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Lifelong Learning

School district’s proposed career academy construction project approved by Minnesota Department of Education

July 29, 2019

Moorhead Area Public Schools received approval in June from the Minnesota Department of Education for its proposed construction project to purchase and renovate the former Sam’s Club building to provide instructional space for a career academy. The Moorhead School Board accepted the review and comment statement at the July 15 meeting.

The district reviewed the costs associated with constructing a new building versus acquiring and renovating the existing structure, and believes the proposed projects are in the best long-term interest of the district, said Superintendent Brandon Lunak.

According to the Review and Comment Statement, the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education provided a positive review and comment, which indicates the proposed construction project is educationally and economically advisable.

“This is good news. The positive Review and Comment from the Department of Education means we can move forward with providing all high school students opportunities to explore career pathways,” Lunak said.

In April, the Moorhead School Board approved moving forward with the purchase agreement for $4.25 million for the 137,000-square-foot former Sam’s Club building at 2800 27th Ave. S. in Moorhead to renovate for a career academy. The School Board voted in February to accept the High School Facilities Task Force recommendation to replace Moorhead High School on the existing site and add a career academy located on a separate site.

“While there will be additional costs to renovate the building, the purchase of an existing building provides a larger facility than new construction would,” Lunak said. “Additionally the large lighted parking lot, the infrastructure, including features like automotive bays, and the easy access to Moorhead High and Red River Area Learning Center, make the site an excellent fit for the district’s long-term facilities planning.”

According to Tamara Uselman, assistant superintendent of learning and accountability for Moorhead Area Public Schools, finding the right program design for the career academy will require guidance from business and parent advisory boards and input from teachers and community members over the next year.

Planning is currently focusing on these seven broad pathways: health and human potential, farm to table, transportation, business/entrepreneurship, information technology, design thinking, and maker trades. Each pathway has multiple subcategories to provide opportunities to connect students with the business community to prepare for careers in the future.

According to Uselman, Moorhead Area Public Schools wants all students to graduate “choice ready.”

“By this we mean students will have had multiple opportunities to explore career pathways at the career academy,” she said. “Learning in a hands-on, mind-on environment creates deeper and more durable learning about pathways and how one’s own unique talents and skills match up to the demands of specific career areas. Knowing about the career demands and about one’s self puts students into a position of real choice about which career is a match to their skills and dreams.”

Josh Haag, principal for the career, technical, and alternative education programs, said schedules will be built so all students have access to the career academy.

“Middle school students will have some career academy exploration, ninth-graders will be on the career academy campus to see the pathways in action, and high school students from Moorhead High and Red River Area Learning Center will take one or multiple courses at the career academy,” he said.

Uselman said the career academy will supplement students’ high school education, making high school a more robust and desirable experience for many students by fulfilling their desire to explore and create.

“By exploring a number of pathways or working within one pathway in depth, students will be better ready to make career and/or college decisions,” Uselman said.

Photo: Students will explore career pathways at the career academy being developed by Moorhead Area Public Schools. The Minnesota Department of Education has provided a positive review and comment allowing the district to proceed with the purchase and renovation of the former Sam’s Club building for a career academy as part of the district’s long-term facilities planning.

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