MECLA school to undergo major facelift

MARSHALL – Marshall East Campus Learning Alternative (MECLA) is likely moving forward with a new name, new location and new vision for the future, according to discussions at the Marshall Public School work session meeting Monday.

This past school year, the school board charged MPS Superintendent Klint Willert with the task of transforming alternate education in Marshall, so in response, Willert provided the board with a presentation and plan of action that included research and consultation information, options and a timeline.

“Basically, we’d be rebranding the concept or the idea of alternative education for the region,” he said. “We want to have a program that meets vocational workforce needs within the region.”

Since MECLA is not longer the eastern-most school in the district, Willert recommended that the new name be MA-TEC, which stands for Marshall Area Technology and Education Center.

The process is slated to begin this summer, with board approval, followed by a graduation transition that could take between 24-36 months.

“We’re not going to flip a switch and have this ready for next year,” Willert said. “It’ll happen over time.”

The lease for the location MECLA is currently at runs out in August, so a decision needs to made quickly, Willert said.

“We will have to make a determination on where we’re going to be,” he said. “We’ve been doing our homework on a couple of different locations, trying to consider what might be a good fit and ultimately, I would envision that we would settle on a location by July 1 of this year. We may need to have a special meeting to arrive at that decision as we move forward.”

Creating a project-based program, creating a program that provides vocational/technical program options, including credit recovery as a function but not as the sole purpose and individualizing the learning experiences were all part of the transformation recommendation.

Willert sought input from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), current MECLA staff, regional vocational school, adult basic education (ABE) program and the Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce.

What Willert learned, especially in Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) listening sessions, was that welding, machine tool technology, certified nurse assistant, machine/industrial maintenance technicians and information technology specialists were areas of need, as was hospitality. A need and readiness to meet real life working expectations was also an identified need, he said.

“We just need to put all the pieces together,” he said. “Some of the changes are relatively cosmetic, but others will be more difficult. It’ll take some time to get there, but I think this is the path we should take.”

Overall vocational program needs also included biomedical, culinary arts, drafting, automotive technology, child care, electronics and agriculture sciences.

“There is still a need for credit recovery, just not all day,” Willert said. “There may also be some regional appeal. We have to move beyond this model of competition for students and do things collectively for kids.”

Willert reported a number of options, including a Minnesota West Community and Technical College collaboration, additional avenues with higher education institutions like Southwest Minnesota State University and programming options in collaboration with ABE.

“I don’t think we should hitch our horse to one wagon,” he said. “There are multiple options out there.”

Board member Ken Wilson recalled his high school days in Balaton, noting that as a junior, he had the opportunity to go to Tyler High School to learn office skills. The following year, Wilson said he built a house in construction trades.

“This sounds like that,” Wilson said. “I think it’s great. When an employer asks if you have the skills, you can say, ‘yes, I do.'”

Willert agreed, stating that it “bridges the gap” between secondary school and employment.

Board member Matt Coleman hit on one the biggest challenges according to Willert, which is staffing.

“It’s going to be a challenge, but we’ll want to pursue people who have a passion for kids and then train them,” Willert said. “

It’s possible that the district could seek an innovation zone waiver that would allow staff variations, Willert said.

“I would see us pursuing that,” he said. “There would also be some cross-articulation with SMSU.”

Board member Karen VanKeulen said she liked the concept Willert laid out, but she was concerned that it seemed less focused on credit recovery.

“I don’t want kids to get lost in all of this,” she said. “Isn’t credit recovery why MECLA got started in the first place or am I missing the boat?”

Business director Bruce Lamprecht said MECLA began as Life Skills Learning Center and did focus primarily on life skills and credit recovery. Somewhere along the way, the school evolved into much more.

Board member Bill Mulso noted that there are so many more way to fill credit nowadays, including online. His biggest concern, however, was making sure there were enough students in a given programming area.

“Will we have to offer complimentary tracks?” he said. “If we do it right, students could take the path right from high school to gainful employment.”

For long-term sustainability, the district would need more students, Willert said. Currently MECLA has 47 students. But he noted that the new program is designed to be broader, to offer opportunities to other high school students in the district and throughout the region.