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Willmar, Minn., school leadership calling for timely evaluation of facilities

Students wait to get on the bus following classes Tuesday at Kennedy Elementary School in Willmar. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR — As enrollment climbs, the Willmar School District may soon need to evaluate its facility needs, Supt. Jerry Kjergaard said this week.

The number of kindergarten and elementary-age children is growing beyond projections, creating increasing challenges with classroom and school space, he told members of the Willmar School Board on Monday.

“We need to talk about it at some point in the fairly near future,” he said.

According to data collected at the beginning of January, enrollment now stands at 4,206 students in K through 12. That’s a gain of about 20 students since early November.

Altogether, the school district has about 80 more youngsters than it did at the start of the school year in September.

It’s a sharp turnaround from just a few years ago when enrollment was shrinking and the district’s smaller, older school buildings were being closed.

School officials had expected that enrollment would continue to slightly decline and hover at somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000 students. That assumption also is contained in this year’s budget, which is based on an average daily enrollment of 3,395.

Much of the current new growth is occurring at the kindergarten and elementary levels, Kjergaard said.

District officials expected around 325 kindergarten children in the 2012-13 school year, he said. “This year we’re significantly above that.”

Classrooms are becoming increasingly crowded, he said. “The two elementary buildings are really, really tight.”

District officials don’t have any concrete recommendations yet on how to deal with the rising school population. That will wait until there has been a chance to study the issue more closely, Kjergaard said. “We’ll try and make some decisions based on where we think we’re going to be next year. … We’ll just have to see what we can do.”

The School Board also is in the midst of developing a new strategic plan. At a meeting last month to gather comments and ideas from the public, class size emerged as one of the issues that parents wanted to see addressed, along with closing the achievement gap and hiring more minority teachers and administrators. The strategic plan is expected to be completed early this year.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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