A Groundbreaking Collaboration
Sourcewell commits $10 million to Setting IV facilities in region
We had a meeting about how we could work together in Region 5 to serve our special education students more intentionally. One item that came out of that meeting was this – what was needed for Setting IV facilities in our region. We allowed ourselves to dream a bit that day, and the discussions from that meeting set the wheels in motion that brought us here...
A fresh start for Freshwater
On July 16, several gathered for the official groundbreaking ceremony of the Freshwater Education School District's Setting IV special education facility in Wadena, estimated to open summer 2019.
The new 32,000-square-foot facility will serve approximately 50 students from 13 central Minnesota school districts, plus serve as the central office for Freshwater.
Jena Osberg, who's worked with Freshwater's Setting IV program since 2007 and has been the program's facilitator for the last two years, said a customized learning environment will have a significant impact.
“There's a number of things that have to happen for students to be successful in a school setting,” Osberg said. “One is you have to have a quality staff. You have to have people who are willing to go above and beyond - Freshwater has that. You also have to have good programs and curriculum that can change and adapt to students' needs; we've got that, too. But a third thing is the learning environment that students come to every day. I am thrilled to know that we're going to see our students' success based on the fact that this building was created just for them.”
Federal policy requires schools to provide access to Setting IV programming in a separate school setting for students who struggle to succeed in the general education setting due to significant behavioral or mental health needs. Setting IV provides structured behavioral, academic, and mental health programming for students who spend the majority of the school day outside the regular classroom, have an individualized education plan, and often require intensive special education services.
Freshwater administrators and staff are looking forward to a building that fits the unique needs of its student population. Everything - including the layout, lighting, and color scheme - was designed with intention.
Osberg says all classrooms will be connected, offering better flow for easier transitions. Lockers will be located in the classrooms for enhanced safety and ease of supervision. The facility will also feature special windows above head height that offer natural lighting without the temptation of distractions from outside.
“We'll also have extra, smaller areas for kids to work,” Osberg noted. “Sometimes we have a student who gets really overwhelmed with the noise, or just needs to step away. We'll have built-in areas to take a student so they can work. We've worked with our building designers on sensory-based details - colors that are calming and lights that can be dimmed. We're even building in sensory spaces and individual spaces within the classrooms, so I can be teaching my class and guide a student to a special workspace; they're still with us and not totally separated.”
Freshwater has been dreaming of such a space for nearly 10 years. It started to become more of a reality in October 2016, when area special education leaders met with Sourcewell staff.
“We had a meeting about how we could work together in Region 5 to serve our special education students more intentionally,” Sourcewell Director of Regional Programs Paul Drange said. “One item that came out of that meeting was this - what was needed for Setting IV facilities in our region. We allowed ourselves to dream a bit that day, and the discussions from that meeting set the wheels in motion that brought us here, to (this) groundbreaking.”
Sourcewell has committed $5 million to the building project as part of its strategic reinvestment in Region 5. “This is a true collaborative effort among several entities - Freshwater, its member school districts, the city of Wadena, and Sourcewell,” Drange said. “Our staff couldn't be more pleased with the work that's being done to support area students, families, and educators.”
Freshwater's full-voting membership includes Menahga, Sebeka, Henning, Wadena-Deer Creek, Verndale, Staples-Motley, Bertha-Hewitt, Browerville, and Long Prairie-Grey Eagle, plus Frazee, New York Mills, Perham-Dent, and Pillager, which are considered associate members.
A Day of Celebration in Little Falls
A similar celebration of progress was Aug. 15 in Little Falls as educators, community members, business professionals, and others from throughout the area gathered to break ground for Mid-State Education District's new Setting IV facility.
The roughly 35,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art building is slated to open in September 2019 and will serve students from Mid-State Education District's member districts with unique needs requiring a specialized learning environment. Member districts include the Onamia, Pierz, Royalton, Swanville, and Upsala school districts, as well as a facility partnership with the Little Falls Community School.
Mid-State Executive Director Simoine Bolin said the cutting-edge facility will include student neighborhoods specific to elementary, middle school, high school, and students with multiple impairments.
With the help of a design team consisting of Mid-State representatives, as well as professionals from Nor-Son Construction, the Gordian Group, and ORB Management, each “neighborhood” within the facility has been designed with age and ability-appropriate areas for sensory and behavior regulation, a lunchroom, and spaces to meet recreation needs. Also included is an area for transition-age students between 17 and 21 years old who will participate in career exploration and job skills training and coaching. Bolin said Mid-State anticipates serving around 85 students in the new facility with approximately 45 program staff members, as well as additional child-specific staff.
“It is with patience and peaceful waiting that we look forward to the big equipment, the work to clear our site, the construction crews to begin their work, and the welcoming of students in the fall of 2019,” Bolin told all in attendance at the mid-afternoon groundbreaking ceremony. “I want you all to clap for each other because it's you who made this possible.”
Drange was on hand along with a handful of Sourcewell representatives and board members to help celebrate the reality of a longtime dream of Bolin and Mid-State staff. Sourcewell committed $5 million to the project.
“I like to tell stories,” Drange began, “and I think what started our story here today, Simoine, going back to our meeting in October 2016, was about how we could work more intentionally together with facilities. And that's the conversation that brought us down a winding road all the way to today. As part of that journey, Simoine was very intentional about saying to me, ‘you need to see these facilities that our staff works in and that our kids go to every day. I want to show you what we have, and I want to show you what is possible.’”
Drange said he had the opportunity to travel around the state with Bolin and others to visit similar facilities and take the best of each to help create one unique school where children can learn and thrive in a safe, and productive, environment.
“I'm especially excited for the staff at Mid-State for what you will have here in 12 to 13 months, or hopefully sooner than that, to serve these kids in this building,” Drange added. “It's just as exciting as anything we do at Sourcewell - to see that come to fruition.”
Greg Zylka, Mayor of Little Falls and Sourcewell Board member, spoke before the crowd praising all parties involved for their dedication and perseverance in providing quality opportunities for students.
“Thank you for choosing this site and this community,” he said. “I think it's a great addition to the community. I think it's also a great addition for all children involved, not only in this school (district), but in every school (district) taking part in this.”
Recognizing Sourcewell for its contribution to the project, Zylka, a board member, said he's often asked where Sourcewell expends its resources.
“When we're at conferences, people say, ‘what do you do with the money you make?’ This is it. We reinvest in communities and children. What better way?”
Once complete, this facility will allow, for the first time since Mid-State Education District was formed in 1971, its programs to be located under one roof. Currently, students are taught in multiple settings, including Little Falls, Onamia, and Upsala. Bolin said the new facility and location will lend to recruiting and retaining special education staff, as well as provide a centralized location to benefit time for student transportation and create efficiencies for the facility and member districts.
“Mid-State Education staff have shown the ultimate in flexibility over the years and have faithfully served our member districts across multiple settings,” Bolin noted. “This building gives us the chance to create spaces for professionalizing what our team does, with spaces to collaborate and train, to ensure each student receives the most personalized and supportive learning environment and experience we can provide.”
Sourcewell (formerly National Joint Powers Alliance) is a self-supporting government organization, partnering with education, government, and nonprofits to boost student and community success. Created in 1978 as one of Minnesota's nine service cooperatives, we offer training and shared services to our central-Minnesota members. Throughout North America, we offer a cooperative purchasing program with over 300 awarded vendors on contract. Sourcewell is driven by service and the ability to strategically reinvest in member communities.