Located within a stone’s throw of one of the world’s leading healthcare institutions, Rochester Public Schools is a high-performing public school district, spanning nearly 220 square miles in southeastern Minnesota and serving more than 18,000 students. Their mission is “to inspire, challenge, and empower all students with the knowledge and skills required to reach their full potential, to contribute to future generations, and to become involved members of a global community.”
This commitment to doing what’s best for each and every student has guided the work of Rochester Public Schools’ administrators, staff and teachers in recent years. They — like those in other school districts — have faced many challenges, including disruptions stemming from the pandemic, inequities related to educational access, increasing violence and safety concerns, and budget deficits.
“Our Rochester Public Schools staff and teachers, more than two-thirds of whom have master’s degrees, have been navigating an extremely difficult environment,” said John Carlson, executive director of finance. “To deliver a world-class education, we have had to remain flexible, innovative and collaborative. Our goal is, and has always been, to provide the support and resources that enables every child to succeed.”
This perspective is evident in the district’s decision in 2020 to create a comprehensive online school. “We value in-person education,” said Carlson, “but we also recognize that some students learn better online. Before the pandemic, these students might have exited our Rochester Public Schools system, and now we are able to serve their needs.”
In fact, 500 K-12 students from across Minnesota are now enrolled in the Rochester district’s online school, which features live instruction by qualified teachers — not pre-recorded modules — and a curriculum that matches the in-person experience.
“We didn’t initially know how to do this, though we knew we wanted to,” Carlson added. “And we wanted it to be good, so we worked hard to figure it out. It was the right thing to do and has clearly benefitted enrolled students and their families.”
The online school has also allowed the district to attract and hire qualified teachers who can work remotely. Remote work among the district staff has gained broader acceptance as well, increasing employee satisfaction and district access to talent in an increasingly tight labor market.
This openness to ideas and willingness to try new things is one of the reasons Bremer, which has been Rochester Public Schools’ banking partner for the past six years, enjoys working with the district. John Caldwell, the Bremer banker who currently serves as the district’s relationship manager, said, “The district’s leaders are sophisticated and knowledgeable, with a clear learning mindset. They love hearing about new approaches and potential solutions that may improve their operations and efficiency.”
For his part, Carlson said he appreciates Bremer’s expertise and perspective, particularly given Rochester’s growth and budget pressures. He meets quarterly with a team of Bremer advisors who review the district’s portfolio, share insights on macroeconomic factors, and recommend cost-reduction opportunities, systems improvements, and ways to maximize the district’s investment income. With Bremer’s encouragement and support during the past few years, the district added remote check deposit (fortunately, just before the pandemic) and implemented and continues to refine fraud-protection tools such as protocols for wire transfers and two-person authorization for outgoing ACH payments.
“Bremer’s team approach gives us the best of two worlds,” Carlson said. “We have access to the resources of a large bank — new technology, cybersecurity capabilities, innovative financial products and services — while also having the benefit of strong local relationships and support. I know I will get a prompt reply anytime I have a question or concern.”
Given Rochester Public Schools’ proximity to Mayo Clinic and the city’s steady growth, the mutual trust and respect between Bremer and the district mean Carlson and his peers can focus their energies on more important issues — such as meeting the education needs of their community. In a huge win for the community, Rochester plans to open four new schools in the fall of 2022, representing a $180 million investment. The three elementary schools (grades K-5) and one middle school (grades 6-8) will alleviate current space constraints and enable future growth, further expanding the district’s capacity to provide the full spectrum of education from birth through adulthood.
With the utmost confidence in their banking partnership with Bremer, Rochester Public Schools is well-positioned to deliver on its mission of inspiring, challenging and empowering all their students to reach their full potential.