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Quality teachers? A gifted and talented program? An enhanced music program? Public meeting brings out priorities for DL school district

Members of the Detroit Lakes community had a chance to express their concerns about the district Monday night, and the outcome was fairly predictable -- with a few surprising concerns thrown in.

About 25 community members gathered in the Holmes Ballroom to be a part of the strategic planning for Detroit Lakes Public Schools.

The two-hour process, led by Bruce Miles of Big River Consulting Group, consisted of small group discussion about what is and isn't currently working, what the district should look like in five years, and what the priorities should be to get there.

Six major priorities were identified in the discussions, which will be brought to the table at a school board "retreat" on June 9, where final decisions on the strategic plan will be made.

The No. 1 priority identified by community members was "quality faculty," which superintendent Doug Froke said was a "perceptive issue."

"The demographics of our teaching staff are such that we'll see a change-over in the next few years," Froke explained. "So, when people stressed they wanted quality teachers, that was very perceptive."

Other priorities included more funding for music and arts programs, flexibility in high school scheduling, integrating ninth grade into high school, adding a gifted and talented program and increasing the "diversity of and participation in co-curricular activities."

Miles said while every district has its own unique "fingerprint of priorities," those concerns are typical, especially the music funding and need for a gifted and talented program.

"People clearly understand what's at stake here," he said. "They believe they've got to do more to set this district apart."

Miles praised the group, too, on its willingness to speak up about the issues, something he addressed at the beginning of the session.

"Don't be bashful about speaking up," he said. "If it needs to be said, say it."

At the end of the night, he said he thought the participants had a "very thorough knowledge of the district and it's history, and they were forthright with their opinions."

First, Miles split the group into 10 small groups, where people discussed what they liked and didn't like about some district programs, with certain issues falling on both sides of the fence.

All-day, every day kindergarten was seen as both a negative and positive by parents, as was the closing of the Callaway school, the existence of the "Link Crew," which helps freshmen adapt to high school, and some post-secondary options.

The concern about the Link Crew was a surprise to Froke, he said.

People were then regrouped and discussed potential vision statements for the district; what a graduate of Detroit Lakes Public Schools should look like.

They stressed that the schools should "prepare learners to their full potential" with flexibility and adaptability, challenging curricula and high expectations, by promoting leadership and co-curricular activities.

Finally, groups listed top priorities for how to reach those goals.

Froke said, overall, "it was a good exercise to weigh in on needs, faults, and priorities."

He said a final draft of the strategic plan should be available around Aug. 1.