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Willmar, Minn., superintendent tells teachers they will work together

WILLMAR -- It's not good news that Willmar's two elementary schools placed near the bottom of the state in battling the achievement gap, but "we're not going to beat each other up," Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said Monday afternoon.

Kjergaard met with elementary teachers Monday afternoon at the Willmar Education and Arts Center to break the news to them.

State testing data were released early to school administrators and are available to the general public today.

Kennedy Elementary is called a Priority School, meaning it was ranked in the bottom 5 percent of schools in student proficiency, the achievement gap and student growth.

Roosevelt Elementary is called a Focus School, ranking it in the bottom 10 percent of schools in student proficiency and the achievement gap.

Kjergaard said he and Curriculum Director Cheryl Nash are still studying data to gain a deeper understanding of the rankings.

Both schools will be developing Continuous School Improvement Plans this summer to be implemented in the fall. Kjergaard plans to require the same plans at the Middle School and Senior High.

"You're not in this alone," he said.

"We're going to accept responsibility, and we're going to work harder to get better," Kjergaard said. "That's all we can do."

Nash praised the staff for the dedication she's seen since she joined the district last fall. She explained a little about the formulas the state used to arrive at its ratings and told the staff how things have changed from the previous Adequate Yearly Progress program. She said she had confidence that staff members would rise to the new challenge.

"When you have a motivated staff, there's nothing that can stand in their way," she said after the meeting.

Kjergaard said Nash will be an asset to the district, as she has worked with districts developing improvement plans.

Kjergaard said he is going to organize teams in each building, including representatives from minority communities, to develop the plans this summer.

He told the teachers and other staff that they would need to help the public understand that Kennedy and Roosevelt are not bad schools.

"I have never heard anybody say this is a bad school district," he said. "We need to see this as an opportunity for growth."

After four years in the district, Kjergaard said, he's seen that "we do a heck of a job educating white kids; we have to get other communities to buy into education."

Teachers asked questions about what the district could do to address class size and issues with tardiness and absences.

Nash and Kjergaard said those issues would be discussed as the improvements plans are developed.

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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