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Willmar, Minn., School District looking for part-timers to help kids reach potential

WILLMAR -- When Willmar school officials embarked on a plan to revitalize their elementary schools, they said they needed the entire community.

At Monday's School Board meeting, they talked about part-time job openings for people who want to help kids reach their full potential.

"We need help," Liz Fischer said at the meeting. The school district has a number of paraprofessional positions open to help implement its new Response to Intervention program at Kennedy and Roosevelt schools.

Both schools were judged to have some of the larger achievement gaps in the state when a new method of measuring state test results was unveiled last spring.

Both are required to develop turnaround plans that will be implemented this fall.

Kennedy is in a group of schools eligible to apply for a federal School Improvement Grant, but the district won't know until late this month whether it's received the money. Willmar's grant seeks nearly $1.5 million over three years.

The district will implement its plans for both schools regardless, Kjergaard said. But the grant for Kennedy would allow the district to do even more.

Response to Intervention sets aside a half hour block of time in each classroom for children to receive individual or small-group attention geared to their needs. Activities would be planned for children at all academic levels during the intervention time.

RTI is one of the major changes students and their parents will notice when the improvement plans are implemented, according to Cheryl Nash, director of teaching and learning.

To implement RTI, the school district will need to add a number of part-time instructors, called interventionists, to work with children under the guidance of a teacher.

Fischer said the district needs a number of interventionists. Many of them would work mornings, when the RTI program will be most active.

The district also needs cultural liaisons, to help the district stay in contact with the Somali and Latino communities in Willmar. The main requirements for those jobs are someone who is "outgoing and bilingual," she said.

Board member Linda Mathiasen suggested asking frequent volunteers if they might be interested in a part-time job. She also suggested trying job-sharing.

Fischer said she would be open to discussing that with people.

The jobs are listed on the district's website but haven't been filled, Fischer said. The number of interventionists will vary depending on circumstances and whether the district gets the SIG grant, but Fischer said as many as 20 could be needed.

Applicants must be eligible to be considered highly qualified to be a paraprofessional, which means they need at least an associate degree and must pass a test.

The district developed the improvement plans and the School Improvement Grant application with the help of committees of teachers from the elementary schools.

The teachers worked hard to make grant application revisions requested by the state, Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said.

"They have really given of their time," he said. "They want us to get that grant."

The welcome gathering for the entire district staff is scheduled for 10 a.m. Aug. 30 in the Willmar Education and Arts Center auditorium. Minnesota Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius is scheduled to speak to the group at noon.

Kjergaard said he hopes that Cassellius will bring news about the SIG for Kennedy when she visits.

The board voted to move ahead with the process of holding an auction to sell the closed Lincoln School building. The building has been for sale for more than a year and has generated little interest, Kjergaard said.

The district pays more than $30,000 a year to heat the building. An architect has indicated it could cost $240,000 to tear down and dispose of the building. That figure could go higher if hazardous materials are uncovered during demolition.

Doug Fenstra, the district's Realtor, said he had spoken to some auctioneers about a possible sale. They expressed concerns about finding a way to get people to the auction and were also concerned that there may be no bidders. Questions about whether the auction will have a reserve and how to advertise the sale would need to be decided.

The board voted to try auctioning the building and asked its Buildings and Grounds Committee to meet with Fenstra to develop a plan.

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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