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Waubun has four school-fix options

MITCH ANDERSON the superintendent of the Waubun-Ogema-White Earth School District, says the district faces four choices for its future.

Administrators and representatives of the Waubun High School are staying positive and making the most out of the opportunities to come with President Obama's school improvement program.

The school was labeled as one of the worst performing schools in the state and is subject to undergo major changes by the fall.

"When you hear it initially, it's kind of a black eye for the district," Superintendent Mitch Anderson said.

But instead of dwelling on the label, the school will get to work on how to implement changes under the president's plan.

At a meeting held in Red Lake Monday, school representatives saw the silver lining: $1 million over the next three years to improve student achievement.

High school principal Helen Kennedy, School Board Chair Allan Haugo, Vice Chair Barb Fabre and board member Joe McArthur, along with Anderson, visited with the Minnesota Department of Education to find out what their options are.

Four options are on the table: two include replacing the principal and rehiring no more than 50 percent of the staff. The other two are either closing the school or converting to a charter or magnet school.

The school will submit a letter of intent next week saying that it's hopping on board.

The next step after that is to wait for a national firm, which will be chosen by the Minnesota Department of Education, to visit the school for two days and assess its needs to recommend the best option out of the four.

The board will then make a decision and apply for the federal grant to implement the changes. School officials are leaning toward the turnaround or transformation model as their best option, but both include replacing the principal.

So they questioned whether that's a requirement or not. They wondered how that's possible with state tenure laws and collective bargaining agreements.

"The big questions didn't get answered," Anderson said.

Both the turnaround and transformation models share some common requirements, some are already done in the school and some will have to be added.

The school may have to extend learning time for students, which could mean anything from a longer school day, to a longer school year by operating in the summer, Anderson said.

A school-home connection piece may also be added to increase parent involvement.

"Nobody in the district -- whether it's the school board, administration or teachers - are going to deny that we have an area of weakness in the MCA scores," Anderson said.

However, the school remains successful in graduating students and sending them off to college, some winning scholarships.

"I have a hard time accepting that tag knowing all the good things that we do throughout the year," he said.

Since one of the big unanswered questions involves Kennedy, she said the waiting game is frustrating for her.

"I worked very hard to establish relationships with the families and the students," said Kennedy, who's been the school's principal for nine years. "So it's very sad for me."

Right now all she can do is wait for the state to receive more information that it can pass on.

"I have no control over it," she said.

But school officials hope to have more detailed answers by next Tuesday, when a public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Waubun High School.

Anderson said he also hopes to get feedback from parents and members of the community on how to improve the school.

"I'm hoping people come with a mindset that they're going to be part of the solution, not part of the problem," he said.