Northfield has high expectations for our students. As a community, we believe in the power high-quality education can have in changing lives. We have long been identified as a top school district in Minnesota. Our results show above-average results on a plethora of standardized assessments. However, when one reviews more than just averages, we see there are some students not yet able to take advantage of all Northfield offers. For many, our community’s achievement gap is unacceptable given our commitment to education. Northfield Public Schools teachers, staff, and volunteers work tirelessly to help every student develop the skills needed to achieve their dreams. In order to address this issue, we must also ensure there is an opportunity for high-quality preschool experience for every parent who wants it for their child.

Superintendent Matt Hillmann with the University of Minnesota's Art Rolnick at Carleton College in October 2017.
Superintendent Matt Hillmann with the University of Minnesota’s Art Rolnick at Carleton College in October 2017.

The University of Minnesota’s Arthur Rolnick studied the economic benefits of early learning as a researcher at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve. Dr. Rolnick took on the project at the behest of some friends, thinking his resulting review of the research would satisfy these friends and sit on shelves never to be heard about again. He admits he was surprised about how wrong that presumption proved to be. In addition to the “moral” imperative of providing our youngest learners with educational opportunities, he found a clear connection between high quality early learning programs and a significant economic return — Dr. Rolnick’s research estimates a seven dollar return for each dollar invested in high quality early learning programs. For those in the financial industry, Dr. Rolnick focuses on the “internal rate of return.” He explains that seven percent on this indicator tends to be the expected standard. His research shows that investment in high quality early learning results in at 16% internal rate of return. In short, investing in high quality early learning is an investment that twice the expected standard investors often use as a measuring stick.

Read more about early learning as economic development

As a four-star Parent Aware-rated program, Northfield Public Schools has taken advantage of the Minnesota Department of Education Early Learning Scholarships and has a waiting list for additional low-income families who want high-quality preschool for their children. This is one of the few District programs where we are out of space. Our early learning programs are housed at two separate facilities. This creates hurdles for families wanting to participate in programs that would serve them best. It does not allow the District to be as efficient in the operation of the programs as we would like.

The November 7th, 2017 bond referendum intends to create a single district-wide early childhood learning center in a repurposed Greenvale Park building. It would provide a one-stop center that would include pre-school, early childhood family education, parent education, early childhood special education, and access to our licensed day-care to provide the “wrap-around” childcare essential in helping families access early learning programs.

There is a lot of rhetoric about how Minnesota can close its achievement gap. The District’s bond referendum creating an early childhood learning center aims to go beyond closing this unacceptable gap that is harming our knowledge-based economy. It seeks to eliminate the gap before it begins. Not only is it the “right thing” to do, we have data that clearly demonstrates it is one of the best economic investments we can make as a community. Early learning is a gift to our families — and our economy — that keeps on giving. Providing students with a strong start leads them down a path where they will leave Northfield Public School prepared to engage in our dynamic world.