Long-awaited move to Willmar's Lakeland Elementary will begin next month


WILLMAR — Teachers and administrators of Lakeland Elementary School are gearing up for their move to the Willmar School District's new elementary school.

Principal Gretchen Baumgarn and Assistant Principal Melissa Wilson have been planning since they started their jobs July 1 for a move that includes about 600 students plus teachers and staff. At times it seems they "get one thing done and add 10 to the list," Baumgarn said.

The school was originally scheduled to open in the fall, but delays have led to a December move and a January opening.

As the building nears completion, the administrators are developing a game plan for letting the staff, students and families get to know the building before they move in.

Since September, Lakeland students have been attending Roosevelt and Kennedy elementary schools. The administrators assigned students to classrooms with the teachers they will have for the entire year. Each classroom will move as a unit to a new classroom at Lakeland.

The principals have split their time between Roosevelt and Kennedy, going where they have been needed by their students. They said last week that they would be happy to be working in the same building full-time.

Not all the dates are certain yet, but plans for December include:

• Giving teachers tours and several opportunities to learn the new building and how the systems work.

• Doing staff training in the new building, so teachers can begin working as a group in the same building. Some of that has already started this month at the other buildings.

• Busing students to the school one grade at a time. They will bring their backpacks and bookbags with items from their desks. The trip will give them a chance to settle into their new rooms with their teachers.

• Holding an open house for staff, students and their families just before the winter break.

"We know there's a lot of excitement in the community," Wilson said, but school officials want to make sure the children have a good transition.

"We want it to feel like their space," she added, so the open house for the public will come after the school has opened.

"We're excited to show it off," Baumgarn said.

This school year will be different from any other in their careers for staff members, she said, and she and Wilson have been pleased to see the staff preparing for the move with some good humor.

"A midyear transition for kids and families is not ideal; it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing," Baumgarn said. "Kids are resilient, and I think their teachers are doing a good job building that up."

The school has about the same square footage as Roosevelt Elementary, but it's arranged quite differently, they said.

Classrooms for each grade will be clustered in a pod around a collaborative space that can be used for working in small groups or for other activities. Classrooms have large glass doors that can be opened to the collaborative spaces or closed for quiet time in a classroom.

"It's a unique use of space," Baumgarn said. The areas will have colorful, versatile furniture that can be arranged many ways.

Classroom furniture will be versatile as well. Desks will be on wheels to be reconfigured easily.

Teachers have been given boxes to start packing teaching materials they will not need until after they move. The custodial staff will gather boxes periodically and take them to Lakeland.

Because Lakeland will be outfitted with new furniture and technology equipment, the move will involve mostly teaching materials and personal items.