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School, community building workforce education partnership

Lance Bagstad, Superintendet of Park Rapids Area Schools, smiles during a presentation Thursday featuring the school district at the Century School Cafetorium. Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission (HCREDC) hosted the luncheon and program as a partnership between the schools and business community. (Kevin Cederstrom / Enterprise)

In a continued effort to build the local workforce Park Rapids Area Schools officials presented to representatives of the business community some of the things the district is working on during a luncheon at the school.  Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Corporation executive director David Collins facilitated the meeting held at the Century School Cafetorium.  This was the second annual school/business luncheon.  

“I was very happy to see a large group of community members attend the business luncheon,” School superintendent Lance Bagstad said following the meeting. “As a school district, we are continually working to build and foster partnerships within the community.”   Bagstad first laid out the district’s World’s Best Workforce Initiatives, what he called the “cornerstone of our programming.”

- All students will meet school readiness goals for pre-school and kindergarten readiness

- All 3rd grade students will achieve grade level literacy

- Close the academic achievement gap n Increase the high school graduation rates

- Provide college and career preparedness activities and support for all students  

“We’re constantly looking at putting value added programs, initiatives into our organization that would benefit our students.”  

Tammy Boyd of Community Education highlighted some of the rapidly expanding programs in pre-school development like Early Childhood Family Education through Community Ed., as well as the school-age childcare program Century Adventures. This program started with eight students and has since grown to 130 students utilizing Century Adventures after school, non-school days and summer programming.  “This program has actually evolved so much we are constantly begging for space,” Boyd said. “We’re really proud of our after school program – it’s serving a need in the community.”  The pre-school programming through Community Education takes the approach of children learning starting at birth and the district preparing these children for kindergarten.  JoLeen DeLaHunt, principal at Century Elementary, said in looking at next year’s kindergarten students, the Class of 2029, it’s hard to imagine what our world will look like in another 13 years.  

“The challenge for educators is how do we prepare kids for a future that is kind of a question mark?” DeLaHunt said. “The cornerstone of the elementary world and the pre-school world is literacy. That has been and always will be my passion.”  DeLaHunt said the pre-school programs are doing well with Head Start, School Readiness and Special Education services all intertwined. The district works with other agencies and services in the community with the goal that when students reach Century School they are ready.  Some of the things the district is doing to close the achievement gap using Kindergarten Readiness, getting them to read well by 3rd grade and Title 1 supplemental math and reading programs.  

“The goal is to make sure they are proficient at that level,” DeLaHunt said.  This year, with over 20 new teachers, Century implemented a mentor program pairing these new teachers with more experienced educators in the school.  Thursday’s meeting with community members from numerous businesses and organizations was intended to show what the district is doing to prepare students for the workforce.  Middle school principalShawn Andress noted how brain-based research shows the developmental stages of birth to age 2, and ages 11-15, as critical in preparing students in education and eventually entering the workforce.  “Middle school is a wild ride and a fun ride,” Andress joked, adding students in middle school need to explore and they need hands-on learning. She said they are working on what the district can do to bring back the hands-on exploring in education.  “We’re preparing these kids for the great unknown.”  

Some of these programs in middle school and entering high school are accelerated math, flipped classroom instruction and exploratory classes.  High school principal Jeff Johnson echoed the theme of preparing students for work beyond high school.  The partnership between the school and  TEAM Industries is a success with two high school students currently going to TEAM and learning how to run the milling machine as an apprenticeship within the high school.

 “It’s our thought, our idea at the high school that every student in their post-secondary career planning that they need to have some type of apprenticeship within the high school.”  It would look different for every student. “The partnership with the community is where we’re really leaning towards,” Johnson said.  

One such connection is the establishment of career exploration classes with a Community Careers Callaboration Coordinator to connect students with professionals in various careers.  Johnson also explained the importance of post-secondary and career readiness, business and civic partnerships planning, and opportunities presented through the Alternative Learning Center (ALC).  Added this year to the ALC program is day care to give students who may otherwise have dropped out of school the opportunity to focus on school work.  

“We have to always be looking at the next step,” Johnson said.  High school juniors and seniors have the opportunity to take college credits and depending on credits earned could enter college as sophomores after high school graduation.  

John Schumacher, assistant high school principal and activities director, talked about the importance of making connections with students to improve the graduation rate.  The district implemented a Catch-Up hour in the high school where teachers are assigned to help students struggling with a class to get caught up and back on track. And for students doing well, the high school added enrichment classes to provide additional educational opportunities.  When asked what some of the challenges are for the district moving forward, Bagstad said one key challenge is teacher recruitment, particularly finding special education teachers.  Another challenge, Bagstad said, is financially and looking ahead. He said administrators and staff are working hard to plan and prepare the district to be sustainable well into the future.  

Another question addressed open-enrollment with neighboring school districts picking up students in Park Rapids. Bagstad explained open-enrollment is an option families certainly have and send students out of district for various reasons. He ensured those at the meeting Park Rapids enrollment is stable, averaging about 120 students per grade and overall enrollment over 1,500 K-12.  The district at one time had 2,000 students. Johnson said in planning the next few years they look at the 419 high school students now and project by 2021 they could reach 523 students in grades 9-12.  “The luncheon allowed us in the school district to be able to communicate current initiatives as well as provide perspectives into the future,” Bagstad said. “We are always looking to work with our partners to make our community better for all.”

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