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Willmar school leaders pleased with first week in reorganized district

Before the school year, Willmar Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard told his staff he was sure something would have been overlooked in the summer's major reorganization of the school district.

At the end of the school year's first week, Kjergaard said he was pleased with how things had gone.

"I'm not going to say we didn't have some things we had to smooth out," Kjergaard said. "For the most part, everything worked really well."

A shuttle bus running between the elementary schools was late the first day, but that's gone smoothly since , he said.

Some problems with scheduling and other matters were "the normal stuff that happens" at the beginning of a school year, he said.

"The administrators handle them as they come along."

"I pat my administrators and the staff on the back," Kjergaard said. "They did a good job planning and implementing the change."

The district closed two small elementary schools and moved all elementary students in grades K-5 into two buildings. Sixth-graders were moved to the junior high, making it a middle school.

The massive moving project, with at least half the district's teachers moving to different classrooms, was intended to save money and increase efficiency in the district.

Changes in transportation have caused some frustration for parents, but Kjergaard said he hopes some of that can be resolved later this month.

The district does not provide transportation for elementary children living within 1 mile of school. In the past, parents could pay for the transportation, and that may be offered again.

Kjergaard said the bus companies were cautious about offering the service until they learned more about their new routes and how much room would be available on the buses.

Middle School Principal Mark Miley said the students and staff seem to be adjusting well.

Two-thirds of the students at Willmar Middle School are new to the building this year, since the sixth- and seventh-graders were all Roosevelt students a year ago.

The students coming from elementary school have had to adjust to a different pace, he said, but they are picking it up quickly.

The elementary schools have both seen changes, but the biggest might be at Roosevelt Elementary, which was a 4-6 building and now has grades 1-5. When an expansion is finished in December, the building will add kindergarteners. Kennedy added fifth graders to become a K-5 school.

"It's fun to see the little 5-year-olds come in," said Kennedy Principal Scott Hisken. "Ten percent are crying, 40 percent are scared, and the rest are OK."

Many students are new at their schools this year, and the principals said they expect the adjustment to take some time. "We've been really mindful of starting from ground zero in some of the routines," Hisken said.

Roosevelt Principal Patti Dols said she has enjoyed seeing the younger children arrive at the school. "There's a lot of excitement and bouncing," she said.

Parents seem pleased to have all their young children in the same school building, too, she said.

New staff members are working well together in both schools, the principals said.

Dols said the district's experienced teachers have been good guides in getting the building ready for the youngest students it's ever housed. "It may be a different situation, but the great teaching is going to be carried on here."

While the expansion is finished, Roosevelt kindergarteners go to school at the former Lincoln Elementary School. To make them part of the action at Roosevelt, they will be coming to the school for some special events this fall.

Though the schools are large, each with about 900 students, they try to use scheduling and routine to give them a small-school atmosphere, Hisken said.

Bus routes do not cross elementary attendance boundaries, so the district is running a shuttle from one school to another this year for students who live in one attendance area and have day care in another one.

So far, 35 to 40 students are using the service each day. "Obviously there's a demand," Hisken said.

Overall, it's gone well. "The students know who they are and where they should go," Dols 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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