Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, July 30, 2001

LP, GSL school boards talk possible cooperation

By Patrice Waldron

The Lester Prairie and Glencoe-Silver Lake (GSL) school boards met Tuesday in Glencoe to discuss possible cooperation or consolidation between the two school districts.

This meeting was a follow-up to representatives from each district having met about a month earlier to determine if there would be the possibility of cooperation between the two districts.

The next step for the Lester Prairie board is to make some decisions at its meeting Thursday, Aug. 2, whether to continue talks with GSL, Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted (HLWW), or both, as well as whether that focus should be on sharing certain programs or considering consolidation with one of those districts.

Lester Prairie Supt. James Redfield listed the options for his district:

· Remain independent K-12 and try to use resources such as interactive television (ITV) to meet needs.

· Extensive cooperation with another district or districts. This would allow the districts involved to keep their own local school boards while combining programs and activities as they choose.

· Seek a consolidation with either HLWW or GSL.

He noted Lester Prairie School is also discussing some type of joint venture with the city of Lester Prairie to improve its facilities.

After opening statements from each board, staff members from both districts described programs and activities currently in place at the junior high and high school levels.

Areas where Lester Prairie and GSL already cooperate were highlighted.

This is mainly in the Crow River Special Education Co-op, of which both schools are members, and the interactive TV system, which encompasses about 11 member schools, plus a few others that buy services.

"We talk monthly, talk cooperation, talk beyond special eduction," Lester Prairie Chairman Gene Starke said of the Crow River Co-op.

Curriculum

GSL's seventh and eighth grades are in Silver Lake, while grades nine to 12 are in Glencoe.

Courses offered at the GSL's junior high level include the basic courses and more, Principal Clay Arvidson said.

For example, starting in seventh grade, courses in woodworking, cooking, textiles, nonfiction writing, and the use of Microsoft Office software are offered.

Band, the arts, and an active peer helper program are also available.

RAP (Reaching All Panthers) is a grouping where students learn about community service, social skills, have some competitions, and cover things, such as the school handbook, bus rules, etc. Conferences and academic advisement are also handled through these groupings.

Other extras include an author fair, where students do research and some writing, and then they meet the author of the book they studied.

Eighth graders in the video production program tape the school's announcements each day.

"I think there are many things very similar," said Lester Prairie Dean of Students Joe Miller.

One of the focal points of the LP's curriculum is the school's ability, because of its small size, to offer very individualized programs, he explained.

"If a student wants to try something different, these are the tools we use," said Miller.

Miller told of a case where a student desired to go to Penn State University after graduating from high school. A business course from Penn State was available, so the student is working on completing a Penn State business course through the Internet.

LP offers a full range of courses, including science, technology, software, and computer-aided drafting and design programs. Some of the courses offered at LP are available by ITV.

"Sometimes it is hard to provide specific courses to only a few students," Miller said.

After further discussion about the vocational courses offered at GSL, talk turned to an alternative learning program GSL is beginning this year.

It was explained that courses are offered to students with different learning styles, not just difficult students. Within the next two years, GSL hopes to expand the program to the junior high level as well.

Joint use facility

With Lester Prairie eyeing a possible joint facility between the school and city, questions were asked how GSL's field house is handled.

It includes three gymnasiums, weight equipment, racquetball courts, a walking track, meeting room, and some office space.

It was funded by the school, the city, and sizeable private donations. Annual memberships are sold, and daily fees are charged for people who wish to use it.

The school gets some designated time to use it, but at least one gymnasium is to be kept available for public use at all times.

"It's been great for the school," GSL superintendent Mary Ann Straley said.

Scheduling is handled through the community education director and the activities director.

During the planning process, the school and community each decided what items were mandatory in order to make the partnership and the facility work.

Sports

Other GSL school activities were discussed, including band, sports, and club sports.

"The biggest difference is that we have different levels," Kathy Olson, GSL activities director said.

For example, in some sports, GSL has teams at each grade level, or even two teams for grades where participation warrants.

GSL is also able to offer more individual sports, such as tennis. Some sports, such as soccer and synchronized swimming, are offered at the "club level," where the school wouldn't be competitive in a varsity schedule.

The discussion included information about how the numbers worked at GSL, with the question being, what would happen if a sharing agreement were struck between GSL and LP.

The GSL philosophy is that everyone gets a chance to participate.

"Rather than cut, we add a team," Olson said.

Also, it was noted that GSL has been moved into Class AA for two-class sports, meaning it competes against larger schools.

Together

Sharing classes and students was a reoccurring theme when discussion was opened among board members.

"We've heard about sharing, cooperation, but we haven't heard the word consolidation," Lester Prairie board member Nancy Krull said at one point. "Is that something you're considering, full blown consolidation?"

"The road has to go both ways. Lester Prairie could add courses we don't have," Straley said.

GSL board member Glenn Gruenhagen asked if Lester Prairie expected to be making a decision in the next couple years about where its high school students would go, and received general acknowledgement that would be the case.

Straley explained that GSL has a bubble of two large grades going through the high school now, and after they graduate, space will be more available.

Lester Prairie board member Barry Kyllo brought up some of the practical issues, such as making friends at a new school.

It was expressed that if course work was shared, then it would be best to have students attend at least half of the day at the different school. Half day attendance would make better use of student time, transportation funds, and give students a feeling of belonging to both schools.

Noting average grade sizes of about 40 in Lester Prairie and 160 in GSL, Kyllo asked what GSL would be able to offer with 40 more kids to a grade that it can't now.

Later, GSL Chairman Joe Chmielewski and Redfield both said that consolidation often means not adding programs but maintaining good ones that exist.

"We should acknowledge that, even though we like to say we're doing what we can for kids, the financial pressure we're both facing is what's driving this," GSL board member Dale Kovar said.

Referring to Silver Lake's consolidation with Glencoe a few years ago, Kovar suggested Lester Prairie seriously consider a couple other points.

One was the dynamics of joining a small district with a larger one.

"I admire that Lester Prairie has been able to stay independent as long as it has . . . when you have large and small districts, the people will get along, the communities will get along, but things will gravitate to the larger town," Kovar said.

He also warned that "things change faster than you expect them to" after consolidation. As an example, he said grade configurations put in place at the time of consolidation were up for debate a short time later.

Future plans

As the meeting was wrapping up, Starke explained that the Lester Prairie board had promised HLWW an answer to the question of consolidation after Lester Prairie's next meeting.

"I'd love the talk to both schools to continue. I was very happy you invited us. I got more out of it than I thought I would," Starke said.

Several members from both boards voiced favor for forming a joint committee to get into more details about what Lester Prairie and GSL could do together.

However, it was agreed to put that off for perhaps another month.

"Thanks to all of you for the time you give to kids," Straley said to members of both boards as the meeting closed.


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