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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Christopherson column: Something's not right in our schools, but what is it?

  • If something needs to change, what's the something?
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  • I was speaking to someone who works in Crookston's public schools the other day about frustrations we shared on open enrollment and other education-related topics in our local schools, mostly at Crookston High School.
        I was talking about how my wife and her staff in UMC's Center for Adult Learning are hoping to not only continue their Achieve More program in Crookston's schools next year, but also expand it to three other school districts. They're also applying for a $300,000 Otto Bremer Foundation grant that, if awarded, would keep Achieve More around for three more years.
        "She should run for school board," the school staff member said of my wife.
        No way, I told him. It's already awkward enough for me to cover meetings of the Park Board, on which my outspoken, assertive and enthusiastic wife sits. It's just plain strange writing a news story and quoting your wife multiple times. If we had a larger staff at the Times, I’d assign it to someone else.
        There's been a similar awkwardness at a couple of recent school board meetings, too, as my wife and her staff have presented updates on Achieve More and, most recently, asked the board to invest $24,000 to sustain Achieve More for another year. It's currently funded by a $25,000 Northwest Minnesota Foundation grant through the Impact 20/20 initiative.
        Achieve More has been in the Times on multiple occasions since it launched last fall at Crookston High School, in the form of College and Career Prep 101 activities, and at Highland School, where Achieve More brought back the Junior Achievement program.
        I can't help but wonder if I’d be covering Achieve More so much if my wife wasn’t involved. But I think I would be even if my wife had nothing to do with it, as long as the person in charge who wasn't my wife was as good as she and her staff are at keeping me in the loop when Achieve More is making news.
        I’ve also reached another conclusion about Achieve More: Whether you know a lot about the program or next to nothing, shouldn't anyone who has any stake at all in the success of Crookston kids, as students in the public schools and as they become adults and head off into the world, be wondering why someone at the local university feels compelled to launch something like Achieve More? Shouldn't a local teen, as part of his or her education at CHS, at some point not only be exposed to educational and career opportunities beyond high school, but also given some real direction, some valuable advice, and some useful, accurate answers to their important questions about college and their future?
    Page 2 of 3 -     Sure, there's some of that going on. CHS students take career-related surveys and assessments, and there’s always “Career Day” for juniors. But when students have questions about scholarships, college entrance requirements, ACT testing, taking college classes while in high school, and careers, etc., especially when the students' parents are just as confused and concerned as their kids, where do they go? Who is available and willing to spend time with them when they're stressed out about all the decisions they have to make?
        At CHS, the “counselor” has been on staff for many years. But it seems as though he spends much of his time coordinating rounds of assessments that students are required to take each year. But even when he is available to counsel, if one goes by some of the stories told by parents and students about misinformation and a lack of availability and/or accountability, it seems as though too many students in need of accurate and timely information are not only not getting the service they need, they're getting a disservice.
        CHS is located barely more than par five from the University of Minnesota Crookston campus and, yet, while the Crookston campus provides College in the High School courses to thousands of high school students across the region, CHS this year is home to a grand total of five College in the High School courses, three art classes and two Spanish classes, with a total of around 20 students enrolled. Spanish is being dropped next year.
        Yes, in the past, as there's been talk of expanding CIHS offerings at CHS, issues of compensation for teachers teaching the concurrent enrollment courses - kids get high school and college credit at the same time - have come up. But are there insurmountable hurdles preventing more CIHS classes at CHS? This is free college credit for kids when paying for college now compares to taking out a home mortgage, and no state education dollars are sacrificed when a student takes a CIHS course.
        If you're an eligible Crookston High School senior high student interested in getting an affordable jump-start on your college career and you're not in art...what do you do? There’s always the post-secondary enrollment option (PSEO), but ask some CHS PSEO students how much support they get at CHS when they decide on that option. These kids’ parents should be screaming for change from the rooftops, but maybe the problem is that many parents don’t even realize that they have good reason to demand change.
        There’s something wrong here.
        A couple of budget-conscious school board members have said before that when it comes to revenues and expenses, the district needs to be run more like a business. Well, with nearly 180 students open-enrolling to other school districts every day – more than half of them to the Fisher School – those are customers that have soured on the local product for whatever reason and chosen another one. They’re spending their money, in the form of more than $7,000 in state funding per pupil per year, somewhere else.
    Page 3 of 3 -     And why? Well, there are many reasons families make this decision, and many of those reasons make perfect sense and there’s not much anyone could do to change their mind.
        But there are other situations, too. A person from Fisher told me the other day that a lot of the Crookston kids who go to school there have “issues.”
        Whatever that means or doesn’t mean, it leads to a question that needs an answer: Who has the most urgent “issues” in need of addressing? These kids and their parents who are fed up and enroll elsewhere, or our public schools?
        There are amazing teachers and staff in the local schools who are passionate about what they do and the students they teach. Many students, in turn, are no less amazing in what they accomplish, both in school here and later on as successful, caring and involved adults. There is much to be proud of.
        But, again, there’s something wrong here.

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