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Progress Park Rapids examines people and talent, collaboration between community and school

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Editor's note: This is the second in a series of articles examining each section of a Progress Park Rapids indicator report. The articles will appear in the Park Rapids Enterprise each Wednesday over the next several weeks.

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Progress Park Rapids will initiate a collaborative community effort to improve graduation rates and also undertaken an initiative to strengthen the connections between the community and its alumni.

The people and talent section of a recent indicator report looks at the relationship between the school and the community.

According to the indicator report, available at the Web site, www.progressparkrapids.com, a tightening of the labor force will be felt in Park Rapids.

Between 2005 and 2035, a significant decrease is projected in younger age groups and a large increase in older age groups. This will change the labor force availability and composition.

David Collins, Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission executive director, said the community needs to figure out ways to work on more school to work programs, such as an "entrepreneur for a day" program.

"I'd like to see us build a relationship with the technical school out of Detroit Lakes," Collins said, referring to Minnesota State Community and Technical College.

The report indicates Park Rapids can do better with the talent it already has. Almost a quarter of our high-school students are not graduating from high school on time, according to the report.

The school board set a goal about three years ago to work toward a graduation rate of 100 percent, said Park Rapids Superintendent Glenn Chiodo.

Improving graduation rates will be a community effort and this has already begun.

"Communities over the past several years have sort of embraced the idea of the partnerships that need to take place as far as education in the community," Chiodo said.

Park Rapids Area School District already utilizes volunteers in several capacities. Grandparents come into the elementary school to read to students, for example.

There is also already collaboration between the community and schools used as part of a geography curriculum. Students have created a Web site for the city of Park Rapids and learned about city government operations in the process. The Web site will continue to be maintained by the school and updated by students.

"We need to keep promoting these opportunities," Chiodo said. "The students can learn so much."

The indicator report has identified areas where improvement is needed and Progress Park Rapids will move forward from there. The group has developed three initiatives for the people and talent section:

-Initiate a collaborative community effort to improve our graduation rates and our rates of post-secondary participation. Maximizing our own human capacities is the best way to enhance our workforce and talent position. These are tough challenges. Success will come about when these goals are community goals, not just school goals.

-Undertake an initiative to strengthen the connections between the community and its "alumni." Park Rapids will be successful at retaining talent of all ages (and attracting back talented former residents) to the extent that it can develop deep connections between those people and the community. There are ways to do that for existing residents including mentorships between people new to the work force and those retired, internships and civic engagement efforts. Creating this connection with "community alumni" who have left could be done through the use of new telecommunication technology.

-Target improvements that make Park Rapids attractive to those future workers with knowledge and skills. What does that type of community look like? It has a broad range of educational, health, recreational and cultural amenities. Skilled and talented people have options and are looking for great places to work, live and play.

The group will continue to work on these initiatives and utilize "champions," or resources. These contacts are listed at www.progressparkrapids.com.

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