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Willmar, Minn., School District weighing up how it does business

Tribune photo by Ron Adams Abdi Rahman takes part in a small group discussion Wednesday about drafting a vision for the future of Willmar Public Schools. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR — The Willmar School District needs more faculty and administrators from minority groups, according to the people at a community meeting to discuss a new strategic plan for the district.

About 30 people attended the hearing in the rehearsal hall of the Willmar Education and Arts Center Wednesday evening. The group was culturally diverse, with strong representation from Willmar’s Latino and Somali communities. The group included many parents and some school staff members.

Consultant Bruce Miles of Big River Group of St. Cloud walked the group through a series of exercises that helped them narrow a list of strengths and weaknesses of the district into priorities for the next five years.

The list developed at the community meeting will be added to information from other meetings and survey results. The School Board will use it to develop a new strategic plan for the district. The plan is expected to be finished in early 2013.

The top priorities were chosen from a list that included strengths including use of technology, higher graduation rates and after school programs and weaknesses including a lack of training for working with minority students, transportation needs and class sizes.

The group voted on those lists to come up with the priorities. The need to increase the number of faculty and administrators from minority groups was at the top of the list.

The next priorities were to provide an equitable education for all, to increase cultural competence, to close the achievement gap and manageable class sizes.

Miles had met earlier in the day with employees at Roosevelt Elementary and the Senior High. He will meet with employees at other school buildings on Monday.

Eighty people attended the meeting at Roosevelt and 66 at the high school, he said. By the time the process is done, he said, hundreds of people will have contributed to the final product.

Online surveys for the staff and the community were conducted in November. Miles praised those who responded to the survey. In some communities, problems can be blamed on specific people or groups.

In the Willmar surveys, he said, “Nobody insulted anybody else; people were hard on the problems but easy on the people.”

Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard thanked the group for attending. “The more input we get, the better plan we’ll have,” he said.

School Board Chairman Nathan Streed asked those at the meeting to help spread the word about the new strategic plan and what the district is trying to do.

Parent Sarai Mendoza said she thought the meeting was informative and very welcoming. “I was able to speak with different people and be accepted,” she said.

Mendoza and Manuel Santana said they appreciated the meeting’s focus on the future.

Abdullahi Olow, school success coordinator at Willmar Middle School, said he wished the district had more meetings like that, because education is so important. The meeting also highlighted that different types of people have similar concerns.

“We have more similarities than differences,” he said.

After the meeting, Kjergaard said the meeting provided a different perspective for the board and represented the views of the white, Latino and Somali communities.

“That’s what we wanted,” he said.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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