District on the hunt for partners

by Jim Boyle


The Elk River Area School District has aspirations of starting a school within a school biomedical science program at Zimmerman High School.

To accomplish that dream, they are looking for financial partners and willing collaborators from the region’s medical community for apprenticeships and job shadowing. The hope is the program would help feed many of the fastest growing career options and attract kids from outside the school district into the school district.

Marco Voce, the principal of the school, presented the concept plans to the Elk River Area School Board at its March 18 work session.

“We are not looking at using internal dollars,” said Jana Hennen-Burr, the assistant superintendent in charge of educational services.

School officials in Zimmerman held a meeting with parents and medical professionals from the area to get a read on interest in such a program. About 30 to 40 people attended. Administrators came away excited.

“It wasn’t a large group, but it was the right group,” said Judy Johnson, a school district  administrator.

Voce said there were a good number of doctors and other professionals from the area’s medical community.

“They talked about all the medical facilities in the area and the (shops) that make medical equipment,” Voce said. “And we have Fairview in our backyard.”

Voce said the school district is looking to use the nationally recognized curriculum called Project Lead the Way. Zimmerman could be the 14th high school to implement a PLTW program. The Salk Middle School uses the curriculum for its STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) school.

“We have taken some that is proven and recognizable,” Voce said.

With the School Board’s blessing, administrators plan to resume efforts to seek grants and develop partnerships.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, biomedical careers are projected to grow at a rate of 62 percent between 2010 and 2020, compared to the average job growth rate of 14 percent.

The Zimmerman program  is looking to feed careers that lean on physiology, genetics, microbiology and public health.

Biomedical careers cover many disciplines including biology (nursing, biochemistry), medicine (animal sciences and pharmacology), engineering (biomedical, applied engineering) and biomedical technician (manufacturing, equipment specialist).

Voce said having a biomedical sciences program would help keep the district relevant and competitive with other districts.

At the outset, a school within a school could include 20 of the district’s own students and another 20 outside of school district. An initial query shows there is at least that much interest, Voce said.

Things could grow from there to add things like kinesiology classes that could be paired with AP statistics to help students learn to crunch the numbers when they’re trying to figure out medical challenges, Voce said.

Voce, Hennen-Burr and Johnson said there are three ways they think the district could pull the program off:

•partnerships with businesses

•out-of-district enrollments


A “Cadillac” model could cost as much as $317,000 to kick it off. That would cover costs for a teacher, director and coordinator as well as travel, equipment, supplies and curriculum support.

A weeklong summer camp is believed to be another potential component.

If the school had a van donated, that could facilitate trips to Fairview Northland Regional Hospital, Medtronic or wherever for apprenticeships and job shadowing.

A goal would be to get kids out in the job market their senior year.

Board members see possibilities, while one adds a cautionary note

Elk River Area School Board Member Jolene Jorgensen presented words of caution and asked for confirmation that the district is not looking to spend from its current allocation of dollars.

“Here we are again talking about a new program, and we’re looking at cuts,” she said.

Assistant Super-intendent of Educational Services Jana Hennen-Burr said the district is not looking at using internal dollars but is looking for grants and financial partnerships.

School Board Member Sue Farber expressed both support and concern.

“I would see this as a huge opportunity,” she said. “I could see students from Princeton, Milaca, St. Francis, Big Lake and Becker being drawn to our school.”

She also asked what would happen if grants and donations come in but then dry up and it’s not sustainable with new enrollments.

“I would want a back-up plan,” she said.

Hennen-Burr said district administrators would have to come back and say what the district could afford to keep what it would  have to give up. She pointed out some costs are one-time expenses.

Zimmerman Principal Marco Voce said the curriculum would be sustainable. Superintendent Mark Bezek said it’s a way of bringing kids into the district and keeping kids in the district.

“This is great,” Jorgensen said. “I’m not saying it’s not. I just want to add a little caution. Let’s see where the funds are going to come from.”

School Board Member Holly Thompson expressed an interest in where the dialogue takes the district.

“We might get the Cadillac-Plus version,” she said.

Voce said for now administrators would like stay focused on their dream for as long as possible. School Board Members gave the District 728 administration permission to continue the pursuit.

“I think its going to meet a huge need in the area,” Farber said. “Let’s make this a district of distinction that people would want to come here.”