WORTHINGTON - Slightly less than 3,400 students are anticipated to begin at Independent School District 518 in the fall, according to a report shared at this week’s Board of Education Instructional Committee meeting that spurred much discussion.

Superintendent John Landgaard called the planned second-story high school addition timely, as enrollment at the grades 9-12 building is what poses the biggest concern in the upcoming years.

“They’re expanding dramatically,” Landgaard said, adding that within two years the high school is expected to have an enrollment of approximately 1,100 kids, where it is anticipated to remain static.

Board President Brad Shaffer, who filled in during Monday’s meeting for member Adam Blume, referenced next year’s sophomore class of more than 300 students.

“What scares me is that we didn’t see that coming,” he said.

According to Worthington High School Principal Josh Noble, of last year’s 312 freshmen students, 75 students entered the district after October 2018. A total of 103 of last year’s freshmen are listed as newcomer EL students. He called that a significant influx comparative to years past.

However, those students may not be traditional freshmen.

“(They may have) limited education in their native language, so we tag (them) as freshmen to give us the four years (of educating them),” said Noble, adding that conversations continue about how to best educate both new and traditional students alike.

Instructional Committee member Linden Olson asked whether the new students are coming with families or living with a sponsor.

Noble said based on his second-hand information from the EL department, a high percentage of the new teenage students are unaccompanied minors. While Noble acknowledged that the questions the district may legally ask are limited, a general idea is gained by inquiring about student absences or tardies, he said.

Olson said the district’s role is not related to whether or not there’s any illegal activity bringing the unaccompanied minors to the area.

“What we continue to maintain is if individuals are here, it is our job to try and educate them,” Noble said.

Landgaard said the district is trying to make adjustments and may begin utilizing the ALC building more to help offset the influx.

Landgaard reported that enrollment at Prairie Elementary isn’t anticipated to experience major enrollment changes for about another three years. Beginning next fall, 1,000 students are expected to be at the middle school.

Landgaard reported that after meeting with the architect, the belief is that the high school addition may be able to facilitate for seven new classrooms.

In other Instructional Committee meeting business, members learned of the request to add 32 slots to the district’s school readiness program. If approved, the additional students - who are reportedly on a waiting list - would bring the total to 148 students.

A space is available at West Learning Center to accommodate the extra students, Landgaard said.

According to initial estimates, the additional slots would cost the district about $85,000, which would cover the expenses of a teacher, paraprofessional and busing. Funding is available in the compensatory reserve fund, Landgaard added.

Shaffer questioned if the expansion would require the district to add a larger blueprint to its planned space should it relocate as part of the Welcome, Education, Library, Livability project - thus consequently making the district’s share more expensive.

Landgaard reported that the additional students are already planned as part of the district’s future space needs. Whether or not further expansion was possible would likely depend on if the district received state bonding money or if space were available at a new intermediate school, he said.

“I think expanding our preschool as much as we can is a good thing,” Landgaard said.

Shaffer recused himself from further discussion, citing a possible conflict of interest with his employer, Southwest Minnesota Opportunity Council. SMOC provides Head Start.  

The instructions committee will recommend sending newly reassigned Curriculum/Interim EL Coordinator Gerald Oehler to a June training for $2,100. According to District 518 Director of Teaching and Learning Katie Clarke, the training will help Oehler gain more knowledge about EL best practices, as she reported he doesn’t currently have a “significant content EL background.”

Shaffer questioned why someone without a significant EL background would be supervising the district’s EL program. He also asked whether he’d get buy-in from staff.  

Landgaard said that given the district’s difficulty hiring a coordinator and lacking leadership from previous coordinators, the district opted to give Oehler a try.  

“You can get the EL background by this type of training, but that leadership component is the piece we really struggled with,” Landgaard said. “I think anyone that comes in has to earn that buy-in. The nice part is that our staff has experience with him, they know he’ll work hard and know he’ll get the information for them.”