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Full speed ahead for Farmington's new school

Farmington’s proposed new school of choice took perhaps its biggest step toward reality this week, earning official approval from school board members.

Board members voted 4-2 to approve the school, which has been promoted as the purest realization of the district’s strategic plan. According to current plans the new school will do away with grade levels and allow students to advance at their own pace.

Board members had previously approved the concept of the school, but Monday’s vote gave district administrators clearance to let the school’s 94 applicants know the school would be a reality.

The vote also approved a preliminary budget that includes an additional $16,000 for bus transportation and $12,100 for a clerical employee at the school. It also includes $80,000 for technology, furniture and books at the new school, which will be housed at the district’s instructional services center.

The original plan for the new school was for it to be cost neutral, but superintendent Jay Haugen said Monday it made sense to pay a little more to have a clerical worker on site, and to make busing run more smoothly.

Laura Pierce, the district’s director of innovative programming, sent a message to those families Monday night to let them know the school would open as planned in the fall. She also asked them to confirm their interest in attending. The district will also continue to take applications for the school, which will have a maximum enrollment of 120 students in its first year.

There was support for the new school’s concept from all board members, but Laura Beem and Julie Singewald, who cast the two dissenting votes Monday, raised concerns about the location. Finance director Carl Colmark said during a separate discussion that the instructional services center has repair needs, and both Beem and Singewald objected to committing to what they called a “dilapidated” building.

Superintendent Jay Haugen said the ISC is in good shape and provides the best option for the kind of school the district has imagined. It would be hard to build a school that does away with typical class periods in a building where bells are going off every hour for other students.

There is still a lot of planning to do for the new school. One of the next steps will be a May 8 engagement night for students and their families. There will be a picnic meal and an opportunity to meet the teachers — or learning advisors in the language of the new school — who have been hired. Students will also go through an exercise to help determine what classrooms in the new school should be like.

Pierce said Tuesday she’s happy to have official approval for the new school.

“It’s very exciting to know that we have a community that is embracing this opportunity for students,” she said.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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