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With eye on future, District 196 and businesses team up

A new school-business partnership is taking shape to help prepare students in Independent School District 196 for life after high school.

The partnership, which grew out of discussions last year about the district's strategic plan, will bring educators and business owners together to help figure out what skills students need after graduation, and to give the business community a better idea what is going on in local schools.

"I think everybody understands that a strong school system creates the workers of the future," District 196 superintendent Jane Berenz said. "Everyone's understanding how important it is to have workers go into the workforce ready for a career or college."

The group is still in the very early stages. A planning group met for a few months recently, led by Berenz and Dakota County Regional Chambers of Commerce president Ruthe Batulis. That group set out a rough outline for the partnership, including a purpose statement that calls the group a "conduit between education and business to create opportunities for learners to prepare for the world of work."

"We're not looking to create a big ... organization that goes out and has to do fundraising and grant writing," Batulis said. "What we're really doing is trying to figure out how both businesses and educators think about the world of work tomorrow."

The group's early outline identifies desired results that include helping students connect school skills with career skills, developing a systemic approach to career awareness, developing relationships between businesses, schools and the community and fostering young entrepreneurs.

"It's important to get employers and people in the workforce into our schools so our students can connect what the world of work means and the work they're doing in the classrooms," Berenz said. "Also, it helps business professionals to see what's happening in the schools."

Batulis believes the group can add some real-world experience to curriculum that is sometimes developed in what she called an "education vacuum," and Berenz said it is important for teachers to understand the opportunities that exist after high school so they can answer students' questions about their options.

With an outline in place, Berenz and Batulis will spend the next few months identifying members for the group. She's looking for 10 to 20 representatives from local businesses, district schools and local post-secondary schools.

Even without a formal group, the discussions that have taken place are bearing fruit. Last fall, Rosemount High School assistant principal Kim Budde, a member of the planning group, arranged for RHS teachers to visit Dakota County Technical College to see what options exist there for students.

Berenz hopes to have the partnership group assembled by next fall. She expects the group to start meeting in October or November and to hold four or five meetings over the course of the school year. The group will set goals at its first meeting.

"It's just beginning, but I am excited to have everyone working together for the same goal," Berenz said.