Like every Minnesota community, it’s no secret that we have been tested by the COVID-19 pandemic, and I take great pride in how Park Rapids has risen to the challenge. From a safe distance, our friends, family and neighbors have found creative ways to lift each other up.

Many of you are eager to know what school will look like this fall. While it is still too early to say, school districts in Minnesota have been advised to plan for three scenarios: a return to in-school learning, distance learning from home and hybrid learning, where students attend school part-time and complete their schoolwork at home.

We are working hard to develop plans for all three scenarios and anticipate more direction from the Minnesota Department of Education and Gov. Walz before the end of the month. In the meantime, we are carefully monitoring updates from public health leaders and state and local government.

No matter what the next year holds, our district is focused on ensuring a high-quality education for our students. This means not only looking ahead to the fall but planning for our long-term future as well by addressing the challenges of our aging school buildings.

But before we move forward, we needed to hear from you.

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In that spirit, our district retained research firm Morris Leatherman Company to conduct a scientific telephone survey of 400 residents. We also created and promoted an online version of the survey open to all residents in the district.

After reviewing the results of the surveys, it’s clear that Park Rapids area residents value our schools. In fact, 85 percent rate the quality of education provided by our school district as “excellent” or “good.” Our community recognizes the importance of strong schools to support a vibrant economy, including attracting new residents and businesses.

A majority of Park Rapids area residents (57 percent) said they would support a potential school referendum that would improve and modernize our school facilities. Three-quarters of respondents said November is the right time to put forward a proposal for voters to consider.

When asked about the most serious issue facing our district, the top response was concern about COVID-19, followed by quality of education and facilities. Other findings from the survey included:

  • 87 percent believe our community receives a good value from its investment in local public schools.

  • 85 percent believe the district made a good decision to build Century School in 2000.

  • 55 percent believe that with the bonds to build Century School about to be retired, it's time to invest in the next set of building needs.

Community members prioritized updating HVAC and mechanical systems, improving vocational education, adding secured entryways and improving science classroom space at Park Rapids Area High School.

I want to thank everyone who participated in these important surveys. Your guidance is critical as we consider our options. With this feedback, our school board is developing a final plan that could be proposed to the community on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Despite the uncertainty we face, I am excited about the future of our district. We are stronger when all voices are part of the conversation, so I encourage you to keep sharing your questions and ideas. You can reach me directly at 218-237-6501 or lbagstad@parkrapids.k12.mn.us.