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Kingsland Superintendent McDonald discusses proposed one site location

Fri, Dec 27th, 2013
Posted in Wykoff Education

By Jackie Horsman

Over the past few years, Kingsland has been a school that has made leaps and bounds in the academic realm. It is now considered by many to be one of the most progressive and cutting edge schools in Minnesota, as well as a model for schools across the US. The list of accolades Kingsland has racked up is quite impressive, especially for a public school in a rural area.

For example, they are the first school in southeastern Minnesota to offer an in-house Associates of Arts Program, offering 86 college credits to qualified juniors and seniors; just one of their many academic achievements. Kingsland has been recognized nationally in media for their educational programs and implementations, as well as state wide and locally. The district has hosted teams of teachers from other districts, all eager to tour their facilities and meet with faculty because they feel Kingsland is the best and they can learn from the academic advances the school has made.

Superintendent John McDonald, along with the Kingsland School Board, believes one of the next steps for Kingsland to achieve academic growth is to move to a one site school. He explains that the process towards that decision began in October of 2011 when the district’s strategic plan was discussed. (All districts have a strategic plan that is updated/changed every few years so they do not become complacent and they are able to continue to grow.) McDonald says over 100 people were part of the process at that time; members of the district, the school community, business leaders, etc. The focus of the plan is explained as “Kingsland Public Schools is committed to an academically rich environment through the integration of 21st Century skills.”

The superintendent shared the strategic objectives that derived from meetings with community and school members that were set in March 2012. The goals are academically aggressive and range from attracting and obtaining highly effective teachers to identifying and assisting underachieving students. The strategic plan lists “Facilities that match our educational needs.”, however McDonald admits that there was no discussion of a one site school with the public who were in attendance.

Instead, he says, the board used the foundation of the strategic planning discussions to make the decision to go to a one site location. McDonald says, “The decision was based on what is the greatested educational value we can get based on the dollars expended….it wasn’t let’s just go to a one site and see how it fits.” But it would seem the Kingsland board did just that. They have first made the decision to go to a one site school, but have yet to agree to or plan how to get to that point.

To move forward with 21st Century learning, McDonald maintains facilities need to be looked at as structural as well as educational maintenance. Making sure the technology is available and rooms are set up for collaborative learning will enhance a teacher’s ability to teach in such ways that Kingsland students are better prepared for their future. Problem solving, critical thinking, engaging and interacting with one another has become very important in preparing our youth for for their futures, according to McDonald. Both Kingsland sites are in need of these academic or educational improvements. A referendum would be needed to make these educational enhancements towards 21st Century learning at both locations or at the Spring Valley one site location.

McDonald explained that both sites have need for improvements structurally as well. Because of the implementation of things like one-to-one digital device technology at the schools, a simple thing like lack of outlets can cause issues. He explained the tartan floor in the newest gym in the middle school needs repairs and when looking to do so, the district found out there was mercury in the floor. In light of this, it cannot be repaired, it can only be torn out and replaced, a project that could cost over $100,000 by McDonald’s estimates.

McDonald maintains there are other substantial improvements needed at the Wykoff site as well that could cost millions of dollars, although it should be noted that the engineering company hired by the district gave an option for well under one million dollars for just the Wykoff Middle School to be repaired that would not require a referendum. The Spring Valley location needs roughly $400,000 in deferred maintenance but requires other substantial things that would require a referendum to fix.

When questioned about an incident at a recent school board meeting concerning a citizen who expressed that an agreement had been made between the previous Spring Valley school board (prior to consolidation with the Wykoff district) to keep the Wykoff middle school site open, McDonald responded, “I wish I had a deeper history…my first question is, I’m not saying it did or didn’t happen, but I haven’t talked to anyone who has said those agreements were made….I haven’t seen anything that this agreement or promise was made.” He further explained that in his experience working with boards, he has yet to work with one that has said this is how things will always be. McDonald says it is uncommon for a board to make a promise to never close a building and it would not be wise to do so. He says the current board would make a decision based on what is best for the students and they would not make decisions based on the agreement if it exists. Since he has not heard any names of who it involved, when the meetings occurred, which board meeting it may have happened at, it is difficult for him to address it. There is currently no evidence of such an agreement and although McDonald maintains it has not been found, he also admits it has not been looked for because of lack of information.

At this time, nothing has been decided as far as a referendum goes for Kingsland other than there has to be one. To move to one site is a greater cost than to improve the two facilities (both the Spring Valley site and the Wykoff site), however McDonald explained that some proposed improvements are to better serve the community (in which the site would reside), although having facilities that serve the community were not a part of the strategic plan.

The superintendent maintains that the main focus is on education for the one site school. The lower locker room level in the current Spring Valley site would have to be transformed to make room for all the Kingsland students to ‘fit’ and to have room for extra kids in the occurrence of growth. The first proposed plan reflects this with new gym space. The proposal is for a new field house with a walking track that would benefit community members, according to McDonald and adds, ‘You can run education without it, but it is a nice feature.”

There are also other options being considered that include an auditorium. McDonald says the arts are an important part of education and have a focus on a child’s education as well as an important asset for the community. In light of these things, the bus garage would have to be moved which would also be an additional cost to the tax payers of the district. Superintendent McDonald admitted these options were a small part to educational assets with a big ticket price, but these things are a real asset to a community and can also be used as educational spaces throughout the day in various ways. McDonald says the tax impact would be less for the district to do all of these things in one site opposed to fixing both sites academically and structurally.

When asked to explain how $6 or $7 million would have more of a tax impact than $12 to $17 million, McDonald said the $6 or $7 million projected did not include educational enhancements and the funding mechanisms would differ. This is contrary to what has been previously stated at the Kingsland school board meetings, as that option was listed as including academic enhancements. The superintendent cautions that those numbers (from October 2012) are outdated and not final. When the board has a plan of communication for the public, they will further explain and address any questions from the district.

To fix one site or both sites would require a referendum, according to McDonald. This statement does conflict with earlier reports and school board minutes, as there was an option given to make improvements to one site that would not require a referendum. The superintendent explained that there were some numbers that came out, but they were not finalized and the board is not prepared to share any of that information with the public yet. However, when the board returns in the New Year, they are planning to communicate more information with the community and help the district understand how these decisions have been made.

The board plans on getting feedback from the public concerning a referendum prior to putting something out there, according to McDonald. A referendum was imminent, in the board’s and the superintendent’s opinion, no matter if the district went to one site or stayed at two, which is partially why it was decided to go to one location. It simply didn’t matter from a referendum stand point, one was needed either way.

The Kingsland School Board looked at everything from homestead taxes to how much extra an acre it would cost farmers and the impact on businesses (from a tax standpoint) if they went to a single site and moved towards 21st Century learning, according to McDonald. The next step for the board will be to take this information and share it with the public.

While it is uncertain which path to a referendum the board will take at this time, it was voted unanimously for Kingsland to become a one site location.

“As a single board member, no one has any power,” McDonald explained. “The only power they have is when they come together and act together in a resolution or action item. A board can make an official action and change policies.” This leads district residents to believe that the decision made by the board can be changed and/or overturned. Whether or not it will be is up to the Kingsland School Board members.

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