Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, May 10, 1999

LP School begins series of meetings about future

By Luis Puga and Jane Otto

Lester Prairie School Board began a series of meetings involving community input on the future of the school last week.

Meetings were Wednesday and Thursday, with two more meetings to come tonight and Tuesday.

The meetings are an effort to get the community's input on long range planning for the district and are, in part, inspired by the suggestion of Professor Prudence Gushwa from Minnesota State University at Mankato.

Gushwa, a former teacher and school administrator, is completing a long-range planning study for the district. The study has included a number of interviews, discussions with the board, and surveys.

LP Curriculum

The first meeting gave Lester Prairie citizens an introduction to the districts curriculum and was dubbed "Good new about Lester Prairie Schools."

Presentations were made by elementary school Principal Richard Hartshorn, high school Dean of Students Joe Miller, and Superintendent James Redfield. Redfield went over the programs the district's Early Childhood Family Education Program. (ECFE) The program has a newborn to kindergarten program that started this year. The ECFE program in general has had good participation from Lester Prairie citizens, as well as Winsted.

Redfield also highlighted the many offerings of the Community Education program, including the many sports camps.

Other programs include an open library and campus, and a hands-on science program.

Elementary School

Hartshorn presented information about the elementary school. He said that presently there are about 300 students in the school with a staff of 20 teachers, eight para-professional, and a secretary.

Hartshorn told the audience about the technology the school uses. He noted that the elementary school classrooms have been wired with two connections for the Internet and that the students have access to a computer lab, which the district is updating.

He also noted the school's media center that is available to the whole district and that the students have made use of the schools interactive television (ITV), communicating with NASA and students in California.

Of the curriculum, he noted that the elementary school teaches a core curriculum, concentrating on math and reading. He said that the school is in the process of developing a gifted program, and will continue to do so.

High School

Joe Miller distributed a daily schedule and showed audience members that there is one classroom for one hour on one day that is open.

He emphasized that the high school has had to get creative about using space, noting that study hall is at times held in the lobby.

Miller said that the high school currently meets or exceeds the standards necessary to prepare students for the next level of education. He pointed out that students have the opportunity to take special senior English classes, and accelerated math courses up to both trigonometry or calculus.

He also noted that the school has always emphasized a four year science program and has three years of Spanish for students.

He emphasized not only the school's computers, but also the wood working classes, welding, and small engine classes.

He also talked at great length about the school's computer-aided drafting and design (CADD) program.

Miller said the high school has a full time business teacher, and a full spectrum of family science programs. Miller also noted the wide number of sports programs and after school programs like theatre that the school offers.

Articulated courses were a feature that Miller expounded upon. The courses, such as CADD, keyboarding, and computers, are those that high school students can get college credits for taking at Lester Prairie.

Miller also highlighted the Post-Secondary Education Option where students can take courses at area colleges and universities. He noted these options afford students new opportunities while changing the face of secondary education.

Questions and answers

For the last portion of the meeting, Gushwa took the floor, explaining her role in planning.

She said that one of the reasons she took the Lester Prairie project on was because it is at an interesting point in its development. She maintained that she was there to help community members get a "bird's eye view of the school," and help them get involved in planning.

She said that people cared enough about the community to establish a school in the city without knowing what the future would hold for it. She then put it upon the audience to determine that future and think long range.

She then opened up the floor for questions. The first concerned the optimum size for a school to which she replied that the real factors in quality education were teachers, not size. She said that size is a non-issue.

A question was also asked whether a good education could be obtained at the school's current facility and size. Gushwa said it depends on what the community wants and means by a "good education."

It was noted that space was cramped and could become an issue in the future if nothing is done about it.

Open enrollment students also were discussed. Redfield noted that without open enrollment students, the district would have to significantly scale back its programs and staff.

During the course of discussion, Redfield said a new Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted (HLWW) high school won't attract back open enrollment students away from Lester Prairie.

Gushwa added that she would never recommend to build a new high school, as elementary schools create an allegiance from parents to the district.

Of consolidation, Redfield said there are no guarantees that consolidation would result in a new school if voters did not pass the bond issue. Also, he said there is no guarantee of the grant money coming through.

He also noted what he saw as the very political nature of the site location for the proposed school in the HLWW district.

He commented that if Lester Prairie would choose to consolidate with HLWW, Lester Prairie would want the school nearby, possibly near ShadowBrooke Golf Course.

In terms of growth, Gushwa noted that counties adjacent to the seven-county metro are experiencing a leap frog effect. Essentially, people are interested in moving here because there are less restriction in purchasing a home.

Brainstorming

The number of people present at Thursday's meeting swelled from the previous night.

Billed as the brainstorming night, ideas ranged from purchasing Prairie Meadows Apartments and the five acres west of the apartments to purchasing the Klaustermeier farm as possible sites for an elementary school and community center.

"I never saw a community more committed to keeping its school," Gushwa said.

However, she reminded those present that they need to be visionaries, to plan for 2020 and not the 1990s. The goals for the meeting, she said, are to get information from the architect and then, brainstorm.

Architect's snapshot

Walt Cheever, an architectural drafting instructor at South Central Technical College of Mankato, gave his synopsis of the present building.

"This was a one-day site visit," he said. "I looked over the building and studied construction documents. I did not do structural tests, but relied on what I saw, which is the first level of inspection."

The good news is the school is in good shape.

"It's been cared for and is pleasant to be in," said Cheever. "This says a lot for the administration, staff and maintenance personnel."

Good decisions were made in the past as buildings were removed, new buildings constructed, and additions built, he said.

The bad news is the school is overcrowded.

According to state standards, there should be about 36 square feet per student. Also, the site is land-bound.

A k-12 school, the state suggests, should be on a 26-acre site. Lester Prairie falls at about 19 acres short.

Overall, the elementary school is working at 97 percent capacity. Some grades are operating at 80 percent while others may be at 110 percent capacity.

As for the high school, Cheever said the rooms aren't crowded; there just aren't enough of them.

About 93 percent of the rooms are utilized throughout the day.

"This makes for a loss in staff and student efficiency. You can't do anything on the spur of moment. There's nowhere to do it," said Cheever.

One solution could be to gradually move away to a site that's not so land-bound, suggested Cheever.

He also suggested tearing down the community education building that lies north of the school and expanding in that direction. He noted that any addition would result in the whole building being brought up to code.

Cheever said that some land could be purchased adjacent to the playing field. There, the district could build a k-3/community center and have more space than an addition to the present building.

Finally, he suggested just pairing the high school, and keeping the elementary school as its own district.

Ideas on the future

One citizen from Lester Prairie, Merri Lea Kyllo, came prepared to the meeting.

She had a proposal to purchase Prairie Manor Apartments and use the land and/or building for a kindergarten through third grade building. She also suggested buying property owned by Holy Trinity Catholic church that is adjacent to the apartment property for a gym/community center.

Kyllo had gone as far to talk with the owner of the apartment building, and quoted a price between $300,000 and $350,000 The idea and the enthusiasm it showed received applause from those present at the meeting.

Another idea presented was to purchase land on the Klaustermeier farm, which lies at the east end of town on McLeod Co. Rd. 9 for a future elementary school and possibly have the Schmidt farm, on the east side of Co. Rd. 9, used for future housing development.

The Klaustermeier farm also has a creek running through it. It was suggested that it could be set aside for a nature area or park, possibly working with a developer on that issue.

Going east is better for development since the land is sandy and not as well-suited for farming.

Joe Miller said another idea tossed about is to build a community center, which would house a gym, classrooms, and media center, near the southeast corner of the school's track.

A drawback is that it would take away some of the existing parking which is already inadequate.

One resident wanted to know what a $3 million elementary school would cost the citizens.

Gushwa replied that it's too earlier to come up with those figures. The board is trying to be visionary without saying right now.

Meetings will continue next week and the public is encouraged to attend. Tonight's meeting will break audience members into small groups.


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