In my previous column, I addressed the aging facilities within our school district. The last entirely new school construction occurred in 1968, when our middle school was built. That was fifty-six years ago. The average age per square foot in the district is forty-five years.
This column includes the results of a facility analysis prepared by ATS&R and presented to the school district in September 2021. This study was commissioned by the school district to better understand the condition of our buildings and to plan for current and future maintenance needs. Please note that many of the issues cited are similar, as both Adams and McKinley buildings date back to 1939. Therefore, to be more concise, I have combined the comments and have noted where significant discrepancies exist.
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MCKINLEY & ADAMS ELEMENTARY – FACILITIES ASSESSMENT SUMMARY BY CATEGORY
General Building Condition – Exterior and Interior
This column will provide a little more backstory on how the concept of a new elementary school originated and also address some of the challenges that the district faces in managing our facilities.
Over the course of my professional career, I have developed a deep appreciation for the value of strategic planning. The following anonymous quote sums it up for me, “Without goals and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination.” When I came to the district, one of my first goals was to work with the school board, staff and community in creating a strategic plan. The process was fairly extensive and involved a lot of people. There were five committees: Curriculum, Student Climate & Culture, Staff Climate & Culture, Portrait of a Graduate and Facilities.
Intentionally, the facilities committee did not begin meeting until the other committees were nearing the end of their work. This was to ensure that facility discussions could focus on alignment with the vision for education in the Fergus Falls Public School District. The committee was made up of teachers, administrators, school board members, parents and members of the community. The district’s facilities are complicated. As you can imagine, many meetings took place. Much of the discussion looked at current and ongoing facility needs, educational adequacy, the placement of kindergarten and the best fit for fifth grade.
This article will address why the school district ultimately purchased the twenty-nine acre parcel across from the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center as the potential site for a new third through fifth grade elementary school. The process of selecting and purchasing a site was two years in the making. Five main factors drove the search.
Which parcels did the district consider?
In May, the Fergus Falls Public School District will put a question before the community regarding whether or not to build a new third through fifth grade elementary school. This column will focus on the question, “Why is a new school needed?”
The plan for the community’s consideration would involve repurposing the two 1939 elementary schools - McKinley School and Adams School to meet different needs within the community and replacing them with a single, new third through fifth grade elementary school constructed on a twenty-nine acre site across from the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center.
It is fair to say that the world has changed significantly over the past eighty-five years since McKinley and Adams were built. The world of education and school design has needed to adapt to remain both effective and relevant.
Both curricula and teaching methodology have evolved to reflect changes in society and needed knowledge and skills in the workforce. Most schools offer a fairly broad curriculum that includes the core subjects of language arts, math, science and social studies in addition to the arts and career and technical education courses. Teaching methods have evolved to include more interactive and student-centered approaches. The emphasis now includes problem-solving, critical thinking, and personalized learning; moving away from rote memorization.
Unfortunately, threats to the safety and wellbeing of our nation’s schools are becoming increasingly more widespread. They are designed to instill fear and disrupt our lives. They target schools because they represent the heart and soul of our communities. There is nothing more important than the health and safety of our children which is what makes these tactics so effective.
On Monday, January 15th, anonymous phone calls were placed to Adams School, Cleveland School and Kennedy Secondary School. Each call made a threat to the health and wellbeing of our students and staff. We learned later that threatening calls were also made to several other area businesses and at least two other school districts within Otter Tail County, along with schools in Isanti and Aitkin counties.
The practice of making false/hoax threats to schools has been termed “swatting.” According to Educator’s School Safety, while swatting incidents may be considered “just a threat”, in reality they have a significant impact by traumatizing students and staff, consuming emergency response resources, robbing students of instructional time, and undermining the perception of safety and security required for a school to function effectively. The vast majority of swatting events are perpetrated by individuals or groups outside of the school itself, often outside of the country.