Herald and Journal, June 26, 2000

Positive outlook for first step in ag partnership

By Andrea Vargo

Enthusiastic, but cautious, encouragement was given for the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted School District (HLWW) to move ahead with the investigative part of planning for a partnership with the University of Minnesota (U of M).

The vision is for an agricultural education/research/outreach program, that will bring teachers, student teachers, and students from the U of M to work with HLWW students.

Until the planning process is complete, there is no way to place a dollar figure on the project, said Superintendent Riley Hoheisel.

Many things could take place at such a facility. Hands-on work for high school students could fit in with the graduation standards, he said.

Since everyone at the meeting seemed interested in the project, they concentrated on the negatives in order to remain realistic about the effort, money, and facilities needed.

"Is the district using this (partnership) as a logo or magnet to entice more students," asked Gary Leske, Ph.D., representative for the ag education department at the U of M, "or will the district go ahead with improving its ag program anyway?"

The district intends to add another ag teacher, as soon as there is room to have a classroom, said Hoheisel.

"Is there support in the community for this project?" asked Pam Koenen, president of the Ag Education Association and Howard Lake graduate.

There has been one article in the paper, so few know much about it, said Allen Glessing, local farmer and FFA alumni member.

The proposed new high school is not dependent on the ag partnership, as the partnership project is a very recent proposal, Hoheisel said.

On the positive side, State Senator Steve Dille-R, Dassel, said, "Since you are already excellent (FFA), and if you take an 80-acre farm (to improve the program) you are setting a new standard."

"There is a changing face to agriculture in our state. It has changed the last 15 years, and it will change more in the future," said State Representative Tony Kielkucki-R, Lester Prairie.

"How can we encourage (young people) to go into agriculture?" he asked.

"We need to look at the service aspect of how we can help our farmers," said Kielkucki.

The general feeling seemed to be that there are many opportunities to utilize a program like this, particularly in the areas of environmental science, biology, botany, horticulture, agriculture, as well as others.

Many organizations from the Central Minnesota Inititave Foundation, Center for School Change, Land O' Lakes, USDA-Rural Development, and more are available for grant money to plan and implement the program, Hoheisel told the group.

The next step is to organize a design team that can put together a planning grant and start the process.

Hoheisel got commitments from Dille and Kielkucki to be involved as their time permits, and a promise of contact people at the U of M from Alan Hunter, Ph.D.., associate dean for agricultural science, food, and environmental science at the U of M.

In addition, Hunter suggested the school hire another ag teacher and find room for the classes, as proof it intends to go ahead with improving the program.

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