BARR program shows gains in student achievement, school culture

New opportunities offered to Detroit Lakes High School students through BARR program

Principal Josh Omang began the presentation on a new program called BARR during the monthly school board meeting on Monday, Sept. 26. The program was implemented at the high school and aims to build teamwork between staff members and create mentoring relationships with students to improve academic success and offer all a welcoming culture. Board member Amy Erickson (from left), Superintendent Mark Jenson and Board member John Steffl listen while reviewing the presentation on their computers.<br/><br/>
Barbie Porter / Detroit Lakes Tribune
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DETROIT LAKES — Detroit Lakes High School administration and staff are creating an atmosphere where staff feels encouraged and students are prepared for life after graduation.

During the monthly school board meeting on Monday, Sept. 26, Principal Josh Omang discussed changes made to improve the culture of the high school. He said it all began with a team effort to create a philosophy. The result was: “Detroit Lakes High School is a community of learners who believe relationships encourage growth and success through caring, collaboration and creativity. Lakers are champions in life.”

While the words sound good on paper, Omang said they mapped out an action plan to bring their vision to reality for students and staff. Strategy teams were deployed, each with a specialty, but all with a common goal.

Omang reviewed the teams and explained their targets. He said the Academy Leadership Team aims to guide students with assistance and opportunities. The group works on providing real-life opportunities in the core subject areas.

The Instructional Excellence Team’s focus is on compiling and dissecting data, from test scores to information gleaned from discussions. Then, the group identifies ways to use the data to create a positive change.


The Student Leadership Team aims to give pupils a voice about the effectiveness of the programs being offered and ensure all students, regardless of GPA, are part of that discussion.

The Culture Leadership Team’s focus is to create connections between staff members and between staff and students.

The teams created “house rules,” Omang said, explaining those rules outline staff expectations and encourage a team mentality.

Kelly Kalina informed the board the program was adopted last summer and is called BARR. BARR is an acronym for Building Assets, Reducing Risks, and is exclusively implemented at the high school.

He explained students are placed in one of four levels in the BARR program. On one end are the students that are thriving, and on the other end are students at risk of not graduating on time. The program uses connections to recognize achievements as well as assist struggling students with outside resources for more in-depth issues.

Kalina said with a year and a month of the BARR program being utilized, he believes it is working.

“But, we want concrete data,” he noted.

Data reviewed included the 2018-2019 school year, which was the last normal school year prior to COVID-19. He said the total number of freshmen getting an “F” in a class before the BARR program was 76, whereas last year the number dropped to 44. He drew other parallels in grades 10-12, noting in 2018-2019 there were 102 students with an “F,” while last year there were 75. He added other disciplinary reductions were also recorded.


“Our team of teachers were excellent,” Kalina said. “We grew with this process and understood how to use it, leverage it and make things better.”

He added, while the high school team is happy with the impacts of the BARR program, they are not satisfied. Areas for improvement have been identified by the staff in hopes of making further gains.

While the students see much of the benefit, it was noted teachers are also becoming more connected and they are receiving additional skill sets through guest speakers.

Work-Based Learning Coordinator Vern Schnathorst presented about opportunities given to students as part of the BARR initiative.

He said work-based learning started 15 years ago in the school district. The program has evolved and now includes all grades. Freshmen listen to presenters in different professions, attend career expos and participate in activities that expose them to a variety of career options. At the end of the school year, the freshmen choose a “pathway” or potential field of interest.

In their sophomore year, students are placed in classes with students who have similar interests, Schnathorst said. They gain further career exposure through field trips and presentations from professionals.

This year, the program offers juniors the opportunity to conduct a job shadow for a day. When a student reaches their senior year, internships are offered. Schnathorst said last year 95% of students did an internship.

“It’s not ordinary, it's extraordinary that we can do that,” he said.


The principal added the school has a CNC router, which is used to make signs and other items. When the piece of equipment was purchased, a student at the time trained at Lakeshirts. He said before that student graduated, he trained another student on the machine.

Omang noted Lakeshirts had recently sent an employee to the school to learn how to use the machine from that student.

“I really appreciate we’re doing this because it is working,” he said.

Detroit Lakes High School started a new program called Academy Ambassadors where teachers selected students to take on leadership roles. Some duties include giving tours of the campus and providing insight into career pathways to underclassmen. The future leaders in the program will be selected through an application process.
Barbie Porter / Detroit Lakes Tribune

The high school also started an ambassador program. Aaron Swenson, a 21st Century Skills teacher and academy liaison, explained students in the program were chosen by teachers for the first year. He said the plan for future years is to have students apply to be an ambassador, which will give school tours and take on other leadership roles in the student body.

“Then we have our 21st Century Skills class,” he said, noting students create a resume for a college application or career and gain financial literacy skills.

Students are also required to create a Capstone Project where they identify a problem, develop an action plan, implement the plan and share data collected at a public presentation.

School board member Courtney Henderson applauded the presentation noting she was “very impressed.”

Board member Amy Erickson added she appreciated how data is being used to learn about successes and possible adjustments to see further gain.

Board member Dr. Thomas Seaworth noted he appreciated how the program also took care of its leaders (staff).

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