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A grand grad goal: Council hears presentation on 100 percent graduation goal for high schoolers

BEMIDJI—The vision of a community with a high school graduation rate of 100 percent was presented to the Bemidji City Council on Monday.

Longtime local educator John Eggers believes it's possible and is leading the effort to make it happen here. To do so, Eggers is directing Project Graduate to encourage civic leaders, community groups, parents and citizens to support the youth in getting their diplomas.

"I don't know of any community in the state of Minnesota that has that, and I don't know of any community in the nation that has that, where they can boast a 100 percent graduation rate, but Bemidji could," Eggers said. "The reason why a 100 percent graduation rate is so unique to have as a goal is because it communicates to everybody that we're not leaving anybody out."

The City Council has shown support for the initiative in the past, as it approved a resolution in December to have a 100 percent graduation rate for the community's youth. However, Eggers said Monday that the goal has to remain in the spotlight moving forward.

"You did a big thing already. You're the only council in the state of Minnesota that has passed a 100 percent graduation rate as a goal," Eggers said. "That really says something. Now, the important thing is to spread that same word to organizations around Bemidji, so everyone gets that. It has to be kept in front of people. Remind organizations that in this community, our goal is 100 percent."

After Eggers' presentation, Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht praised the effort and suggested another way to build support is by approaching and working with employers and the business community.

"We need to graduate students for a number of reasons. One of the reasons for me is that we have a workforce shortage," Albrecht said. "We need to have students graduate from school so that they can either continue their training or get into the workforce."

In her remarks, Ward 5 Council member Nancy Erickson said it will also be important to get students involved in the effort, too.

"I also think that the greatest influence on teenagers are their peers," Erickson said. "We have a Youth Advisory Commission and I believe those kids are the cream of the crop. If you have an advisory board, perhaps some of those students can participate and give you suggestions. They know what's going to encourage their friends and they can help give ideas to the rest of us."

According to data from the Minnesota Department of Education, Bemidji High School's graduation rate has remained in the 80 percentile for the past several years. It was 83.2 percent in 2014, 86.2 percent in 2015 and 86.4 percent in 2016.

Long-term ADA planning

On Monday, the council also authorized Public Works Director Craig Gray to enter the city into a services agreement with Widseth Smith and Nolting to create a plan to ensure future compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

According to Gray, the Federal Highway Administration enacted a requirement that all local agencies with greater than 50 employees, or who are scheduled to receive federal funding in the 2019-2022 state transportation improvement plan, must develop and adopt an ADA transition plan or be working toward its completion. If local agencies don't have a plan completed or in progress, it risks losing federal funds for transportation projects.

Bemidji is set to receive $860,000 in federal funding in 2019 for projects on 30th Street and Hannah Avenue. Therefore, Gray said a survey of the city is needed to create a plan.

Gray said Monday, though, that corrections found in the survey don't need to be corrected right away. Instead, Gray said the city will need to report them and incorporate them into the long-term planning process for the street renewal program.

The approved agreement with WSN comes to $26,317 and will be paid for with the city's construction reserve funds.

Matthew Liedke

Matthew Liedke is the city, county and state government reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He also covers business, politics and financial news.

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