WILLMAR -- A waiver from some of the requirements of federal education law was welcome news to public school superintendents in west central Minnesota, as well as across the state.
Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius called Thursday "a fresh start" for the state's children.
Minnesota and nine other states received a waiver Thursday from the No Child Left Behind federal education law.
The waiver from the U.S. Department of Education does not excuse the state from school improvement efforts or from working to close a worst-in-the-nation achievement gap. However, it does give them some flexibility in how they approach that effort.
Since No Child Left Behind went into effect a decade ago, school officials in the area have said that it had commendable goals -- all students reading and doing math at their grade level by 2014 -- but the goals were ultimately unrealistic. They appreciated the focus on achievement and improvement but were discouraged by the way the program punished schools thought not to be making the grade.
"We all know that No Child Left Behind, while well-intentioned, has often been an impediment to the great work you are doing to help children in your districts," Cassellius said in an email to school superintendents. "Under this waiver, we have a great opportunity to transition to an accountability system made in Minnesota that works for Minnesota."
In a series of e-mails Thursday, area superintendents commented on the waiver announcement that came Thursday morning.
New London-Spicer Superintendent Paul Carlson said the waiver is "a step in the right direction to more accurately measure the successes of our schools."
Lee Westrum, Benson superintendent, echoed Carlson's view and added, "Hopefully Congress can come up with a permanent solution to address the many shortcomings of No Child Left Behind."
Gregory Ohl, Minnewaska Area superintendent, said the waiver will not change schools' academic goals, but it will allow them to use a more realistic approach.
"I am sure student assessments will continue to provide information on how we can help each student develop," he said, "but it may lead to a bit more creativity and add importance to those subject areas not tested under No Child Left Behind, like fine arts, music, agriculture, etc."
Willmar Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said he was pleased with the waiver. "Our hope is the end result is schools that continue to get better but don't punish us because certain populations within districts are unable to meet those stringent requirements."
It's exciting news at the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City district, said Superintendent Sherri Broderius. She emphasized, as others had, that the district would not relent in its focus on achievement and "working on strategies to help students stretch and be prepared for the world."