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Marching Dragons face a busy week

It was a rough start, but a quick turnaround for the Litchfield High School marching band.

The Marching Dragons, emerging from three-day band camp, struggled in their season-opening parade Saturday in the Rum River Festival at Princeton where they finished second in their class. Milaca captured Class A honors with 69.4 points while Litchfield finished second with 67.4. A bright spot Saturday, however, was the color guard, which earned best overall color guard in the parade.

Less than 24 hours later, the Marching Dragons were back on the street, competing in the Friendly City Days parade at Albertville.

And they rebounded quite well.

The 125-member Litchfield band took second place in the open class competition with 82 points, finishing only behind Waconia’s 195-member band, which garnered 83.2 points. Other bands in the parade were Benson, Maple Grove, Maple Lake and St. Francis.

Litchfield faces a busy week, with five parades in four days, beginning Thursday evening in Paynesville. The Marching Dragons travel to Benson for the Flag Day Parade Friday, then perform a double-header Saturday, with parades at Owatonna in the morning and Waconia in the evening. The week ends with the Water Carnival parade Sunday in Hutchinson.

Summer is here at Lake Ripley splash pad

Summer truly makes its appearance June 21 but that’s not stopping Litchfield and surrounding communities from having fun.

As warmer weather creeps into Litchfield and school-aged kids are out for the summer break, everyone seems to be enjoying Litchfield’s splash pad for its second summer debut. Several residents and visitors were out Friday to play at the splash pad, which has received mostly positive remarks from Litchfield residents and area community members alike.

The splash pad is now open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Lake Ripley Park, remaining open from summer through fall until colder weather comes.

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School board work session focuses on district needs

ICS consulting reviewed the facility task force’s findings with the Litchfield School board at a special work session June 5.

The consultants and task force completed the research, study and reporting phases of the referendum process, leaving the board and ICS consulting to draft their plans for the November election. The board and ICS will meet throughout the summer during work sessions to whittle down the details of proposed facility changes and operational needs.

ICS consulting and the task force identified approximately $82.2 million in potential district needs, ranging from education to building infrastructure. However, the district may not ask for this amount at election time after reviewing the community’s tax tolerance. Pat Overum, principal engineer at ICS, said when the task force came up with this amount, the goal was never to get to a point of zero.

“They will wait to see what the survey results say that meets the highest priority results,” Overum said. “The entire district needs outlined includes the needs and wants, but it will be defined after the results of the survey. The final plan will have to address the highest-priority needs related to tax tolerance of the community as indicated by the survey.”

The board will continue to meet and review a survey from residents before constructing their questions for election time and presenting potential building changes to the community.

The district conducted a community survey through Morris Leatherman, a community survey company, to see what the community feels are the highest-priority needs in the district. The company finished the survey with the results coming back in the next couple of weeks, according to Overum. ICS said it would present the results at the next board work session.

Lake Ripley Elementary School was identified as needing the most attention due to the building’s age and the amount of students enrolled. The 2018-2019 school year saw more than 600 students in the building, and the current enrollment rates showed 597 enrolled for the fall, according to Superintendent Beckie Simenson. Some of the needs identified at Lake Ripley School potentially include reorganizing existing space, creating more flexible learning spaces, constructing additional classrooms and creating a bus loop for better traffic flow.

Overom said the task force discussed creating a new secure entry for Lake Ripley Elementary school, which would move the office toward the front entry of the school.

“The building would be open before the first bell and after the last bell,” he said. “The entire perimeter is locked down during the school day. Visitors have to come through the front door.”

The board also discussed some options at the middle and high schools, such as possibly rearranging some of the existing space to add more flexible workspaces, redoing the pool and looking at options to redesign the school’s cafeteria. The board may decide later in the year to close open lunch, which allows students to leave campus during lunch time.

Simenson said kids are different now and want other lunch options.

“Kids don’t want fish sticks,” she said. “They want healthy food. The school lunches are good, I eat them myself, but the kids want healthier options. We are looking into that.”

Overum said when looking at reorganizing the space within the district’s facilities, the task force wanted to utilize existing space before considering adding on new spaces.

Some of the considerations for districtwide changes include a three-station gym with a walking track, an aquatic center, improvements at the athletic fields, technology and deferred maintenance that isn’t HVAC related.

The district will submit documents to Minnesota Department of Education in early August to file for an election. From there, the board will begin efforts to communicate with the community, host public meetings and share the definitive questions developed for the referendum vote in November.

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Colombian man faces challenges obtaining H-1B visa

A Colombian man packed up his classroom, notebooks and pencils at Litchfield Middle School, where he’s volunteered for five months, and may never return.

After searching for nearly 10 years for gainful employment to immigrate to the United States, Juan Gomez-Lindo returned to his country of birth, Bogota, Colombia, on June 6. Gomez-Lindo faced a situation many people who don’t have a temporary worker visa have experienced. Being unable to find a job, he volunteered as an English as a Second Language teacher for children at Litchfield Middle School.

“(I tried) to come here legally,” he said. “But it’s so hard sometimes, and there are so many barriers and obstacles to overcome.”

Gomez-Lindo was in the country with a visitor visa, but he wanted to obtain an H-1B visa, a work visa for foreigners. Many of the U.S. companies interested in hiring Gomez-Lindo hesitated once they discovered they would have to sponsor him, he said. This either has to do with the employer’s lack of experience with the process or they are seeking employees for the long-term, he said.

The executive order President Trump signed on April 18, 2017, Buy American and Hire American, made it harder for people in Gomez-Lindo’s situation to work in the U.S. The policy focused on creating higher wages and employment rates for U.S. workers. This policy made H-1B visas awardable to the most-skilled or highest-paid recipients, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. And as a result, the denial rate for H-1B visa applications has increased in 2019, as reported by Pew Research Center.

A report from USCIS suggested the rate of approval for H-1B visa decreased between 2015-2018. In 2015 it was 95.7 percent, in 2016 it was 93.9 percent and in 2017 it was 92.6 percent. But in 2018 it decreased to 84.5 percent. The rate continues to decline, and in early 2019, it dropped to 79.4 percent.

Through Youth with a Mission, a faith-based program, Gomez-Lindo came to Minnesota. He found a host family, Beverley and Larry Anderson of Dassel, to stay with while he looked for employment. However, this venture proved harder than expected.

Companies must sponsor a person without citizenship in the U.S. to employ them legally. Gomez-Lindo said he hasn’t stopped looking for a job since he’s been in the U.S., using career-based sites such as Indeed, Career Builder and others to post his resume.

“It’s been non-stop,” he said. “Since I came here for the first time, since 2010, I started to keep looking (for jobs) and sent resumes.”

Finally, after so many tries, in the summer of 2017, the Holland Center in Minnetonka wanted to hire him and offered him a behavioral therapy position. Gomez-Lindo was also glad to learn that the center had experience hiring foreigners. They interviewed him through Skype and were satisfied, so they finished the application and sent it to USCIS for approval, he said.

But USCIS denied the application due to a missing signature from the employer, who could not resubmit the application to USCIS. Anderson said that this was a huge disappointment.

“To know that you were picked and then to get denied for just such a small infraction was just devastating to him and to us,” she said.

Gomez-Lindo is qualified, hard-working and has many different talents, and he could be an asset to any company in the U.S., she said.

“You are not just hiring him for the immediate position — because of who he is and his personality and his giftedness, he brings a lot of qualities (and) characteristics to any job,” she said.

Gomez-Lindo returned to Colombia saying goodbye to Litchfield.