, reviewing and, as needed, revising our school district policies to advance equity, increasing grant funding, developing a parent empowerment program, uplifting youth voice and leadership, and expanding transportation service to early childhood programs. 

Each of the changes outlined in this letter would be difficult to implement even if it was the only change occurring in the school district at the time. The changes will be even more challenging to implement given that other major changes in our school district will be taking place at the same moment. That said, I am optimistic about the success of our strategic plan precisely because it is so multi-faceted and ambitious. If implemented effectively, the changes outlined in the plan will complement and reinforce each other. For example, emphasizing deeper learning will highlight the importance of providing students with multi-tiered systems of support, which will, in turn, increase the importance of helping all students chart their own course toward postsecondary education and a career. 

In other words, each initiative in our strategic plan is a building block that RPS must put in place to construct a true learning system that enables all of our students to thrive. Thank you in advance for your engagement and support in the months ahead as we put those building blocks in place. 


Kent Pekel, Ed.D. 
Superintendent of Schools 

SpeakUp for Safety
Michael Magambo


What is SpeakUp for Safety? RPS uses SpeakUp for Safety as a tipline for our students and staff members to share their concerns about bullying, suicide, self-harm, drug or alcohol abuse, school violence, and other safety concerns. SpeakUp is safe and confidential and is available to RPS staff and students 24/7.

How does it work? After contacting SpeakUp, students and staff will receive an automated reply assuring them that their concern has been received. This email will also include a phone number unique to RPS for anonymous calls and text messages so students and staff can follow up.

SpeakUp is unlike typical tiplines because the emails or text messages sent to SpeakUp are reviewed immediately and easily verified by our small team of six select RPS administrators. This allows the team to decide how to take action and gives students the confidence to express their concerns without feeling like they are getting themselves or their peers in trouble. Most students and some staff worry about reporting incidents because they don’t want to draw unnecessary attention to themselves or the situation at hand. With SpeakUp, students and staff can report concerning situations with confidence that they will remain anonymous and the situation will be dealt with in the best way possible.

SpeakUp allows students and staff to work together and provide a safe and secure learning place. We encourage them to use SpeakUp for safety as needed.

A Generous Donation for Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Rochester Public Schools


It is quite difficult for DHH students to wear headphones over their hearing aids, cochlear implants, or Baha hearing devices. The plan is, with these funds, to purchase additional Phonak Roger Touchscreen Transmitters for our students to aid them in directly streaming sound from their 1:1 iPad to their hearing devices. With this device, students can sync their personal hearing devices to the transmitter, plug it into the iPad, then send the sound wirelessly through the transmitter to their ears.

These transmitters turn our students' hearing devices into wireless headphones streaming sound set at their prescribed hearing levels, allowing for fewer interruptions during class.

With the new streaming setup, students can seamlessly stream audio from the iPad, then switch to listening to their teacher’s voice with the press of a button. Currently, students need to end the streaming on their devices and physically reconnect to the teacher’s transmitter in the classroom. It can take several minutes, depending on the number of students in class.

Additionally, this transmitter aids our DHH students in group work time, as it can pick up sound in a 4-foot radius. Students can lay the transmitter in the middle of their group and hear all their classmates clearer than before.

Thank you to the Sertoma 700 Club for their generous donation!

RPS Launches Community Survey
Mamisoa Knutson

In order to determine current and future needs within the Rochester Public Schools community, Rochester Public Schools (RPS) is reaching out to the public for their input on what is working well for students within RPS and what they feel may be missing or in need of improvement currently and into the future. RPS will undertake a representative, random sample survey of Rochester residents to gauge public opinion about financing for potential improvements in the future to further the RPS’ mission to inspire, challenge, and empower all students.

Starting today, some Rochester residents will receive a telephone survey, which will be conducted by Morris Leatherman Company, a national survey research firm. The scientific random-sample phone survey was chosen to ensure RPS hears input from residents across all demographics in the community. Even if residents do not have children currently in the Rochester Public Schools, they may be contacted for this survey. Individual responses will be held strictly confidential by Morris Leatherman Company; only summaries of the entire sample will be reported to Rochester Public Schools. 

“Hearing directly from the community is vitally important to the success of Rochester Public Schools, and this is one of many avenues that we are utilizing to gather feedback,” said Kent Pekel, superintendent of schools. “Our hope is that we can use this data to drive decisions made in the future. I encourage anyone who is contacted to please take the time to complete the survey.”

For questions regarding the survey, please contact

Ready or Not: Information on Inclement Weather and Unexpected School Closings
Mamisoa Knutson

Though most of us don’t want to admit it, winter is just a few short weeks away. We wanted to share with you our procedures, should we have to have an unexpected school closing. Because these closures are unexpected, all families should have a contingency plan for their children in the event of school closings.

Who makes the decision to close school?

All school closings and/or schedule changes are decided by the Superintendent or his designee. The most compelling reason for closing schools is the safety of our students. Decisions to cancel or shorten the regular school day and after school activities shall be made by the Superintendent or his designee in consultation with other District leaders, and may include consultation with local city/county personnel and neighboring school districts, as appropriate. The Executive Director of Operations and the Transportation Manager will consult with the Superintendent to ensure facilities are able to receive students and buses are able to run routes. Decisions on school closings and late starts will be made as early as possible – either the night before or as early in the morning as possible, typically by 5:30 a.m.

How will the district determine Late Starts and Early Dismissals?

Late starts and early dismissals are inherently difficult for many programs and families. With this in mind, we do our best to keep these to a minimum. Early dismissals will be determined as conditions dictate. 

How will staff/families be notified?

All school closing information will be communicated by the Director of Communications or her designee through:

  • Parent and Staff Notification System (messages via Skylert) - an email and recorded voice message. Please listen to the voice message fully as it will state the reason why we’re calling.

  • District and School websites

  • Social Media

  • Local Media Outlets – such as, but not limited to, KTTC, KAAL, KIMT, and KROC

Families with students in the district are automatically enrolled in our Skylert messaging system. Please note that if you opt out of receiving one Skylert message, you will opt out of receiving all Skylert messages. 

If you are a community member and would like to receive Skylert messages, please sign up using this link.

Learn more about inclement weather and emergency school closings on our website

Lights on Afterschool
Rochester Public Schools


Launched in October 2000, Lights on Afterschool nationally celebrates afterschool programs and their importance in the lives of students, families, and communities. Our Community Education Program Manager, Josh Halverson, along with other RPS staff and community members, worked hard to put on such a successful event.

Programs highlighted included K-Pop+ Dance Team, LEGO Robotics, Rochester Youth Fencers, Soccer & Student Leadership, and Tabletop Gaming. Please enjoy some photos of the event below.


Rochester Youth Fencers


K-Pop+ Dance Club


Lego Robotics 


Tabletop Gaming 

Lincoln K-8 District-wide School Principal Jim Sonju recipient of U.S. Department of Education's Terrel H. Bell Award for Outstanding School Leadership
Mamisoa Knutson

Jim Sonju, principal at Rochester Public Schools’ Lincoln K-8 District-wide School is one of nine recipients nationwide of the Terrel H. Bell Award for Outstanding School Leadership for 2022, announced by U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel A. Cardona today. All nine school leaders from the 2022 cohort of National Blue Ribbon Schools will be honored during the National Blue Ribbon Schools awards ceremony Nov. 3 in Washington. 

“We are extremely proud of Principal Sonju and the work he does for Rochester Public Schools,” said RPS Superintendent Kent Pekel. “His leadership is exemplary as is evidenced by this recent award, Lincoln receiving a Blue Ribbon Award, and his years of service to RPS. Jim cares so much about the Lincoln school community that he regularly gets a bit choked up when talking about students, staff, and families of that wonderful school. I love that about him.”

Named for the second U.S. secretary of education, Terrel H. Bell, the Bell Award honors school leaders who are committed to education as a powerful and liberating force in people’s lives. The award is part of the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program. Principals are nominated by their school communities during the final stages of the National Blue Ribbon Schools application process.

“We have an amazing staff and Lincoln K-8 community that do incredible work every day for students,” said Principal Jim Sonju. “I am truly blessed to be a part of such an incredible school, team, and District.”

The U.S. Department of Education, together with the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the Association for Middle Level Education, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, present the Bell Awards to principals of National Blue Ribbon Schools for their outstanding work and the vital role they play in guiding their students and schools to excellence, frequently under challenging circumstances. 

“As a former principal, I understand the vital role school leaders play in shaping school culture and welcoming learning environments, improving student achievement outcomes, and empowering teachers to meet the needs of their students,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “The nine school leaders receiving this year’s Terrel Bell awards have raised the bar for building positive school climates, increasing achievement, and finding creative ways to nurture, engage, and support students, families, educators, and school staff. At a time when principals and other school leaders face many challenges, from addressing students’ unmet mental health needs to accelerating their academic recovery from the pandemic, the Department of Education is proud to recognize the essential work they do each day.”

Visit the Blue Ribbon Schools website to learn more about the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program and the Terrel H. Bell Awards. 

Looking to the Future: Expanding Support for RPS Students in Transition
Rochester Public Schools

Success in school requires focus on both academic and social emotional skills. When a child’s housing is unstable, their ability to focus on both of these can be heavily impacted. Lack of sleep, for example, can interfere with a child’s ability to control their emotions, concentrate, get along with other students, and more. 

This is why Rochester Public Schools (RPS) works to ensure access to education for students and their families. The district department called Students In Transition provides direct service to families that have inadequate or unsafe housing, are experiencing homelessness, or have been divided into foster care. Lindsey Riess-Wilson was recently hired as the Program Coordinator focused on this work. 

“Lindsey’s work is vital because she is able to have a laser-like focus on helping families so that students can continue their education in the same school,” says Lida Casper, Coordinator of Community Partnerships for RPS. “We have the data to prove that when kids become transient, we have learning loss and severed relationships, and that has a great negative impact on students.”

Previous to this, Riess-Wilson led the “Homework Starts with Home” initiative, in collaboration with Three Rivers Community Action, Olmsted County, and RPS. Her job entailed working with RPS families to connect them to community resources such as emergency assistance, especially when the need was to secure stable housing. 

“I know what it’s like to not have stable housing,” she says. “I was a teenage mom and I didn’t have access to supports in my school district, and I had to somehow make ends meet. I struggled for a really long time.”

The outcomes of the Homework Starts at Home grant were impressive. At Riverside, for example, Riess-Wilson helped 41 students who were experiencing unstable housing (about 10% of the school’s population). She helped families find housing if they had none or theirs was uninhabitable, and to maintain their current housing when in danger of losing it. The point of this work, as laid out in Minnesota’s McKinney-Vento Statute, is to make sure students have continuing access to education, throughout any housing difficulties.

“The program needs to expand,” said Mary O’Neil, Olmsted County’s housing stability team program manager. “The impact the navigator has had in one school is incredible! There are many schools within RPS that aren’t being served in the same way because of lack of capacity.”

Though Riess-Wilson works in partnership with social workers at RPS, her position with Students In Transition is unique because of the deep knowledge of the housing system needed to help families navigate through it. She is able to dedicate her focus specifically to maneuvering around barriers for families. These barriers show up when applying for housing and being denied due to past corrective actions, not having sufficient credit history to be able to rent, lacking sufficient funds for down payments, and frequent changes to rules and regulations regarding housing. 

“Being able to meet the families where they’re at and treat them with respect and dignity is vital to my work,” said Lindsey. “I have the lived experience of being without a home and I feel strongly that is something that made me the right fit for this position. I have been able to meet the families where they’re at and show and explain to them that it is doable.”

In accordance with the Community Partnership initiative in our new Strategic Plan, RPS intends to continue partnering with community organizations like Olmsted County and Three Rivers to secure resources for families who need them, to maintain students’ access to education. These partnerships are vital to transforming school-family engagement to support student success.

“My son and I are proof of what happens when families know what resources are available to them,” Lindsey said. “I am honored to be able to do this work with our families.”

Photo credit to Joe Ahlquist | Post Bulletin

Multi-Tiered Systems of Support: A Plan for an Equitable Schooling Experience
Rochester Public Schools


Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) is a cohesive framework used to align and organize resources to meet optimal educational outcomes for every student. It includes a continuum of evidence-based, system-wide practices to support a timely response to students’ academic and social-emotional needs.

Rochester Public Schools has contracted with the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI) from the University of Minnesota to evaluate our ​​districtwide implementation of MTSS. Over the next few months, we will engage in activities at the building and district levels to complete the evaluation.

MTSS consists of three basic tiers of support: Tier 1 is universal, high-quality teaching and instruction that teachers and staff are already providing for students. Tier 2 and tier 3 are newer. Tier 2 is for students not fully benefiting from tier 1 and getting supplemental intervention. Tier 3 is highly individualized.

Jill Dunn is our Coordinator of Tiered Support, and she is excited about implementing new strategies for educators in our district to serve our students better.

“I am looking forward to reaching all students,” Jill said. “Collectively, as educators in the district, we all have the heart to do this. We all have the heart to do what’s best for our students, but sometimes, we don’t know what we don’t know. It can be overwhelming when you want to help your students but don’t know how to help and where to start.”

With MTSS, there is potential for an increase in teacher efficacy where teachers can know what to do and how to support their students' learning. When teachers feel confident in what they are doing, there can be an increase in overall job satisfaction, which can also result in better student morale.

We are currently in the first phase of these MTSS evaluations, which consists of a lot of data collection. During data collection, our teams have been working with CAREI to look at student performance and achievement, attendance, and education counts. During data collection, our teams have been working with CAREI to look at student performance and achievement, attendance, and education counts. We look at commonalities and differences amongst student needs and teams and resources we have in place to see what needs to be consistent and flexible across all schools and buildings.

MTSS will be a three-to-five-year rollout to ensure that it works as it should. Our goal is for students to appreciate and value the education they are receiving and to have an equitable learning environment to have equal opportunities for success.

Lida Casper answers the call to create greater Community Partnerships for Rochester Public Schools.
Rochester Public Schools


Looking to fulfill that need, Rochester Public Schools' Lida Casper accepted the coordinator for Community Partnerships position. Lida is no stranger to Community Partnerships after working as the Riverside Community School site facilitator for the past six and a half years. 

"Effective partnerships make sense. Partnerships can meet a need, build capacity, and share resources. But these connections also have the potential to improve happiness, belonging, and drive upward mobility." 

So what drives Lida's passion for community partnerships and connection? Throughout her life, connections played an essential role in not only Lida's success, but her survival. "As a child, in order to get people to see me, I had to make strong connections," Lida said. "As the daughter of an immigrant who was  a single mother with a terminal illness, I relied heavily on the caring adults around me - nurses, teachers, family, and neighbors who would guide and expose me to the wider world. And while other fifth graders were eating breakfast, my morning routine was focused around the delicate care of my mother." Following her mother's death, Lida moved in with her extended family. With her network of support, Lida could access the next chapter of her life. 

"While this was my experience, children across our community are living a version of this story. We just may not know." 

After completing a degree in Art and Art History at the University of Minnesota, Lida was accepted to a program focused on equity in education called Teach For America. She earned her Master's degree and began her career in education as a third grade teacher in Bronx, N.Y=. "In the Bronx, I felt the vibrancy of life, culture and community, while also, for the first time, feeling what it was like to be least represented," Lida said, referring back to her experience. She also saw firsthand the challenges communities face when schools are inequitably resourced in opportunity, facilities, and funding as she recalled paying for her own copies at the nearest Kinkos each morning before school.

Inspired by her first years in the classroom and her interest in people, culture, and learning, Lida moved from New York City to a Yup'ik community in Southwestern Alaska, where she lived and worked in a place that valued and celebrated rich cultural traditions and deep relationships. During her time in Alaska, Lida was awarded District Teacher of the year by the school and community for her belief in and dedication to improving academic outcomes for all kids. After five years in the Bristol Bay region and meeting her husband, a science teacher in a nearby village, they moved back to Minnesota, landing in Rochester, where her husband began teaching at Lincoln K-8 School. Lida was hired at Gage Elementary and most recently served at Riverside Elementary School as a community school site facilitator.

Lida sees life as a network of connections, which led her to her position at Riverside Central Elementary School. During her time at Riverside, Lida led several vital partnerships, including a community garden partnership that, in 2019, gave over one ton of produce back to the Rochester community. As a result of the Riverside Community Garden, Lida received the RPU Environmental Achievement Award. With big goals and a partnership with Minneapolis artist Greta McLain, Lida set out to help students create a larger-than-life 1,000-square-foot mural as a new addition to their school. The mural honors, celebrates, and reflects Riverside Central Elementary School's rich diversity, geography and neighborhood. The mural was created by Riverside students during a two-week artist-in-residence experience. It was informed by Riverside families and stakeholders and painted by students, families, and community members at paint parties hosted at the school and local events. The process crossed over two years and cost nearly $70,000, all funded through grants, fundraisers, and local community support. In addition to these accomplishments, Lida was recently awarded the Champion of Diversity Award from the Rochester Diversity Council in recognition as an individual who has made outstanding accomplishments toward creating an inclusive and welcoming community for all individuals.

Though Lida will be transitioning to a different role in RPS soon, the connections and relationships she built as a community school facilitator will help pave the way for a stronger connection between RPS and the greater Rochester community. Looking ahead to her new role, Lida said she "has a good sense of what's possible on a local level, and I'm excited to work alongside our students, families, staff, and partners on a community-wide level. There is so much power in partnerships." She added, "The research is clear, the more community connections our kids have, the happier, healthier, and more productive members of society all of our students will become."

Julie Ruzek, former Director of Family Engagement and Community Partnerships, worked over the last several years to establish and support community schools at seven Rochester Public Schools, including Gage and Riverside Elementary Schools, John Marshall High School, and Rochester Alternative Learning Center. Most recently, Phoenix Academy, John Adams Middle School and Franklin Elementary School were awarded statewide grant funding for Community Schools. The Community School model highlights the unique needs and assets outlined by  students, staff, families and community partners through a comprehensive Needs Assessment that serves as a focal point when strategically planning for partnerships to impact students.This method allows each Community School to be responsive to its own unique needs while engaging the right partners in the work. 

>Community schools went hand in hand with Community Partnership as it was an opportunity for local organizations to give back fiscally, but also an opportunity for mentorship, growth, and improved outcomes for kids and families. Community Schools as a strategy has led to a better understanding of the greater needs and assets of our Rochester community. 

Though RPS already has a strong foundation of community partnerships, Lida is looking to the future. “Our community continues to demonstrate a shared commitment to our children and to our schools. Community Partnerships are a way to formally and informally involve other organizations while collaborating around a common vision and shared goals leading to improved outcomes for kids and families and ultimately a better place for Rochester. It's really exciting to imagine all that's possible in partnership,” Lida said.  

"At a time when the need for deep and impactful partnerships among community organizations is greater than ever before, we are fortunate to have someone with Lida's extensive experience and personal impact in this work from rural Alaska and the Bronx to right here in Rochester, Minnesota," said Amy Eich, RPS Director of Community Education and Partnerships, "Lida has the vision and the skills to carry forward the work of our strategic plan with the success of all students and families as her guidepost." 

The role of our Coordinator of Community Partnerships is to make greater connections. Those connections will help our students find their place in our community, know they are welcome, and like Lida, through connections, they will make a place for themselves.

Lincoln K-8 District-Wide School earns National Blue Ribbon School distinction
Mamisoa Knutson

The recognition is based on a school’s overall academic performance or progress inclosing achievement gaps among student subgroups.

“I want to thank the students, staff, parents, and community partners of the Lincoln school community both past and present for all the hard work they have done to earn this extraordinary national recognition,” said Rochester Public Schools Superintendent Kent Pekel. “This award is further confirmation of the excellence that exists within Rochester Public Schools, which we will continue to support at Lincoln and across the school district through our new strategic plan.”

National Blue Ribbon Schools serve as models of effective school practices for state and district educators and other schools throughout the nation. A National Blue Ribbon School flag gracing a school’s entryway or on a flagpole is a widely recognized symbol of exemplary teaching and learning.

“I’m incredibly proud of our students, staff, and the Lincoln K-8 community for their amazing efforts and ‘all in’ approach that has resulted in being recognized on the national level with this great honor,” said Lincoln Principal Jim Sonju. “It is a testament to the innovative and hard working school staff and community that continue going the extra mile to ensure student success.”

With its 39th cohort, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program has bestowed approximately 10,000 awards to more than 9,000 schools.

Celebration of Citizenship
Rochester Public Schools


Hawthorne Education Center, located at 700 4th Ave SE in Rochester, has much to offer for adults in our district. These offerings include basic education, computer literacy, English as a second language, family literacy, GED prep and tests, a path to acquiring an adult diploma, and Citizenship.

To become a U.S. citizen, a person must be at least 18 years old, have been a permanent resident for at least five years or three years if married to a U.S. citizen, and speak, read, and write English. Thanks to a federal grant, Hawthorne provides citizenship preparation classes to lawful and permanent residents to help students take the citizenship test and interview.

For Karen Cook, working with immigrants and refugees is a humbling experience. Karen is the Community Education program coordinator for Adult Literacy at Hawthorne and works with adults who speak little to no English to gain independent living skills in the community. This includes helping them learn how to ride public transportation, get connected to services in the community, district, and county, and more.`

“If you’ve ever tried to take this test as a US citizen, you realize how much we take for granted that we are U.S. citizens,” says Karen. “We have students who are studying for this test while also learning English at the same time. It is a huge accomplishment for these students and their families because it doesn’t just benefit them, their kids, and their kids’ kids. Gaining citizenship is a multigenerational achievement that I believe most people take for granted if you are born here in the U.S.”

We are currently in the middle of Rochester’s second annual celebration of Welcoming Week, an initiative through Welcoming America aiming to bring neighbors and community members together, and elevate the voices of different people and cultures and those new to the community in general. This year, Welcoming Week is held from Friday, September 9th through Sunday, the 18th.

This Week will conclude with two events that Hawthorne is involved with: The Citizenship Celebration that is tomorrow, Friday, September 16, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Olmsted County Government Center. During this time, newly naturalized citizens will be recognized and celebrated. The final event will be the “Rochester Welcomes You” event, which will be held on Saturday, September 17, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Martin Luther King Jr. park. This event is for all new Rochester community members, and there will be games, dancing, music, and free food!

If you or an adult you know is interested in learning more about adult literacy or wants to pursue adult literacy or get an education such as a GED, please visit our Adult Education at Hawthorne webpage or contact Karen Cook for more information.

Fight the Flu: Schedule your Flu Shot for Fall
Rochester Public Schools

This is a fast, easy, and convenient way to keep your children, your school, and your community healthy throughout the year. The flu shot and nasal spray (FluMist®) will both be available this year.

Important registration information to know:

  • Registration is required to receive the flu vaccine.
  • Registration begins on August 10 and will end on September 14.
  • Online registration is preferred, but paper forms will be available at your child's school. For parents who cannot access the online form, paper sign-up forms are available at the schools in both English and Spanish. Paper registration forms will not be accepted after September 14. 
  • If you register online, you will receive a confirmation email for each child you have registered after the registration is completed. If you do not receive a confirmation email, please contact the phone number or email listed above.
  • To register online, go to
  • Non-medication pain-reducing options will be available.
  • Health insurance will be billed. If you don't have health insurance, your child can still get the flu vaccine at little or no cost. 

Register for a flu shot

Day of preparations:

  • Provide a reminder to your child the day before receiving the flu vaccine and have them wear clothing that allows access to the upper arm.
  • We will offer non-medicated coolant spray and use distractions to ease the pain of the flu shot.
  • Our nurses may provide comfort holds to keep your child safe (just as they do at your clinic).
  • We cannot vaccinate parents, teachers, or preschool children.
  • There are no make-up days, and you may not take your child to a different school to get the vaccine.

School Clinic Dates:


Clinic Date

Online Registration Due

ALC (Rochester)

September 26 (afternoon)

September 14 at 11 PM

Bamber Valley

October 7 (morning)

September 14 at 11 PM


October 3 (afternoon)

September 14 at 11 PM

Century High School

September 23 (lunches)

September 14 at 11 PM


September 30 (morning)

September 14 at 11 PM

Dakota Middle School

October 4 (morning)

September 14 at 11 PM

Elton Hills

October 14 (morning)

September 14 at 11 PM


September 30 (morning) 

September 14 at 11 PM


October 13 (morning)

September 14 at 11 PM


October 14 (afternoon)

September 14 at 11 PM


October 4 (afternoon)

September 14 at 11 PM


September 30 (morning)

September 14 at 11 PM


October 13 (afternoon)

September 14 at 11 PM

John Adams

September 29 (morning)

September 14 at 11 PM

John Marshall High School

September 29 (lunches)

September 14 at 11 PM


September 23 (morning)

September 14 at 11 PM


October 14 (afternoon)

September 14 at 11 PM


October 10 (afternoon)

September 14 at 11 PM


September 28 (afternoon)

September 14 at 11 PM

Mayo High School

September 21 (lunches)

September 14 at 11 PM

Middle School Right Fit

September 26 (morning)

September 14 at 11 PM


September 22 (afternoon)

September 14 at 11 PM 

Phoenix Academy

September 26 (morning)

September 14 at 11 PM


September 28 (morning)

September 14 at 11 PM


September 26 (morning)

September 14 at 11 PM


October 10 (morning)

September 14 at 11 PM

RPS Online

September 22 (afternoon)

September 14 at 11 PM

Sunset Terrace

October 11 (afternoon)

September 14 at 11 PM


October 7 (afternoon)

September 14 at 11 PM

Willow Creek

September 28 (morning)

September 14 at 11 PM

Updated Cell Phone Privilege Guidelines
Rochester Public Schools


While we discourage phones and other electronic devices for students on campus, we understand that many of our students will continue to bring these devices to school. To minimize the distraction to learning these devices present, and to encourage our students to be safe, respectful, and responsible, RPS has adopted the following guidelines for students. 

Throughout the school and throughout the day, cell phone usage will be determined by GREEN Zones and RED Zones. 

  • GREEN Zones are times and places when cell phone use is acceptable.  

  • RED Zones are times and places when cell phone use is not acceptable and they should be put away, silenced, with notifications turned off. 

The following guidelines describe appropriate cell phone use at RPS school buildings in both GREEN zones and RED zones.

Cell Phone Privilege Guidelines

Act Responsibly

  • Phones must be put away in a RED zone

  • Earbuds/Airpods/Headphones must be put away in a RED zone

  • Only use your phone in a GREEN zone

  • Follow directions from staff

  • If you feel you MUST use your phone in a RED zone, ask and receive permission first                                

Act Respectfully

  • Be courteous with your phone

  • Volume OFF or use headphones when in a GREEN zone

  • Turn off your notifications

  • Put your phone away if asked by a staff member

  • Hands off others’ phones and other electronic devices    

Act Safely

  • Use your phone appropriately

  • Think before you post on social media

  • Do not take pictures/videos of others without permission

View a downloadable version of the the guidelines. 


Green Zones

  • Before/After School

  • Cafeteria and Hallways

  • Lunch/Recess/Passing Time

  • When your teacher has the GREEN sign up in class

Red Zones

  • Bathrooms/Locker Rooms

  • During class (unless GREEN sign is up)

  • Any time a staff member asks you to put it away

  • When your teacher has the RED sign up

Violation of Cell Phone/Electronics Guidelines:

  • 1st Instance: The cell phone/electronic device will be turned-in to the teacher and returned by the teacher at the end of the class period. 

  • 2nd Instance: The cell phone/electronic device will be turned-in to the teacher and returned at the end of the period by the teacher, who will also contact a parent or guardian.

  • 3rd Instance: The cell phone/electronic device will be turned-in to the teacher and returned at the end of the period by the teacher and the office will be notified as a Level 2 referral for administrative follow-up.

  • 4th Instance: The cell phone/electronic device will be turned-in to the office and will be returned at the end of the school day by a building administrator, who will contact a parent or guardian, and the student will receive a Level 2 referral.

  • 5th Instance: The cell phone/electronic device will be turned-in to the office and returned to a parent or guardian. A building administrator will contact a parent or guardian, the student will receive a Level 2 office referral, and a meeting will be held by administration with the student and a parent or guardian to determine a plan moving forward.

*Student refusal to turn in a device will result in student referral to administration.

Students who choose to bring cell phones and/or other electronics to school do so at their own risk. Rochester Public Schools will not be liable for any damage, loss, or theft of electronic devices. 

Parents and caregivers, thank you for taking the time to share these updated guidelines with your students.

We look forward to the new school year.

The New Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Rochester Public Schools



The updated suicide prevention lifeline: 988


988 is the new easy-to-remember three-digit dialing code that will route callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, now known as the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

This project began in 2019 to put crisis care more in reach for people in need. The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, signed into law after the passage of bipartisan legislation in 2020, authorized 988 as a new number for suicide and mental health crisis. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline offers 24/7 crisis care and even links to the Veterans Crisis Line.

When people call, text, or chat 988, they will be connected to trained counselors that are part of the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network. These counselors will listen to the callers, understand how their problems affect them, provide support, and connect them to necessary resources.

The Lifeline has been proven effective, with a network of over 200 local and state crisis centers operating since 2005. Every time someone calls, a counselor from these local crisis centers is there to support them. The lifeline is expected to increase to 7.6 million contacts this year, doubling the number of texts, calls, or chats in 2020.

Please note that the previous Lifeline phone number, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), will always remain available to people in emotional distress or suicidal crisis and will route calls to 988 indefinitely.

RPS Safe and Open Schools Plan 2022-2023
Rochester Public Schools

The Rochester Public School Board of Education received an update to the District’s Safe and Open Schools Plan on Tuesday, January 18. The entire plan is linked below. The notable updates are called to attention here:

Contact Tracing

The District will resume contact tracing when we return from Distance Learning (January 31). Contact tracing is the process used to identify individuals who were in close contact – 3 feet or less – with a positive case for 15 minutes or longer in a 24 hour time period.

Quarantine Guidance

Quarantine is used when a person is identified as a close contact to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Starting January 31, the District will adopt the most recent CDC and MDH guidance on quarantine, which allows a shortened quarantine period of 5 days for anyone unvaccinated and identified as a close contact. 

Isolation Procedures

Isolation is used when someone has tested positive for COVID-19. The District will continue to require 10-days of isolation or people who test positive for COVID-19. 

Updated guidance from the CDC allows for return after 5 days of isolation but advises that strict wearing of high-quality masks is required to implement that approach successfully. While Rochester Public Schools students and staff adhered to our masking requirements at very high levels, we have not made significant investments in the type or fit of masks worn in RPS facilities. As such, we will continue to adhere to the stricter standard for the return of confirmed COVID cases.  

Test to Stay (TTS)

Test to Stay is RPS’s longer-term strategy for enabling unvaccinated students to remain in school if they have been identified as a close contact but have not tested positive for and do not show symptoms of COVID. 

A staggered roll-out of TTS across the school district will begin on February 14. 


Review the entire plan below:

Safe and Open Schools Plan

From Teaching to LiftOff - RPS Teacher Heads to NASA This Summer (Recap)
Rochester Public Schools


Back in May, we talked to John Marshall's Melissa Erickson, one of two teachers from Minnesota selected for the LiftOff 2022 space program developed by NASA. The program, focused on the Artemis project, aims to send American astronauts, including the first woman and the first person of color, to the Moon by 2024. Now that she's back, how did it go?

During her week at NASA, Melissa had a jam-packed schedule filled with various speakers and tours, including the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, seeing Lunar rocks, and participating in projects. She couldn't pick a favorite moment out of the experience, but in Melissa's words, her "soul-speaking moment" was visiting the Neutral Buoyancy Lab. As a long-time scuba instructor, science teacher, and space enthusiast, this lab simulated all three experiences in one place.

This prestigious opportunity also allowed Melissa and 50 other teachers from around the nation to meet with various affiliated NASA staff members, including three astronauts. One of the three astronauts she met was 88-year-old Fred Haise, from the Apollo 13 space mission. How many people have been able to hear someone share stories from space? That's out of this world!

"If able, I think it is so beneficial for educators to have experiences that help students connect with what they are learning," Melissa said. "To experience NASA and this program firsthand was such an honor. They create opportunities for you that are unique. We got a lot of inside tours that aren't usually allowed, but because of who they are and NASA's love for education and reaching youth, it was amazing. Go apply. "

Besides a memorable experience, Melissa is bringing back some of the curriculum collaboration and lesson plans shared by fellow teachers and NASA scientists. She plans to implement many new ideas in her classroom and share them with the John Marshall physics department and potentially across the district. When thinking about her classroom, Melissa hopes her experience at NASA helps create a real-world perspective with her projects and allows students to connect personally rather than hypothetically.

So what's next for Melissa? Almost immediately after her trip, she went to get supplies for a prototype rocket and rocket launchers for her and her students to make rockets in the upcoming school year. We're sure great things will come out of her classroom this year, and this is just the launch pad for jumping into the 2022-2023 school year.