Crookston School District isn't ready for two principals and two buildings.

Recently, Mr. Keith Bakken wrote a lengthy opinion piece that included, in part, his concepts of “rightsizing” the Crookston school district,  andhis observation that decisions made must be based on unbiased data.  I agree with Mr. Bakken that decisions made by the Board of Education must be fiscally responsible and based on facts.  

    However, I also firmly believe that students need to always be the center piece of every decision.  This presents many challenges.  For example, how can we best serve our students given the financial restraints facing our school?  How can we creatively and intelligently make certain that our students receive an education that is applicable to their future?  How can we educate these students with the best practices available, providing twenty-first century teaching techniques that deliver educational outcomes that are competitive in the world our students will face, given these very real financial constraints?

    Seriously, let’s base our decisions on facts, but let’s understand the facts before we act.  One point Mr. Bakken made was that we should move to a two school district, combining Washington and Highland.  He bases that opinion in part on the observation that recently, when the Washington principal was recovering from a serious injury, we were able to run two schools with one principal.  This is simply not true, and further, if you evaluate the facts, it becomes clear that closing Washington and combining schools will not work at all, at least not in the foreseeable future.  In addition, one principal cannot operate these two buildings effectively  if they both stay open.

    During the period that Mrs. Oliver, the Washington principal, was recovering from her injuries, it took Mrs. Oliver, working from home while on medical leave, and Mary Cavalier, a retired teacher, on site at Washington to do the job.  Mr. Thorvilson, then principal of Highland, was doing his full time job; acting as the educational leader of his building, but helping when he could.  You could argue that in Ms. Oliver’s absense, it took three people to run her school.

    While it’s true for example, that our district’s student population is shrinking somewhat, as Mr. Bakken points out, it is not true of K-3 students, the ones that this decision would impact most.  In fact, that population is growing and will move through the district as larger classes for the next ten years. (populations:  K, 100 students; first, 88 students; second, 104 students;  third, 96 students – averaging K-3 at 96-97 students) No serious discussion of this “wrongsizing” can be undertaken until this population bubble passes through the buildings in question.  Remember too, that of all student populations, the K-3 crowd are most critical because as facts show, this is where the most significan learning occurs.  Research also shows that if these students are academically behind and don’t catch up by third grade, they will be behind their entire educational career.  We need to focus on them.

    Further, in order to understand the impact of combining schools, you have to walk through the facility and visit a classroom or two to see how the numbers really work; the day to day realities facing teachers and students.  This is absolutely essential.  Teaching techniques have changed dramatically in the last half century, and today’s learners need room.  Special Education requires space to deliver their vital services.  Feeding students is a major undertaking and would be extremely difficult if buildings were combined.  What about music and physical education?

    The truth of the matter is, that the numbers, when matched with an understanding of the realities of teaching and learning,  an understanding which can only be obtained by observation and discussions with the practitioners involved, show that combining buildings or dropping a principal simply won’t work.  

    The bottom line is that we have to do what is best for kids.  We need to leave both buildings open for at least four years, and we need administration and staff for both buildings; and that’s a fact.