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Focus on education

The Perham school district is opening its doors to input-both positive and negative-at a pair of structured meetings in February.

"We're going to do this the old-fashion way," said Perham school facilities and activities director Fred Sailer. "We're setting up focus groups; having people share concerns; and talking face to face."

At the first meeting, Feb. 1, as many as 15 people-each of them representing a different demographic or group-will be appointed the task of gathering about 10 people each. That group will then prepare and gather for a larger, Feb. 15 session.

The first Perham-Dent school session will be at the Perham City Council chambers on Monday, February 1, at 7:30 p.m. This is a smaller meeting, intended for about 15 "team leaders" who will then recruit others for the larger meeting on Feb. 15.

It is the school district's goal to create better, more frequent, and sustainable communication with the people of the district. Several members of the community have been asked to volunteer their time to be on the team, said Nikki Doll, who will serve as recorder and assistant with the process.

Acting as point person and as facilitator in the process will be Nick Theroux, Perham Area Chamber of Commerce president. This first meeting will focus on coaching the team leaders, so they can lead their focus group in an effective manner. Theroux was asked to consider the position based on his experience with facilitating, and the fact that he is not directly involved with the school.

"We wanted put some distance from the school. In the past, we've had school people lead, but we think (a third party) will enable us to get better information," said Sailer.

The goal for the Feb. 1 session is to recruit representatives of different constituencies. There would likely be a team of retirement-age people; representatives from agriculture and business; and a team made up of students. Geography would play a role in some teams, for example, recruiting citizens from Richville, Dent, Ottertail and other outlying areas of the school district.

"It's risky. Any time you open the door up and let people come in to bring issues to your attention, it's not always easy to listen to...but it is an opportunity to strengthen the school," said Sailer.

It will be important to also reach out to those who have less of a vested interest in the school.

"Eighty percent of the people in the district don't have kids in school," noted Superintendent Tamara Uselman. "They need to feel like a part of the process."

"Training session" is how Sailer described the first meeting. The team leaders attending that session will then be asked to bring up to ten friends, neighbors or co-workers to the large meeting. "We want them to be comfortable and open with their concerns and feelings toward the school district," said Sailer.

If you would like to be involved as a team leader, please attend the meeting on February 1.