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Helmut Schmidt, Published May 17 2013

Eagles Center Head Start classrooms won’t move to Agassiz

FARGO – Some of south Fargo’s Head Start students will have a new home this fall.

But it won’t be the Agassiz school building.

The Fargo School Board in late April voted to move the district’s early childhood special education classrooms, and Head Start if that program agreed, from the Eagles Education Center to Agassiz.

The Eagles Center will now be used to teach younger students from the Bluemont Lakes subdivision who normally would attend school at the crowded Kennedy Elementary.

Head Start program Director Barry Nelson confirmed this week that two classrooms of 3- to 5-year-olds now at the Eagles center won’t transfer to Agassiz.

Nelson said the decision was made soon after Head Start officials looked at the space they were being offered in Agassiz.

“We felt it wasn’t the right time or place to be” moving, Nelson said.

He said there was “not one big, compelling deal-breaker” for the move, but that several concerns and questions led to the decision, including whether or not the move would be permanent or temporary.

The age of the Agassiz building, parts of which date to 1912 was not an issue, Nelson said. If anything, the building’s more central location was a plus, he said. The Eagles center is at 3502 S. University Drive, while Agassiz is at 1305 9th Ave. S.

The Head Start decision “doesn’t affect our plans at all,” Fargo schools Superintendent Jeff Schatz said Thursday. “As far as we’re concerned, we’re moving forward.”

Schatz said the district has been assured by the state Department of Public Instruction that moving the early childhood special education students to Agassiz won’t run afoul of federal requirements that special education students be taught in the least restrictive environment possible (meaning efforts are made so that they spend at least part of their school day learning alongside typically developing students).

Schatz said Agassiz is home to the Even Start program, which has 62 children enrolled from infants to age 7.

Remodeling for the early childhood program will start later this month, he said.

The school district completed a $4.5 million renovation of most of the Agassiz building last year.

Nelson said Head Start has a location it can move to for fall classes and a couple of potential sites.

Schatz and Nelson confirmed that a Head Start classroom at Madison Elementary School on the city’s north side would remain in place.

For 2013-14, kindergarten, first- and second-graders from the Kennedy attendance area of Bluemont Lakes will attend school at the Eagles Center.

In 2014-15, Bluemont kindergarten through third-graders will be at the Eagles Center.

Nelson laments not being able to continue operating at the Eagles Center.

“Lots of natural light. Built to scale of kids. Bathrooms in every room. All the early childhood spaces co-located,” he said. “It was a nice facility. Whoever designed that site was brilliant.”

Head Start serves children ages 3 to 5 from low-income families, helping them develop the skills they’ll need to do well in elementary school.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583