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Community provides input for school district's upcoming strategic plan

Community members met at the Perham High School on Tuesday night to gather information on the school district's strategic plan. (Carter Jones/ FOCUS)

Parents, community members and graduates gathered at Perham High School on Tuesday night to compile data which will eventually turn into the school district's strategic plan.

Representatives from the Minnesota School Boards Association led the discussion with the goal of providing a mission, vision and belief that will guide the school district in the next three to five years.

After brief introductions, attendees gathered in small groups to discuss what the district is doing well and where it could grow and improve. The responses ranged from long-term visions regarding a new aquatic center, to more acute problems such as the traffic flow during student pickup and drop off. After about 15 minutes, each small group reported their takeaways to the larger group.

The group consensus praised the community's bond with the school, as well as the innovative programs such as Jacket Manufacturing. The updated and modern facilities, as well as technology were also frequently mentioned as positives. Many groups said fine arts programs could be improved, such as an orchestra program and guitar lessons. Applied programs and job preparation involving other professions was also discussed as an area to expand upon.

When asked to think about a vision for the future of the school district, groups used words like adaptable, thriving and progressive, while also encouraging students to learn outside the classroom setting with more field trips.

The planning process is right in the middle and all about gathering data right now. Last month the group met with students, staff and the school board to hear their input. Five hundred people also responded to an online survey to gather information.

After the discussion, Superintendent Mitch Anderson gave his State of the District address. Anderson started by giving a broad look at the community, including Perham's different employers and points of interest such as the PACC, hospital and golf course.

"You rarely find those things in a community of three to four thousand people," he said.

Points of emphasis for the district are smaller class sizes, strong student support services and a diverse curriculum.

Anderson then gave an overview of each of the district's schools.

Since the high school started its Pathways program, which tailors education more closely to each students interests, Anderson said it's changed the whole scope of the high school.

"Attendance is up, students are participating more in class, they're more focused and there's more of an interest," Anderson said. "We're getting a lot more out of them, as opposed to sitting in a classroom where they're not as interested or killing time."

Regarding activities, Anderson said the district is very fortunate to provide a wide range of opportunities for a district of its size. Programs such as hockey, wrestling and gymnastics aren't always offered in comparable districts, he said.

Addressing the district's facilities, Anderson said the district is in a great spot all the way across the board.

"That's obviously been on the front burner for a number of years," he said.

Looking ahead, growing attendance is something to keep an eye on, according to Anderson.

While he wouldn't classify it as scary yet, he said it's getting close when projecting current elementary school enrollment through high school.

"Heart of the Lakes elementary is bursting at the seams," he said.

Attendance has grown from 1,310 in the 2013-2014 school year to its current level of 1,486. Anderson said this growth isn't due to open enrollment, rather people moving to the area.

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