Board focuses on mental health, buildings

BROOKINGS – The Brookings School Board held a workshop meeting Monday, focusing on future building projects and mental health. 

Superintendent Klint Willert went over the timeline for the Medary and Hillcrest Elementary projects that have been discussed over the last few months.

Consultants say Hillcrest needs an entirely new building as the current structure does not allow for a remodel. At Medary, there are a few different options. First, the school can be remodeled with a new addition. Second, the school could keep the kitchen/common area and add on a large new addition that would include the rest of the classrooms and amenities. The other option is to construct a new building entirely, like Hillcrest. 

Updating both schools could cost the district between $45 million and $48 million.

Willert said that on Dec. 6-7, the district will interview bond underwriters in time to be approved at the Dec. 13 school board meeting. This gives the board about one full month, until Jan. 6 or 7, to establish what the bond amount is. The construction delivery method would also have to be established during this monthlong timeframe.

“Jan. 10 is a very pivotal meeting,” Willert said, explaining the election date for the bond would also be decided then.

The board will have three options for common election dates – April 12, June 7, or June 21 – but could choose any date between the second Tuesday in April and the third Tuesday in June. 

School board member Deb DeBates said that a virtual tour of the buildings could be useful in informing the public about the need for building upgrades.

“When you look at the exterior, you don’t have the sense that there are some real structural issues with both of those buildings,” DeBates said.

During this time period, community meetings will also be scheduled, but those do not currently have any concrete dates. 

Willert gave an update on the proposed Brookings Area Transit Authority/Brookings School District shared transportation facility, stating a grant application had been submitted to the state and has been “well received.”

Update on mental health

Willert gave an update on student and staff mental health and student behavior. 

Willert made it clear that while the “spotlight” on mental health in the schools had only just recently happened, the issues had been building for some time. Willert also made it clear that what they are addressing, mental health concerns, “are not unique to Brookings.” 

In response to the question “What are you doing about it?” Willert explained that there is a mental health component to the Wellness program at the middle school as well as programs in the elementary schools. Willert also mentioned they have the Gaggle tool, which “monitors email communications” through the schools’ computers to see if there are ideations or communications relating to suicide or harm to others.

The school district also plans to seek community input when looking for sustainable district-wide and community-wide strategic solutions.

“I was excited to hear that the student voice would be part of the solution when you were talking through,” School Board President Melissa Heermann said. “Really excited to see what all those voices coming to the table will be able to bring forward.”

Willert said that starting second semester, he has asked the high school to explore the possibility of closing campus. That would come along with increased and enhanced patrolling of the parking lot during the school day.

“We know that some students may leave the building and go sit in their cars during free period,” Willert said. “I can’t imagine that there’s too much positive that happens as a direct result of something like that.”

Willert also gave an update on staff mental health.

“I am very publicly acknowledging that our staff are facing probably the most difficult year they have ever experienced in the profession,” Willert said. “I have never seen a profession under attack as much as I’ve watched my own profession become attacked.”

School board member Keli Books said that when people reach out to help, which has been occurring, “we have to give them the ability to do that.”

Willert said that an option people have if they want to help is go to the district’s webpage and click on the “Ask the Superintendent” tab. He explained that this is a good place to reach out if people want to help. 

Heermann noted that she has been asked if parents (or other members of the community) are allowed to come back into the schools to, for example, have lunch with their kids. Willert explained that because they are back at Phase I in the Bobcat Tracks Back to the Classroom Plan, visitors are allowed to be in the schools across the entire district. 

The next school board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Dec. 13 in the Dakota Prairie Community Room.

Contact Addison DeHaven at [email protected]


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