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Board approves integration collaboration with regional districts

Members of the Austin School Board on Monday approved the district's integration plan and budget, which may prove once and for all that it takes a village — or several of them — to raise a child.

The primary goal of the Alliance for Educational Equity Integration Collaborative is to boost participating students' high school graduation rates to 97 percent by 2014, in addition to preparing students for further educational opportunities.

In order to accomplish that, said Kristi Beckman, of the Austin school district, cultural respect and responsiveness is vital, both from the staff and the community.

Student participation in community events, mentoring opportunities, innovative programs and middle school language and culture courses are just a few of the objectives that Beckman hopes will set the stage for building collaborative relationships.

Students will be encouraged to participate in after-school enrichment academies, leadership councils and technology-based classroom interactions with students of different cultures.


The collaborative recently more than doubled in size.

Once known as the Austin/Southland Integration Collaborative, it now includes the districts of Hayfield, Lyle and Albert Lea.

While some programs are already in place thanks to ASIC, further development is planned, Beckman said.

The 97 percent graduation rate, she told board members, "reflects the optimism throughout the collaborative and matches our vision."

While Hayfield typically hits the 99 percent graduation mark, Austin and Albert Lea rates are lower, about 93 percent. Southland and Lyle hover around 96 percent, according to Public School Review.

The alliance receives 70 percent of its funding from the state; with a projected $6.2 billion budget deficit facing legislators, anything is subject to cuts, officials have said.

The project must continue, however, because the state is requesting it.

Minnesota's desegregation rule dictates that schools identified as being racially isolated, such as Austin, must offer integrative opportunities to students and staff in adjoining districts that have at least 20 percent fewer minority students — what the state refers to as racially protected students.


Austin has an enrollment of 24 percent protected students; Southland has 1 percent. Hayfield and Lyle, also adjoining districts, also fit the criteria. Albert Lea joined as a voluntary partner.

For now, Beckman is focusing on implementing the approved plan.

"We plan optimistically," she said, "and do the best we can."

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