Three participants, including press, turned out for a community listening session Monday at Century Middle School.

“I appreciate you coming out in the rain,” said Superintendent Lance Bagstad, suggesting that weather may have affected attendance and that the district may schedule an additional listening session in Park Rapids.

The workshops were planned by ICS Consulting, Inc. to gather stakeholder opinion about educational facility needs at Park Rapids Area Schools.

The firm was hired by the Park Rapids School Board in April to study how changes to school facilities could help meet the goals of the district’s recently updated strategic plan.

According to ICS educational consultants Glenn Chiodo and Lynn Dyer and project development specialist Jason Splett, they have also been meeting with the school board, administration, teachers and staff, students, business and civic leaders, the fine arts community and local clergy to develop a long-term plan to improve classroom education and engage community stakeholders in the process.

All three consultants have a personal connection to Park Rapids Schools. Chiodo is a retired educator and served before Bagstad as superintendent. Dyer, a retired teacher, is married to a Park Rapids graduate. Splett, previously a facility director at the school, is also married to a district staff member.

Besides listening sessions, Chiodo said, the team’s study will assess the school facilities’ educational adequacy, structural fitness and area demographics.

Chiodo said each group of stakeholders sees things from a unique perspective. For example, “students, generally, have no adult filter, so they’re going to tell you what they think,” he said. “What we’ve found is they’re usually spot on. They usually know exactly what is and isn’t working.”

He said that each discussion group’s responses to the consultants questions, written on sticky notes, are collected in an album and given unfiltered to the decision makers, in this case the school board.

“There is no right or wrong answer,” said Chiodo. “There is no path that we are trying to drive anybody down.”

Participants’ responses to questions Chiodo and Dyer asked included:

  • Positive things going on in the district: Middle school Camps and Cabins; strong sports; extracurriculars; the elementary literacy program; progressive teachers; the high school CTE program and PAES lab; Community Education.

  • Challenges facing the district: Classroom space; bullying.

  • Headlines you would like to see about the school 10 years from now: Higher grad rate; Grads are changing the world and curing cancer; Diverse student body excelling at reading, math and arts; FFA wins leadership contest; Award-winning robotics team; Welcoming atmosphere raises school census by 200 percent; AA degrees available here.

  • If you won the lottery, what would you give the school: LED lights in the auditorium; science and technology curriculum and equipment; concert hall; free musical instruments for all students; greenhouse; home ec classes.

  • Advice you would give the school board and administration: Listen to the kids; Be open-minded; Plan long-term; Build something that looks nice.

  • The best way for the district to keep you informed: Facebook, email.

  • The district’s 10 greatest facility needs: Updates to auditorium; classrooms at Century School; more phy ed activity space at the high school; ag program and greenhouse; middle school industrial tech classes; increased parking at Century; improved parent drop-off traffic flow; more exercise equipment; increased elementary janitorial staff; and moving daycare from the high school back to the Frank White building.

Using sticky dots, the participants voted to prioritize these facility needs. Tied as the top priorities were the auditorium, Century classrooms, parking and traffic flow with three votes each, followed by agriculture/greenhouse and middle school industrial tech with two votes each and elementary janitorial staff with one vote.

Chiodo said other groups were asked different questions. For example, the school board was asked what their expectations were; students were asked what a diploma means to them, who they are competing against, and what they would want younger kids to have that they didn’t have going through the school system.

Participants at Monday night’s listening session included the mother of a Park Rapids graduate, two middle schoolers and an elementary student, and a community member/taxpayer whose children are no longer in school.

Another community listening session is planned for 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 23 at the Osage Community Center.