Superintendent Gothard's Perspective on Afterschool

Saint Paul Public Schools has a new superintendent – Dr. Joe Gothard, who joined SPPS in July 2017. The superintendent is a strong education leader and champion for young people in Saint Paul. Now that Dr. Gothard has settled into his new role, Sprockets sat down with him in early December to hear his perspective on afterschool and ways that Sprockets and SPPS can work more closely together.

1. What role do you think afterschool plays in the education of Saint Paul’s youth? How can afterschool support SPPS in your mission to provide a premier education for all?

“I think that afterschool activities play an important role in helping youth positively connect to their communities. We spend so much time thinking about how to reengage or remediate behaviors, once we come across a young person who hasn’t connected positively with their community. Afterschool is one way to ensure that all of our students can participate in activities that engage them with adults who care, who have experiences and skillsets that are wide-ranging, and who can uniquely serve the very diverse community of Saint Paul.

Partnerships between SPPS, community partners, and the Sprockets network are an opportunity for out-of-school time to shape academic and social growth. Afterschool can certainly support the skills that are necessary for students to be successful in their school day. So it could involve help on homework or an extension of the school day with re-teaching and intervention provided, and intensive individual support in an area that a student is struggling in.

It’s important to look at afterschool in an asset-based way as well. An afterschool opportunity could be something that is completely outside of what a student has ever done in school. That experience may excite that student and enrich his or her life in a way that might make school look a lot different the next day.”
 

2. As Superintendent, how will you partner with Sprockets and our network of afterschool programs in Saint Paul?

It’s easy for me to speak from the heart about how much this means to me personally. I would love to see every Saint Paul public school student be afforded the same opportunities that I had. Or we can come together to create new opportunities together – new spaces with new goals and dreams for our kids.

I’m very interested in social and emotional learning (SEL) standards and skills, and this topic would be a great opportunity for us to come together. SEL is an acronym that we throw around a lot, and often we refer to broken young people as being in need of social emotional learning skills. But SEL skills are lifetime skills, and it’s important for SPPS and Sprockets to work together to define SEL means to us as a community and work in the same way to support our young people to be aware of and improve their SEL skills. Having these skills to draw on could be what set our young people apart as the leaders of the next generation.

Many times I don’t think we value our young people as the true assets that they are. We are oriented toward their imperfections and not their absolute brilliance, genius, and potential. I believe that focusing on SEL is an opportunity to not just say that we believe in young people, but to show them how much we believe in them. To me, that’s the difference in communities that are able to take opportunities to the next level. Our kids need us to show up all the time and believe in them. We need consistency to structure and sustain and support this work. I’m interested in finding ways for us to come together to define SEL commonly, and then bring our unique skills to build on it for our young people.
 

3. What afterschool activities did you participate in as a young person and how did those experiences impact you?

I was a young person who grew up in afterschool programs, and they absolutely shaped me. Sports are a big part of my background, but that’s not where it stops. I participated on teams (football, basketball, baseball) in my community, but the YMCA was a huge part of my life from 5 years on. When I moved to Minnesota in 2013 one of the first things that I did was join the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities. I’m such a believer in that space. Growing up in a single parent household, it gave me the opportunity to learn from young men who were there as mentors to me, as coaches or volunteers or staff. It provided a great place for me to feel safe, to feel like I could be myself, and to be nurtured in a way that I yearned for. It was a place to work on physical fitness but it was so much more - day camps, fishing, and learning to put a tent up. I think back to some of the day camp activities that I was able to do, and in my family I just didn’t have those opportunities. So the YMCA allowed me to experience many things I never would have experienced without those afterschool programs.

Madison, where I grew up, also had great community education and community recreation programs.  The program that I especially remember was the summer rec program. There was a 4-day per week program at the elementary school around the corner from my house, and it was a drop-in program. I spent every waking hour there, doing everything from arts and crafts to learning how to make root beer, to having the stagecoach come in, bringing actors who put on plays every three weeks during the summer. At the time I didn’t realize how much that impacted me, but I was able to be a part of a community with structured and unstructured yet safe opportunities for me to learn who I was and learn and grow from the people around me. To me, that’s the essence of out-of-school time. It’s to provide guided and unguided time to help young people find out who they are, and to have people be there along the way. Some youth we know need a lot more than others, but everyone needs a caring adult who can help enrich their lives.

 

Thank you to Dr. Gothard for taking the time to share your thoughts with us! Sprockets is grateful for your leadership and we look forward to working with you to support youth success in Saint Paul.