Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three-part series of stories focused on the issue of workforce shortages facing rural Minnesota and the efforts that are being made to address them as it relates to students who will be taking over those jobs in the not-so-distant future.

In 2013 the Minnesota legislature changed the way schools review everything from curriculum to achievement through what is known as the World’s Best Workforce.

As a result, schools are required to develop a plan that addresses a series of established goals all in an effort to help prepare students from preschool through Grade 12 for the day when they walk out of the school as graduates.

The goals address everything from literacy to graduation rates with a specific focus on helping students get ready for the next step in their life, whether that be post-secondary education or entering the workforce.

The Redwood Area School District’s World’s Best Workforce plan was presented to the public at a recent meeting, and it outlined what has been taking place to address the goals of the state mandate and what it hopes to accomplish in the future.

The goals begin at the early childhood level for the Redwood Area School District and addresses the issue of school readiness for those preschoolers as they are prepared to enter Kindergarten.

The goal is to build on the successes that have already been established. Currently, work sampling indicators show 80 percent of students enrolled in the early childhood program are considered ready for Kindergarten.

In 2017, 63 percent of students were considered ready, and that number jumped to 80 percent for 2018. The new goal is to increase that to 82 percent, said Andy Ourada, Redwood Area School District community education director. 

“The higher up the ladder you go the harder it becomes to achieve goals,” said Ourada.

A second goal is related to the number of students at the third-grade level who are proficient in reading literacy based on state standardized tests.

The goal is to increase the number of third graders who are reading at grade level to 60 percent under the plan.

The school will also focus its efforts on closing the achievement gap as it relates to the American Indian and free and reduced lunch eligible students for the district.

One of the efforts the district has implemented to help address this issue was to hire an accountability advocate who is working with families to reduce absenteeism in the district.

According to Darcy Josephson, Redwood Area School District director of teaching and learning, the district utilizes what are known as integration funds to employ that advocate, Andrea Iverson, to work with students who are deemed chronically absent – a 10 percent rate of absence.

Iverson said the district is working with the Redwood County attorney’s office to work on truancy issues,too. The ultimate goal is to have every student earn a diploma, and improving the graduation rate means helping students find a reason to stay in school.

That is being done through a variety of programs, such as job shadowing, the career mentorship program and the Ramp-Up to Readiness program, all which are helping students determine career interests and better understand how they achieve their goals.

Ally Carlson, Redwood Area School District guidance counselor, indicated the school is not just focused on guiding students toward college and a four-year degree.

The Orrin S. Estebo Career Development and Training Center, set to open next week demonstrates that.

During the school year members of the senior class also participate in an event hosted by the Redwood Falls Rotary Club that brings the students together with business leaders to learn more about potential careers with guidance on finance and etiquette.

According to Rick Jorgenson, the graduation rate goal is 95 percent, adding that number has been on the rise, as in 2014 the graduation rate was 86.5 percent. In 2017 the rate was 93.3 percent.

Josephson said another area the district is working on is creating diversity in its staff. Currently of the 100 certified staff in the district only three are not Caucasian, but she added that continues to be a challenge for the district based on the pool of applicants it receives for an opening.

The Redwood Area School District will submit its World’s Best Workforce plan to the Minnesota Department of Education.

The plan can also be found on the school’s districts Web site at www.redwoodareaschools.com.