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Planning for new Willmar school: Lakeland administrators prepare for opportunity of a lifetime

Linda Vanderwerf / Tribune Administrators of the new Lakeland Elementary School in Willmar are working together in this small Roosevelt Elementary School office this summer. Principal Gretchen Baumgarn, left, and Assistant Principal Melissa Wilson started their new jobs July 1 and are planning for the new year and the January move to Lakeland when it opens.

WILLMAR — Lakeland Elementary Principal Gretchen Baumgarn and Assistant Principal Melissa Wilson started their new jobs July 1, another big step toward the opening of Willmar Public Schools' new school.

Lakeland had been scheduled to open next month, but construction delays pushed the opening back to January. The school district plans to open the building as soon as it's ready. The new school was approved in a 2015 bond referendum to alleviate overcrowding in the two existing schools.

Lakeland's students and staff will start the school year at Roosevelt and Kennedy elementary schools. They will be with the same teachers all year and will move together to the new school in January. "We told the teachers, the class will be a family, and you'll move together as a family," Wilson added.

With the delay in opening, the Lakeland administrators are spending the summer planning on two tracks — before the move and after the move.

As they talked in a Roosevelt conference room this week, they smiled and laughed describing some of the daunting tasks ahead of them. Both are Willmar grads. Baumgarn was previously dean of students at Willmar Middle School, and Wilson was assistant principal at Roosevelt.

"A lot of things keep coming up," Baumgarn said, but talking about the obstacles didn't seem to dampen their enthusiasm.

Opening a new school is "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," she added.

For now, Baumgarn and Wilson are sharing Wilson's small office at Roosevelt. Once the school year starts, they will alternate schools as they split their time between Roosevelt and Kennedy.

Students, though they will be in different buildings, will be treated as Lakeland students, a "school within a school," Wilson said. Each building will have a separate open house for Lakeland students, giving families a chance to ask questions and meet the staff.

Teachers learned their school assignments in May, and families received letters earlier this month confirming which school their children will attend this fall.

Letters about teacher assignments will go out in August. They have made progress on that, Baumgarn said, but they will continue to make adjustments for families moving from one attendance area to another in the district.

In assigning students to Roosevelt or Kennedy, they kept siblings in the same building to make things easier for parents. They worked with the district's two bus companies on planning transportation for the two parts of the school year.

Furniture for the new school has been ordered and is on its way, Baumgarn said. The budget for the school includes funding for furnishings and equipment, as well as equipment for two playgrounds.

When it's time for the move to Lakeland, teachers will bring along classroom supplies and curriculum materials, and the new furniture will be waiting for them.

"We'll make it as comfortable and seamless as it can be for kids and parents," Baumgarn said.

A mid-year move is not ideal, but she called it a "short-term inconvenience. ... In the long run it's going to be a great place to learn."

Workers are making good progress on the new school, they said. Installation of windows and plumbing is underway, as is painting and tile work. Landscaping is expected to start this fall. The principals have had two tours so far.

"It's going to be a beautiful building," Wilson said.

Families should have heard from the district about school assignments and again in August with teacher assignments, Baumgarn said. If they do not, they should contact the district office.

This summer, Baumgarn and Wilson said families with questions will find it easier to reach them through their work emails: and

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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