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The Duluth Public Schools Planning Project is approaching fast, and more participants are needed. As of Thursday, 150 registrants had been counted for the community-based event that will help shape the school district's future.

The Duluth Public Schools Planning Project is approaching fast, and more participants are needed. As of Thursday, 150 registrants had been counted for the community-based event that will help shape the school district's future.
This number is a disappointment, however, since those who have committed their time and energy to the project had hoped for at least 400.
"The more people you have brainstorming, the more ideas you get," said Barb Sederski, a member of the project's Design Team. "People will help shape and mold with their ideas of where they would like the district to be five years from now."
Last spring, the Duluth School Board experienced public outcry at the possibility of school closings to help offset a budget shortfall. In response to that outcry, a group called the Citizens Coalition formed. They launched a postcard campaign urging the school board to slow down and include the community in its decision-making.
The school district hired Quantum Change Associates, a consulting firm in the Twin Cities, to assist in planning a community-based event that will help guide the school board in long-range planning.
A design team made up of members representing all facets of the community, from ethnic to geographic to economic, was created. The team then gathered information about the district and planned the three-day event taking place Oct. 12-14 at the Central High School cafeteria.
The registration deadline has been extended to Oct. 11, but Sederski said registration is preferred by Monday. The design team is meeting early this week to finalize the agenda, make head counts for meals and plan for those who need childcare and transportation.
"Our intent is to let anybody who has interest to participate," Sederski said. "We're not going to close the door for anybody."
Sederski said the event will be exempt from a long line of speakers. Rather than being bombarded with complicated data and statistics, information will be given to participants with ease through group activities.
The format of the event will include assigning eight participants with varying backgrounds to a round-table. Those eight people will remain together for the entire three days, Sederski said.
Friday will consist of getting acquainted, along with some brainstorming. Saturday will get into the "nitty gritty," Sederski said, and will be a highly focused and intense day. A "post and dot" session will follow the day's activities and will identify good ideas and problematic ideas. More brainstorming will be done Sunday, and ideas will be narrowed down until those that are most important to everyone are chosen.
Each day ties into the other, Sederski said, so it's important that people attend all three days.
"I truly believe that the people who participate will come out with an extremely positive experience," Sederski said.
Frank Guldbrandsen, a Design Team member and professor of education at UMD, said that having a broad mix of citizens involved will make the event successful.
"One of the things I've learned is that a group of dedicated people in a planning process can accomplish a great deal," he said, adding that the event is a great example of the community being involved in Jeffersonian Democracy.
"If we get a broad mix of citizens, then I have faith in whatever (ideas) that group comes up with," he said.
After the event, the Design Team along with a Support Group will compile the ideas and hand them over to an Implementation Team, which will then work with the school board.
School board members and Superintendent Julio Almanza will participate in the event as well. They had met previously for two days to debate and decide on parameters, since they will have the final and legal say in the outcome.
Quantum Change Associate's Vice President Renee Brown said this kind of planning process is more commonly done with businesses, but Quantum has done a similar process with Chaska schools and the Busch Foundation. She calls the process courageous and inventive.
"It's not like any meeting that you've ever been to," Brown said of the three-day event. "It's unique in the way it works. It's very productive, fast-paced and informative. The way it's structured is that people get their thoughts and their voices heard."

Sandi Dahl is a news reporter for the Budgeteer News. To reach her, call 723-1207 or send e-mail to sandi.dahl@duluth.com .

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