DPS, community talk about public trust at Q&A; Hocker commits to creating a project-related PAC

(Stock photo)

Dickinson Public Schools administrators, school board members and JE Dunn representatives met with five members of the public Tuesday for an open question and answer session at the Professional Learning Lab, which turned into a discussion on trust between the district and the community.

Perhaps the biggest question of the morning: How will DPS work to build community relations? Trust between the district, the school board and the community has been fractured since the new middle school was built instead of an elementary school, although both were needed at the time.

Community members noted that the public's trust — or lack thereof— of the school district will be an essential element needed to pass the $89 million bond for a new high school.

"I come from a community … that supports their schools hugely because the community has such a good relationship with the public schools," the questioner said. "When I come here, and I see that it’s broken, I want to help fix it. I want to help make it better. I think that the 'no' vote in May was attributed to some of that, was attributed to past wrongs that have been done … I feel like if we don’t get those fixed, we won’t get a school bond passed."

The board and district said they were open to suggestions on how to repair the relationship.


"If there's ways to have more meetings like this where people can sit around and talk ... and help come up with solutions ... We're all in this together. It's not a side versus a side. All of us live in this community, and all of us care about education, so it should be a team effort to try to figure this thing out," School Board President Brent Seaks said.

Melissa Gjermundson, senior project coordinator for JE Dunn, asked what could be done to build trust between the community and the district.

"I think people would feel a lot better if there was a parental advisory committee that's directly involved with the new project, something where they have a voice for different ideas ... Right now, when they see this plan, what it comes across is we're going to give (the district) a blank check, and we're going to end up with the middle school," another community member said.

Superintendent Shon Hocker said that the schools currently have those kind of committees, and they are aware of the project.

"The individual building PACs have been brought along. I have met with them. I have my own district PAC as well of the presidents of those individual building PACs. They come and meet with me once a month as well, so we can keep them abreast of what's going on districtwide," he said.

However, since the detailed design would not be completed unless a referendum passes, Hocker said he would commit to creating a committee of community members to provide input into the design.

"I would be more than happy to commit. You betcha ... We can bring them up to speed on what's been done in the past to try to help shorten that learning curve and them help provide input throughout the whole process," he said.

One community member asked why the district doesn't just add on to the high school to make more room.


"We did a lot of analysis early on about the addition versus renovation and new construction on the high school," said JE Dunn Senior Project Manager Brian Stark. "It’s not that it can’t be added on to. It’s a combination of as soon as you add on to it or modify it, you have to bring everything up to code. Anything that exists would have to be brought up to code for ADA accessibility ... It’s already a very disruptive flow in that school, and it would become even more disruptive by adding on to it, considering corridors and lots of different entrances … It ended up being about the same come to add on and renovate as it was to primarily build new."

Seaks said the district found the best planners it could to meet the school's needs and likened it to his experience as a camp director getting a new camp site.

"We had a firm that came in from Colorado that worked with outdoor ministries and camps and planned, and they understand where you wanted to go with your ministry and different things happening. They laid out a completely different plan that had it winding around and different groups interacting at different times," he said.

Another community member asked if they had plans for the new school. So far, they have only schematic designs.

"It basically says here’s the high school needs, here’s what we need to do, and it gives all the spatial preferences, and it talks about the different spaces. They define how many classrooms they need, support spaces, court spaces … and they come up with a layout with new construction," Stark said.

Seaks explained why they haven't gotten more detailed designs.

"It’s kind of the chicken or the egg in terms of how much funds you put in to flesh out the entire plan ... You could do more to take it further, but then you’re spending taxpayers' money on something that (could be voted down), so it’s always a tricky line with how far you can go with that," he said.

A third community member asked about the high school's automotive program. Since the Career and Technical Education Center will be left as a shell until funding is secured, where will the program take place — or will it be cut temporarily?


"We’re worried about possibly running out of money and not being able to finish the CTE center, so to get us by and bridge that gap until we have enough money, we’re going to utilize the yellow building and whatever we can to get through," said Jason Rodakowski, School Board member.

Stark added that most of the $2 million in funding would be for equipment.

Dickinson High School Principal Kevin Hoherz reassured the group that the current plan is not to cut any programs.

"The design is to grow the programs that exist and to add additional ones that we need," he said.

The district will hold another question and answer session Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. at Dickinson Middle School.

Kayla Henson is a former Dickinson Press reporter.
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