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Changes in the cards in Willmar, Minn., on the heels of state achievement report

Willmar School Board Chairman Nathan Streed, left, and Senior High Assistant Principal Paul Schmitz discuss school test data at Wednesday's School Board workshop. Tribune photo by Linda Vanderwerf

WILLMAR -- The Willmar School District is likely to have a new administrative structure and a new teacher evaluation system when school opens in September.

The School Board held a workshop Wednesday afternoon to learn more about the state's new accountability system, developed after the state received a waiver from the No Child Left Behind federal education law.

The new teacher ev-aluations are re-quired by a state law passed a year ago.

The district's two elementary schools were listed among the lowest-performing schools in the state on measures of student growth, student achievement or the achievement gap.

Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard proposed a new structure Wednesday. It will be presented to the board for approval at the next official board meeting June 11. Kjergaard proposed naming Cheryl Nash the director of teaching and learning.

Her current title is director of curriculum and instruction. Nash would work closely with principals to develop strategies to improve instruction in the district.

A new curriculum and assessment coordinator would be hired. That person would be responsible for testing, analyzing data and helping Nash to develop improvement plans in the school buildings. Nash currently handles some of those duties.

Kjergaard proposed adding an additional full-time assistant principal who would split time between the two elementary buildings to assist in teacher evaluation.

Also added would be an English Language Learners teacher in each elementary building and two instructional coaches to help teachers build their skills and plan intervention activities.

In addition, school administrators are organizing meetings with Somali and Latino communities. The first Somali parent meeting has already taken place. The Latino meeting will be happening soon.

The state's new focus is on student growth and the achievement gap between white and minority students and between low-income and more affluent students. NCLB focused on having all students doing work at their grade level by 2014.

In results released last week, Kennedy Elementary School was listed as a Priority School, among the 5 percent lowest-performing schools on student growth and achievement gap issues, and Roosevelt Elementary was listed as a Focus School, in the lowest 10 percent of schools in attacking the achievement gap.

The rankings are based on test scores from 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years. New rankings included on 2011-12 testing will be released in late August.

Both of the schools must develop improvement plans to be implemented at the beginning of the next school year.

Part of those plans will include community and parental involvement. Some families have trouble communicating with the school district because parents read neither Somali nor English, and letters from the school often go unread.

Kjergaard and Human Resources Director Liz Fischer met with Somali parents last weekend. About 35 parents attended, he said.

They found that there was a lot of support for the district, and that the community is interested in working together to help their children, Kjergaard said.

Some of the mothers at the meeting were begging for help, Fischer said. "They really want to help their kids, but they don't know how."

Board member Mike Reynolds said it sounded similar to meetings held with some of the early Latino residents of Willmar, when parents were also looking for ways to help their children in school.

Fischer said she has contacted people in the Latino community and a meeting will be scheduled soon.

Some of the ideas proposed now have been discussed over the past year, and many would likely have been implemented in the near future, Kjergaard said after the meeting.

"Having a priority and a focus school made us push that faster," he said.

Nash went over a timeline of efforts over the next few months, which includes meeting monthly with minority parents, developing Continuous School Improvement Plans for all four district buildings, and providing the required paperwork for the state.

Before that, the group of nearly 20 people split into small groups to analyze the data released by the state last week.

They found signs of growth, particularly among Latino students and among low-income students. Black students closed the achievement gap at the middle school, and many groups made gains in reading.

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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