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Business community speaks about school plan

Brainerd Public Schools met with members of the local business community last week to talk about the district's comprehensive long-range facilities plan.

Brainerd Public Schools met with members of the local business community last week to talk about the district's comprehensive long-range facilities plan.

The Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce hosted two listening sessions on May 24 for its members to meet with district officials and learn where the district is headed. The sessions were similar to a series of nine community listening sessions the district had throughout the month of May at its various buildings.

When asked how the business community and school district can help each other, attendees suggested exploring a public/private partnership for a new swimming pool facility and increased collaboration between the district and Central Lakes College. Attendees said it would be helpful for businesses to be able to interact directly with students, instead of going through teachers. They asked the district to keep local contractors in mind during the eventual facility construction process.

Career fairs were suggested as a good option to bring businesses into the schools and talk to students about different career options. Another attendee mentioned the success of Bridges Career Academy and Workplace Connection and suggested expanding the program.

The business community often looks for ways to build real-life experience into the classroom experience, said Matt Kilian, Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce president. He said he'd like to see school facilities designed to facilitate more partnerships with the business community, which would create an outpouring of support from the business community.

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Any facility decisions should be thoughtful and reflect what the community really needs, said Sue Hilgart, program manager for the East Region of the Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program at the Brainerd Workforce Center.

"Stay with that thoughtfulness of what the community needs," Hilgart said. "And what really limited resources can provide."

When prompted to provide advice for the Brainerd School Board and administration, attendees said to focus on the goals of the plan and make the case a strong school system plays a vital role in the future of the community. The district should find a way to measure how improved classroom facilities would affect academic performance, attendees suggested. It would be helpful to show how students are doing six years after graduating high school, attendees said, instead of just looking at post-secondary enrollment and graduation rates for BHS graduates.

Strengths of the school district include its reputation, dedicated teachers and staff, neighborhood schools, extracurricular choices for students, the strong connection with the business community and the Bridges Career Academy program, attendees said.

Community challenges include poverty, high taxes, a shortage of qualified workers, a lack of dynamic civic leadership, shrinking tax base and a growing elderly population, attendees said. School district challenges include students in poverty, a lack of space in elementary schools, too many school locations, a high percentage of students with special needs and too much instruction focused on reading out loud from textbooks, attendees said.

The Brainerd School Board approved the comprehensive long-range facilities plan in November of 2016. The recommendations in the plan include a combination of right-sizing, renovation, reuse, repurposing and replacement.

Right-sizing involves making sure the school has the right number of students, based on the available space in the school. For example, the right-size capacity for Riverside Elementary School is 500 students, but the current enrollment is 620 students, according to the district.

Visit www.bit.ly/2fsCJWZ to view a final draft of the comprehensive long-range facilities plan.

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