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ISD 181 Viewpoint: Partners for educational excellence

Laine D. Larson

Wow! Where has the first month of school gone? We have had a very successful start to the school year and are looking forward to all of the exciting events ahead of us in the coming months.

Brainerd Public Schools have a lot to be proud of as we continue to promote innovation, opportunity and success for students, while partnering with the community to pursue educational excellence for all. I am continually impressed by how much our community residents value the role Brainerd Public Schools play in our community. I've heard from people whose families have had three and even four generations attend Brainerd Public Schools and from others who have been drawn to our community by its natural beauty, incredible job opportunities, and the wonderful environment available for raising their family.

As our district team visits with local residents, through our community listening sessions, we have had people ask us about what role the original Cuningham report plays in the ongoing comprehensive facilities planning process. I'd like to address that question for you.

The Board of Education is developing a plan, incorporating community input and independent expert analysis, to make the necessary investments in our schools. The Cuningham report, completed in 2016, was part of the expert analysis of school needs and identification of potential solutions. The report represents a year of intensive work of community members and school leaders who pinpointed needs and established principles for school facilities planning. These principles guide our current six-phase process, while ensuring commitment to excellence, support for 21st century learning and thoughtful stewardship of resources. The Cuningham report was never intended to be the final plan, but it has provided a solid foundation for continued facilities planning.

The Board of Education is currently reviewing and prioritizing the needs that have been identified across our district. The final plan will be based on information that has been gathered while incorporating additional information from community members, staff, and surveys that are currently underway.

The board is refining proposals for our elementary schools, which include some complex pieces to ensure we meet our current needs and best position our schools for the future. There is continued discussion surrounding a potential new elementary school in Baxter, with the current Baxter Elementary becoming a centralized location to comprehensively meet our growing demand for early childhood education. There is also more information needed to determine if renovation or replacement of Harrison Elementary best achieves our long-term needs. Beyond this, options are being reviewed for all of our elementary schools to address safety and security, additional space for classrooms and other renovations that enhance our ability to effectively educate our students.

While only a few improvements are needed to improve safety and traffic flow at Forestview Middle School, many improvements and opportunities have been identified at Brainerd High School. Celebrating its 50th Anniversary in 2018, BHS has served our students and community well for the past half century. However, a vision is being developed that best positions this community asset for the next 50 years. This vision includes gaining efficiencies by having all of our students in grades 9-12 under one roof. It also includes renovation and enhancements to provide our student with the robust opportunities they deserve in academics, arts, activities, and athletics.

Covering over 500 square miles, educating nearly 7,000 students in 12 buildings, Brainerd Public Schools is a large school district. Given the many moving parts and all of the information to collect and consider, it's clear that school facilities planning for Brainerd Public Schools is a very complex project. That is why the school board is taking the time they need to make sure they have all of the information necessary to bring the right plan forward.

The school board believes district stakeholders have the most important input to share in the facilities planning process. This input will continue to be valuable as we begin narrowing in on a plan for the future of the schools in our community. Input gathering continues through a scientific telephone survey and a new online community survey that you can find linked on the www.blueprint181.org website. We invite you between now and Friday, Oct. 18, 2017, to complete the online survey.

I would like to thank the community members who have already provided their input and I encourage all local residents to engage with us as we work together to develop the best plan for our district's schools.

Please visit www.blueprint181.org for additional information, to review up-to-date news on the school facilities planning process and to take the online survey. Also share your thoughts by emailing the district at blueprint181@isd181.org or by calling 218-454-6900. I look forward to hearing your ideas on how we can partner as a community to make our schools even stronger!

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