Lakeville Area Public School District – St. Paul and Minneapolis

March 26, 2024

Lakeville Area Public School District

A Student-Focused Strategy


Successfully applying a holistic approach for balanced solutions.

Putting students first remains a focus for many school districts across the US and Lakeville Area Public School District is no exception. Proving to be a leader in providing a holistic education for its valued students, this school district remains one to watch, as it takes the lead in servicing its student base and surrounding community.

Located in Lakeville, MN, the Lakeville Area Public School District serves over 12,000 students and their families. The district includes not just students who live in the city of Lakeville, but also the surrounding county, and parts of Elko New Market, Burnsville, Eureka, Credit River, and New Market Currently.

Covering a large geographical area of approximately 86 square miles, the boundaries are about to be adjusted for the first time in over a decade. Dr. Doug Van Zyl, Superintendent, reports that the district is projected to grow another 30% in 10 years. If these projections are accurate, they’ll have over 16,000 students by 2034.

This rapid rate of expansion is just one area of focus that Lakeville concentrates on currently. While looking ahead, Lakeville administrators are also trying to meet the needs of students feeling the effects of Covid-19. Lakeville prides itself on a student-first approach, and its core values are excellence, collaboration, integrity, and responsibility. These priorities shape the dynamic of the school district, guiding administrators as they develop student-focused plans for holistic growth.

Early Childhood Education Initiatives

Lakeville’s holistic approach begins at the earliest level with early childhood education initiatives. Lakeville’s early childhood education program is so strong that it has a waitlist. Their early childhood program balances social development with learning experiences.

For children who are unable to attend early childhood programs, they have set up visiting days in the spring before they are due to start kindergarten. This provides them with the opportunity to become familiar with their future school buildings and routines and helps to integrate families into the community.

The early childhood education program was recently shifted to the care of the Teaching and Learning Development department. The shift is part of a plan to create stronger alignment between Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten and elementary school grades. Currently, the district is focused on alignment from Pre-Kindergarten programs to Grade 3.


Identifying the Effects of Covid-19

In addition to restructuring their programs for better alignment, Lakeville is also discerning the best ways to help students in a post-COVID learning environment. Emily McDonald, Assistant Superintendent, explains their unique approach to the academic, social, and emotional effects of the pandemic on students.

Lakefield Area Public School District views the pandemic as a time of “corrupted learning” not “learning loss” she explains, since students did not lose knowledge, but rather faced large chunks of time where they had no opportunity to learn normally.

Post-pandemic, Lakeville is focused on understanding exactly where students and families find themselves and developing strategies to accelerate their learning. They are wary of a “faster” approach, McDonald explains. Instead, they want to identify the skills students are lacking and integrate those skills into their regular grade benchmarks.

The school district is also considering how to respond to and integrate the new standards of Minnesota’s READ Act, which was implemented last fall. The READ Act requires all educators in Minnesota to be trained in evidence-based practices. This means that Lakeville will soon have 400 teachers and educators who have 60 hours’ worth of training in evidence-based practices for teaching reading. McDonald is optimistic that this new training “will allow us to see some acceleration and a return to pre-pandemic levels of learning.

Setting Students Up for Success

Lakeville also has a unique approach to one of the biggest educational effects of the pandemic: technology. Lakeville already had online learning pre-pandemic. COVID confirmed what they already knew; different kids excel with different learning strategies. Lakeville offers fully online or part-time online options for students who need flexibility. Dr McDonald explains that they always want to see students “placed in the environment where they can be most successful” and try to offer a wide range of opportunities for every student.

The opportunities at Lakeville include STEM classes and community partnerships as well. Lakeville recently expanded their STEM classes to include kindergarteners, so that the programs are now offered from Kindergarten through Grade 5. This includes having STEM teachers in every building, giving students wide exposure to hands-on learning and projects. Businesses in the community also come in and work with students, giving them a chance to explore creativity in a real-life setting.

McDonald comments, “If you give a project to a kindergartner and you give a project to an adult, the kindergartner will come up with a hundred more ideas.” For this reason, McDonald sees implementing this type of hands-on curriculum and opportunities as essential in the early grades.

STEM opportunities continue into middle school and high school in Lakeville as well. The middle schoolers get to take wheel courses, which are mini-courses that expose them to project-based learning opportunities. In high school, students can choose from a variety of STEM courses, or follow a STEM pathway and receive extra recognition when they graduate. This programming has been developed over the last decade and elicits a “high level of interest” from students, Van Zyl comments.

Lakeville’s partnerships with the community also extend to partnerships with the chamber of commerce to generate workforce development opportunities. High school students have the chance to work with local businesses to get hands-on experience.

Van Zyl hopes these partnerships will continue to grow. Over the next few years, he hopes to explore the idea of a career academy and notes that there is already interest in such a project from the mayor and the chamber of commerce.


Complex Community Needs 

In addition to integrating students and community partnerships, Lakeville has a wide range of needs within its own education system to consider. They offer a full continuum of special education services from K-12, expanding to include some students who do not graduate until they are 22.

This programming extends to children who attend daycare within the boundaries of Lakeville, even if their families do not live in the district. Lakeview partners with District 917, purchasing staff for programming or sending their students to specialty programming at their schools. They’ve seen an explosion of use of this programming at the early childhood level, in part because the daycares refer children to Lakeville.

Student Services is not just responsible for special education, Dave Haveman, Executive Director of Student Services, points out. They also have to consider highly mobile students, who make up 1.2% of the student body, and students who are learning English for the first time in school.

Haveman points out that there are over 80 languages spoken in the district. These unique learning needs, when combined with the effects of COVID-19, result in children with “complex needs,” Haveman comments.

Given that Lakeville is in a teacher shortage area, they are constantly battling to attract and retain qualified staff to meet the specific needs of each student. In addition, they are facing unprecedented levels of mental health needs among both students and families. Dr. Van Zyl points out that the social and emotional effects of COVID-19 are hitting students and families hard across the country, and teachers haven’t necessarily had the expert training they might need to meet all these needs.

These shortages necessarily come with funding challenges as well. Lakeville dealt with a 7-million-dollar budget reduction last year and asked the community for operational and bonding dollars this past fall.

Investing in the Future

One of the primary uses of funding at Lakeville is student well-being and security.

The district focuses on preventative care and recently set up an anonymous reporting system. This system is used frequently, and they believe it is worth the time and effort to investigate any reports made. They have two dedicated counseling and psychology experts on staff who not only investigate reports but follow up with students and families to identify any students with unmet needs or at risk in any way.

Lakeville’s focus on safety includes partnerships with local police and investing in campus safety. They are one of the only districts in Minnesota to invest in police lockdown infrastructure buttons and ballistic glass in their school buildings.

However, their emphasis remains on being proactive to create a safe environment. They train their teachers and administrators in preventative methods, emphasizing their ability to identify students who may need additional support.

Looking Ahead

Lakeville’s future includes big changes in the next couple of years. They have a new elementary school opening in the fall of 2024. Within the next five to ten years, they plan to either add to their existing middle school facilities or potentially build a new middle school.

As their boundary lines are redrawn this spring, they will be devoting time and funds to helping the community adjust. To help offset some of these costs, they currently have solar panels on their buildings and hope to continue drawing on this sustainable energy initiative.

Though Lakeville Area Public School District is aware of the challenges it faces, its unique approaches to these challenges and its passion for student-centered strategy are helping it manage the longlisting effects of COVID-19 while setting its students up for the future.

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Lakeville Area Public School District

What: A rapidly growing school district meeting the complex needs of today’s students with community initiatives, holistic strategies, and a focus on student success.

Where: Located in the south metropolitan area of Minneapolis and St. Paul



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