MACCRAY 'yes' group sees improved opportunities in single campus

CLARA CITY -- Supporters of a bond issue in the MACCRAY School District say the district can improve the educational opportunities it provides students and, in the long run, its economic viability by building a new elementary school and auditoriu...

"Vote Yes"
Kooper and Kash Bourne hold "Vote Yes" signs for the upcoming MACCRAY referendum. Their parents Terese and Nathan Bourne are part of a group promoting a "yes" vote on the $38.8 million bond issue in front of voters in a Feb. 7 referendum. (Tom Cherveny / Tribune)

CLARA CITY - Supporters of a bond issue in the MACCRAY School District say the district can improve the educational opportunities it provides students and, in the long run, its economic viability by building a new elementary school and auditorium as part of a single, unified campus.

More than two dozen district residents, most of them parents of school-aged children, have joined to promote a "yes" vote on a $38.8 million bond in the Feb. 7 referendum.

District voters had turned down a previous bond issue for a central campus, but there had not been an organized group supporting the proposal, according to Jess Smith of Raymond.

She was instrumental in getting the MACCRAY Yes group together. She said she hopes they can get the information out there this time around. They have posted "Vote Yes" signs about the district, purchased advertisements in local media and are active on social media, Smith said.

With two children in the district, Smith said, the discrepancy in class sizes between the East and West elementary schools in Raymond and Maynard initially motivated her. Elementary students are not getting the same opportunities, she and other committee members said.


Dividing resources between two schools comes at a cost to children, according to Erik and Gretchen Sietsma, parents to two children who have received speech therapy services. The district could not offer all of the services at both elementaries, which meant their children had to go back and forth between the campuses to receive them.

And daily, staff people see windshield time traveling the 14 miles from one elementary school to the other. There are a number of staff, from social workers and the gifted and talented coordinator to the music teacher and elementary principal, who must divide their time between buildings on opposite ends of the district.

"It's the best thing for kids,'" said Jess Smith's husband, Brandon, in explaining his interest in a single campus. He said the increased efficiency of operating one campus instead of three will benefit taxpayers too.

He and committee members question whether it makes economic sense to invest upwards of $19 million in aged elementary school buildings and the excess space they represent.

"If we are going to pay taxes, I guess I would rather pay taxes for something that is going to benefit the district in the long run and fix a lot of the problem," said Mark Kasella, a committee member.

Most of all, committee members said, they are motivated by what a single campus can provide.

They support the construction of a 500-seat auditorium.

"It's a big issue for me,'" said Denise Smith, the district's community education and student success coordinator. Her own children "got the short end of the stick" due to the lack of an auditorium for the performing arts, she said.


She is among a number of educators in the MACCRAY system who believe that locating all of the elementary instructors at one location will benefit students. There's more opportunity for experienced instructors to mentor new teachers, said Brenda Schwitters, a sixth-grade instructor in the district. She's always had just one section at her location, and consequently limited opportunity to collaborate one-on-one with her counterparts, she said.

Nikki Niemeyer, a MACCRAY graduate, was switched from the East Elementary to the West Elementary during her elementary school years. She attributes some of the disparity in educational opportunities to the fact that instructors are not able to work together in one location. "It only makes sense,'" she said.

Committee members point to other area districts, such as Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg and Lakeview in Cottonwood, as examples of where a single-campus approach has both provided educational opportunities and attracted new students. They believe a single campus would benefit MACCRAY in the same way, and attract open enrollment students from the Willmar area. There's only a two-mile difference in the trip from Willmar to Kerkhoven versus the trip from Willmar to Clara City.

The challenge right now, they said, is that the three-campus system has been so long a part of the MACCRAY experience that many do not realize what could be achieved with a single campus.

"It goes back to the same thing," said Adam Jensen, a fifth-grade instructor and coach. "Is it working? Kind of. Could it be way better? It could be way better," he said.

Committee members acknowledge that a move to a single-campus system could lead some students on the west and east ends of the district to enroll elsewhere. They said they understand the emotions that many feel about keeping elementary schools in their communities.

But they said the greater harm will come in the long run if the district doesn't act. There is a day of reckoning coming when the district will not be able to justify the economics of maintaining two separate elementary sites with old buildings. And, educational opportunities will be lost, they argue.

"We will lose students if we don't do something," Schwitters said.

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