Work on strategic plan begins in the Willmar, Minn., School District

WILLMAR -- The Willmar School Board began to take a closer look at how it does business this week, the beginning of a process that will lead to a new strategic plan for the school district's future.

Willmar Schools Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard

WILLMAR -- The Willmar School Board began to take a closer look at how it does business this week, the beginning of a process that will lead to a new strategic plan for the school district's future.

One of the next steps will be a public meeting to discuss the district's strategic plan from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday in the rehearsal hall at the Willmar Education and Arts Center.

Consultant Bruce Miles, of Big River Group of St. Cloud, will facilitate the public meeting and will conduct a series of meetings at school buildings to touch base with the district's 700 employees.

Miles met with current board members and three who were elected on Nov. 6, as well as top administrators to talk about some of the basics of a strategic plan.

Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said the current plan is five to six years old, "and it's time to look at it again."


Miles said he would lead the board and the rest of the district through a process that will result in a new plan early next year. He said he usually recommends developing four to six goals with a specific timetable and plans to achieve each.

The discussions would also help the board learn ways to manage the plan effectively and to make its discussions of academic achievement and other issues more productive, Miles said.

Kjergaard said the district's current plan was developed with broad goals and a five-year action plan. He expects the new plan to be more specific and have shorter timelines. The board will be able to make adjustments as short-term plans are completed.

Miles is a former teacher, school administrator and college professor who now works as a planning consultant with business, nonprofit and government clients. He praised the board for involving new members early in the process, even though they will not take office until January. "Transition between new and old members rarely happens," he said.

At the first meeting this week, Miles took the board through discussions of issues they believed were going well or not working out as well as expected.

Some issues were on multiple lists, with board and administrators listing curriculum as a strength, because of increasing alignment with state standards, and a weakness because budget problems in the past delayed updates. The one-to-one iPad initiative at the Senior High was seen as a plus that has gone better than expected. The group listed challenges in the English Language Learner, Title I and special education programs.

Miles provided reading material about the qualities of effective school boards and warning signs of a board that is micromanaging its staff. "I don't assume you are micromanaging," he said. "I throw it out there to consider."

Earlier this month, a two-question online survey was posted on the district's website. It was answered by 146 members of the public and 82 employees.


Miles said the survey answers contained many thoughtful comments about the district's future from residents and staff. He has conducted such surveys many times, he said, and they are sometimes an opportunity for people to vent their feelings anonymously. In some organizations, the answers can be "radioactive," he said.

But in Willmar, "nobody took a shot," he said. "People here clearly want to see change, but they also see things working well."

The district contracted with Miles' Big River Group at a cost of $10,300 to help facilitate the strategic plan discussion.

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: or phone 320-214-4340
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