School facilities in the Brainerd School District need an upgrade. As a community we must work to resolve the problems now so we may discover new opportunities for the future. The school board presented its proposal Dec. 13. Unfortunately, the proposal does not solve many of the problems with facilities and creates many new ones.
As parents of elementary-age children we are concerned about the proposed middle school for 2,200 students in fifth- through eighth-grade. Both its size and grade configuration will inhibit rather than enhance the learning environment. The size itself is too large for children, especially this age group (10-14) who are gaining a new freedom to practice making good choices.
Introducing 10-year-olds into a setting with 14-year-olds is a bad idea. Taking fifth-graders from elementary schools just when they are learning to be student leaders denies them opportunities to develop confidence and skill in making good choices. Instead of building them in that community, we would thrust them into an overwhelming large institution where they will encounter uncertainty and intimidation. Then they could be reluctant to participate and progress in their capacity, probably resulting in discouragement and a disciplinary nightmare.
Smaller settings are good for an individual's progress in learning. Many people in this community acknowledge this by pushing for small class sizes. But do we, as member of a smaller community, realize that in choosing to live here we haven chosen a small setting for our own lifelong learning? Our family chose to live in Brainerd for its size. In the process of participating in this community, we recognize that our contribution not only builds it but builds our talents and abilities as well. Schools are a microcosm of a community; the same principles apply there, too.
The way to retain our sense of community as we grow is by creating smaller communities within the larger one. Some larger facilities are needed, like a large auditorium, to accommodate a number of people at once. But the scale for environments of learning for our children can and should remain small.
An article, "Smaller is better," Sept. 10, in the Brainerd Daily Dispatch gave conclusions from a study on school buildings by the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota. The report is "for anyone who is considering the role a school building can play in the lives of young people and the development of a community." The study (http://www.edfacilities.org/pubs/saneschools.pdf) has direct relevance and application to our current situation as we choose the vision for public education for this district.
We should listen to what the study found--small schools are more successful. "The structure of a small school generally fosters a sense of community among teachers and students alike," the report said. "Small schools are founded on the idea that the success of a school is linked to its size, so by keeping enrollment small, students receive more personalized attention and the school is more manageable."
The principles the Citizens Advisory Task Force developed for our own district's facilities should guide our search for solutions. Allowing the principles from both the school-size study and the task force findings to govern the discovery process would lead to creative and real solutions to facilities in the Brainerd School District.
The current proposal shows that the school board hasn't applied those principles. It is time for them to go back to the figurative drawing board for school facilities. The current proposal is not the answer for a community trying to build a long-range vision of education.
The school board and superintendent must pursue a solution to school facilities through consensus with the families of this community. Like those in the study, the families in this district also want "safe, nurturing, challenging and effective schools for their children." When our district has discovered and implemented a solution that achieves this goal for families, which are the fundamental unit of society, we will build a strong community for many generations.
(Hirst is a member of The Brainerd Dispatch advisory board.)
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