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Principals at Willmar, Minn., schools say deep impact if levy fails

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news Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- Willmar Senior High's block schedule helps the school address the needs of students at all academic levels, according to Principal Rob Anderson.

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And extended math and communications/reading classes at Willmar Middle School can help increase student achievement, Principal Mark Miley said this week.

The two principals described what could be lost in their schools if a $498.49-per-pupil operating levy is allowed to expire after this year. Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard had invited them to the School Board's work session this week.

Voters in the school district will vote on renewing the levy on Nov. 8.

"If this levy fails, it will be catastrophic," Kjergaard said. That's why he asked the two principals to talk about the changes students and families might see. At the October work session, elementary principals will talk about the possible changes in their buildings.

After the meeting, Kjergaard said he wasn't necessarily trying to scare people, but he wanted them to understand the potential consequences of a failed levy.

"There is nothing good that would come from the failure of this levy," he said. "I don't know that I'm threatening them; I'm being honest with them."

The principals talked about what the schools could look like if the district met the state's minimum standards. Bigger class sizes and fewer class offerings were common themes.

Anderson said he was concerned that major cuts could cause students to leave for other districts or for early entry into college.

He described what he sees as the advantages of the Senior High's schedule of four extended classes in each school day. A half-year block class is considered the equivalent of a typical one-year class.

The school logged its highest course completion rate, ACT scores and graduation rates in recent years.

The blocks allow students to complete two years of a particular subject in one school year, something Anderson called "our secret weapon."

The ability to double up helps all kinds of students, Anderson said.

"We can give them two years of English or math or social studies in one year," Anderson said.

That can help struggling students, kids with a particular interest and students ready for more challenges in Advanced Placement courses.

If the block schedule ends, students will lose the doubling opportunities, and the school could lose many electives and Advanced Placement courses, he said.

A more traditional six-period day would "save money, but there will be far less opportunity across the building," he said.

The school's extensive technology and engineering offerings could be affected, Anderson said. The state requires only that schools offer one course in career and technical education.

"I won't bring that to you," Anderson said.

A six-hour day would change teacher schedules enough that the district may have to hire staff to do some of the supervision now handled by teachers, he said, and more curriculum materials would be needed.

The district could raise revenue by increasing participation fees for sports and increasing or removing family maximum costs. More revenue could be raised by selling advertising in sports facilities, Anderson said, but it's something the district has resisted for years. He would start with a goal of $125,000, he added.

The Middle School has had a variety of schedules over the years, Miley said. The current "modified block" schedule gives students with an extended math class one day an extended communications class the next.

The school has seen scores and student growth increase with the schedule, he said. It also includes time for teachers to meet in groups to discuss student progress and to focus on kids' emotional and social needs.

The schedule also allows students to eat breakfast each day in the cafeteria. Some other schedules might make that more difficult, he said.

Miley pointed out that some students come to school hungry or only get milk to drink at school.

Without the current schedule, students would receive less math and communications instruction, he said, and several teachers would lose their jobs.

Students could lose the physical education classes that run every other day for the entire school year along with a variety of electives and music offerings.

The state requires just one nine-week physical education class in junior high, but the school staff can see the difference when students get physical activity throughout the year.

"I find it disheartening to think we are thinking about stooping down to meeting minimum standards," said board member Nathan Streed.

Miley agreed. "We have great pride in our school district," he said.

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