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Willmar schools work on attendance boundaries for new elementary building

This map shows where the new school will be located. School officials have said they hope to have the new attendance boundaries drawn by this fall, so families will know where their children will be going to school in the 2017-18 school year. (TRIBUNE FILE)1 / 2
Jeff Holm2 / 2

WILLMAR — The process of drawing new attendance boundaries for Willmar’s elementary schools has started and will probably be finished in the fall.

The Willmar School Board met last week to discuss guidelines for developing the plan. The discussion was led by Dennis Cheesebrow, founder of TeamWorks International, a consulting firm in the Twin Cities.

The school district currently operates two elementary schools and will be opening a third in August 2017.

The school is being built with funds from a $52.35 million bond adopted by the district’s voters in a referendum a year ago.

Bids for the first phase of the new elementary school will be opened at 2 p.m. May 26. Groundbreaking at the site east of Lakeland Drive is scheduled for 4 p.m. June 13.

School officials have said they hope to have the new attendance boundaries drawn by this fall, so families will know where their children will be going to school in the 2017-18 school year.

Cheesebrow discussed the method he would recommend the board use to develop and approve new boundaries. His main point was that one group should not do both things.

The board will approve the plan but should not develop it, he said. Cheesebrow said school administrators and other staff will be a design team working with a “stakeholders” team of 30 to 40 people who live in the district.

The stakeholders group will include parents and other people living in the community. Board members and principals will each recommend members of the stakeholders team.

Cheesebrow suggested two requirements: members must live in the district and they must not have children who are open-enrolled in another district.

In addition to facilitating discussions about the elementary attendance areas, TeamWorks International is working with the district to develop a new strategic plan for the future and will provide the district with a demographics database.

The database will allow the district to keep up with demographic changes and to even be a little ahead when looking at the impact of a major change, like a new business coming to town, he said.

Superintendent Jeff Holm told the board he felt it was important to have TeamWorks help sort through demographic data and develop the database.

“My concern would be that we could make educated guesses without this information, but they would be guesses,” he said. “In the long term, it may not serve us well.”

Board members and top administrators worked in small groups to together last week to develop guiding principles for the work.

In a guiding change document to be provided to the design team, board members created three lists — why they were redrawing boundaries, what results they would consider unacceptable and the results they seek.

In the “why” list, the group put preparation for a new school at the top of the list. Goals included maintaining demographic and program equity among elementary schools, keeping students in the district/attracting students from other districts, creating the feel of neighborhood schools, and ensuring that rural students have a bus travel time of less than one hour. Board members said they want the process to be seen as fair and reasonable and to be stable for at least five years.

Other desired results would be to maximize transportation safety while maintaining a budget-neutral transportation plan.

Unacceptable results would be boundaries that would lead to racial or geographic imbalances.

The board’s next step will be to approve a final version of the guiding change document and turn it over to the design team and community group to develop the boundaries, Cheesebrow said.

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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

(320) 214-4340
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