Dist. 728 board to break high school mold

District officials say it can’t afford separate but equal as it tries to meet the needs of students

by Jim Boyle

Elk River Star News


After pouring over data on programming, facilities, budget, demographics and enrollment, members of the Elk River Area School Board say its time to break the mold for the delivery of education.

“The most expensive model is separate but equal,” School Board Chair Jane Bunting said when discussing the district’s three high schools. “We don’t have the dollars to follow that model.”

School board members have tasked the administration with developing proposals for systematic changes that will promote access to programs without promising every program will be featured in every community.

“What I’m hearing is there’s a willingness on the board to break the system in a way,” Supt. Mark Bezek said. “I don’t know what it will look like, but you’re not saying keep the status quo.”

Board members agreed.

School Board Member Sue Farber likened it to having high school campuses, with each offering a solid core of classes with one or more specialty areas to attract students from other schools — or districts.

“Kids would still graduate from their schools, but if there’s something they want at another school, let’s bus them. It would take some creative scheduling,” she said.

That could mean a student from Zimmerman would come down to Elk River for culinary arts or auto shop. It could mean a student from Rogers would head to Zimmerman for biomedical coursework.

This was but one conclusion of many reached at School Board retreat on Nov. 18 at the District 728 Offices. A next step for the district was to meet with members of its Collaborative Leadership Team, a group of principals, third-level administrators and supervisors about programming and operational issues. They will pay particularly close attention to the school district’s strategic plan.

School Board members have looked at a number of matters in recent months, including facilities and programming. Their conversations on programming have ranged from extending the all-day, every-day kindergarten by one hour a day and adding Discovery Learning Extra for 4-year-old students to IMPACT, AVID, International Baccalaureate for middle and high school students. The idea of a biomedical program in Zimmerman remains on the drawing board, too.

School Board members have also assessed facilities, budget and enrollment as it stands today and as it’s projected in the future. What’s not in the works right now is planning for a standalone high school in Zimmerman, but the need for one in Otsego in a nearer term has surfaced.

Equity is on the minds of all Elk River Area School Board members, and there’s an agreement that when the group is done with its discussions, it’s going to have to have a definition of equity. What it will be is far from known.

Bezek’s cabinet will take information from the board and the Collaborative Leadership Team and refine it before the next  School Board retreat on Dec. 2. That’s when the School Board will resume talks on programming, facilities, budget, demographics and enrollment.