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In-person classes going well for Willmar Schools, Superintendent Jeff Holm says

Several weeks after students returned to full-time in-person learning, school is going well, and case numbers are very low, the superintendent told the Willmar School Board Monday.

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Willmar Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Holm is shown Monday, March 16, 2020, at the Willmar Education and Arts Center. Erica DIschino / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — In-person classes are going well in Willmar Public Schools, Superintendent Jeff Holm said at the School Board meeting Monday.

It was the board’s first meeting in person since March 2020. The board moved meetings to the rehearsal hall in the Willmar Education and Arts Center, because it allowed more room for social distancing than the usual boardroom in that building.

Case numbers in the school district have been very low since moving to full in-person instruction a few weeks ago, Holm said.

However, “that does not mean we are reverting to what we had a year ago,” he added. Safety precautions like masking and social distancing are continuing.

More than 500 of the district’s employees have been vaccinated against COVID-19 with at least one shot. A few people who want to be vaccinated are still waiting for appointments.

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Experience with distance learning has raised questions about using e-learning on snow days, Holm said.

The district isn’t qualified yet to do that, because there’s a procedure to be followed with the Department of Education, he said.

A survey of members of Education Willmar showed that the local union members are interested in it, but the district needs to work out details of how the move could affect other employees.

The board would have to approve a plan for e-learning snow days and make a public announcement before the beginning of the school year, Holm said.

While it’s time to begin preparing a budget for next year, Holm said, the Legislature has not yet decided how to distribute pandemic aid to schools.

“It makes it very challenging in terms of developing and preparing a budget,” Holm said.

The federal government has sent pandemic aid to states, which have been responsible for distributing the money to schools and local governments.

Also during Monday's meeting, the board approved curriculum updates for four departments — agriculture, business, family and consumer science and world languages.

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Construction of a greenhouse is planned. Textbooks and other teaching materials are being updated, as well as technology, said Carrie Thomas, director of teaching and learning.

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Carrie Thomas, director of teaching and learning for Willmar Public Schools

Willmar is unusual in offering in-person instruction of Mandarin Chinese, Thomas said. There are no high-school level texts for Mandarin, but some supplemental materials were found.

Instructor Todd Lynum develops most of his own teaching materials to align with state standards, she said.

The board approved a resolution accepting gifts and donations, including a $40,000 donation to the elementary Child Guides program from the Otto Bremer Trust. Kandiyohi Power Cooperative donated $2,000 to the Child Guides; David and Jennifer Seuvert and Whitney Music Store donated a half-size cello to the elementary orchestra program; Kimberly Canion donated $150 to the Cardinal Care Fund; and Lakeland Broadcasting donated $500 for the purchase of winter coats for students in need.

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
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