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Willmar, Minn., School District gets a jump start on its new strategic plan

By Linda Vanderwerf

WILLMAR — Work is already under way on some of the goals included in the Willmar School District’s new strategic plan, even though the final draft isn’t completed.

Other work, including appointing a committee to study the facilities and revamping programs for students learning English, will take place in the near future.

Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard told the Willmar School Board this week that the final draft would be finished after comments are received from board members and the public.

To comment on the plan, go to the district’s website and read the strategic planning documents under News Articles.

The plan in its current form was developed over the past several months through meetings with the public and with school staff.

After brainstorming at each meeting, voting helped narrow the priorities to five, and also helped develop a list of goals under each priority.

The district’s top 5 priorities:

- Lifelong learning through high expectations and rigor with evaluations, constant feedback and recognition.

- Facilities that meet instructional needs through technology and curriculum to support 21st Century learners.

- Align our curriculum vertically and horizontally to standards. This means that the district’s curriculum should be coordinated between classrooms in each grade and also from one grade to the next, to meet state standards.

- Partnerships with our families and communities (especially at the elementary level) to ensure learning for all of our students.

- System-wide restructuring of English Language Learner program.

For each of the main priorities, the district has a top goal along with a set of action steps and a timeline.

Once the work on one goal is finished, the board and administration will set the next goal, Kjergaard said. “I hope we will not just get tied up in what we have right now.”

The timelines for the first set of goals is fairly tight. Some of the action steps have already been implemented, and others are in the works. Others will begin soon.

None of the current timelines go beyond this November, he said.

For the priority about lifelong learning, the goal is to develop an evaluation system for school staff that will include ways of providing feedback. The school staff is already at work researching evaluation systems. A proposal is expected to go to the staff for review by May 1.

The evaluation system would go into effect for the 2014-15 school year.

Kjergaard asked board members to suggest possible members for a facilities task force. Members of the community who are interested in serving on the task force may contact his office.

Kjergaard said he is looking for an architect to facilitate the study. Meetings for the task force are expected to run from May through September, with a final report shared with the public by November.

Some of the work has already been done on curriculum alignment. The state required the two elementary schools to develop improvement plans because of achievement gaps and low test scores for some groups of students. Kjergaard ordered the Middle School and Senior High to develop similar plans.

This spring and summer the district will analyze its resources in reading and math. Next fall, staff training is to be provided to implement improvements in reading and math curriculum.

The goal for building relationships in the community includes hiring cultural liaisons for each school building to help build a bridge between the school district and the Latino and Somali communities.

That work has started this school year in the elementary schools with family engagement nights. That practice is expected to continue into the next school year.

Work on restructuring the English Language Learner program is set to begin this month, as the search begins for a new coordinator. Research on the program is expected to continue through the summer.

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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