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School survey casts light on opportunities available for local students

WILLMAR -- A majority of people surveyed in the Willmar School District want to see school districts work together on issues of technology, but they are lukewarm to the idea of performance pay for teachers.

Nearly everyone wants kids across the region to have similar educational opportunities.

Willmar Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard distributed the survey results Monday at a Willmar School Board meeting. Willmar is one of 16 districts stretching from Glencoe to Ortonville that have been meeting to discuss ways schools can work together in the future.

Each district has been conducting a similar survey this winter.

The individual survey information will be compiled and used to develop another survey which will be sent to everyone who received one of the local surveys, Kjergaard said. The final survey will be used to write a report summarizing the year-long regional cooperation discussions.

Kjergaard said the Minnesota Department of Education and the Bush Foundation are interested in the group's work.

Willmar School Board Chairman Wayne Lenzmeier, who has been representing the board at the regional meetings, said many people believe education will see many changes in the next 20 to 25 years. The regional group may help the school districts in the area prepare for the future, he added.

Technology is an area where districts are already working together.

Interactive technology allows students in area schools to study psychology, college algebra, accounting and a variety of foreign languages. In many cases, the teachers for the classes are from area districts.

The sharing is done through organizations like the Little Crow Telemedia Network, based in Hutchinson, and the Minnesota River Valley Education District of Montevideo.

The shared classes help maintain class offerings in smaller school districts and offer high-speed Internet connections and access to video field trips.

The Willmar survey was e-mailed to about 1,400 people and returned by 186, a response that Kjergaard termed "not too bad" for a survey of that type. It reflects views of the business community, school staff and parents.

The survey indicated support for shared services and for common teacher training and curriculum.

In perhaps the strongest response, 90 percent of the Willmar respondents said that students across the region should have similar educational opportunities.

When it comes to technology 60 percent of the respondents believe Willmar has connected its teachers to technology and supported their use of it. Another 63 percent believe that schools need to expand their commitment to technology.

On questions about developing a common curriculum across the area, responses varied. A majority, about 54 percent, believed a common curriculum would be beneficial to all students.

When asked if a common curriculum should be one of the group's first steps, the support dropped to 45 percent. About 49 percent felt it would level the playing field for all students.

Large majorities supported changes in teacher evaluation, with 62 percent favoring a common process and 70 percent wanting principals to receive common training in evaluating teachers. Just a third said they thought performance pay for teachers would improve student success.

Kjergaard also included some questions about demographics, with strong response -- 84 percent said they believe enrollment will drive school district structure in the next 25 years.

Nearly 76 percent believe that education in rural Minnesota will see more changes in education than the metropolitan area, and 71 percent believe changing demographics could result in redrawing district lines in the future.

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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