That's especially the case, superintendent says, compared to nearby districts home to many open-enrolled Crookston students.

    As Crookston School District principals, members of the school board, teachers and Superintendent Jeremy Olson try to best navigate their way through the parameters and requirements associated with the federal Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the ways the Minnesota Department of Education is tweaking it on a statewide level through the “North Star” system of identifying schools that need additional help based on their student proficiency rates on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, Olson has a simplified message for everyone to consider: Overall, Crookston students in the local public schools are holding their own when it comes to MCA proficiency.

    “I don’t know…I guess I’m learning that there’s a perception out there that Crookston schools aren’t very good, and academics I would think are a part of that perception,” Olson tells the Times. “But if that’s the case, why do we have these numbers?”

    The numbers he’s talking about are in reference to the latest MCA 3 results, which show Crookston is third form the top in K-12 reading proficiency when compared to seven area districts, and second from the top in science proficiency. Granted, in math, Crookston students are fifth on the list of eight districts’ latest proficiency rates.

    “These numbers are fact, and it’s all students, by district, K-12 versus K-12,” Olson explained. “The numbers don’t break down individual demographic groups or anything like that, but on the whole, compared to these other districts, we’re holding our own, so to speak.”

    At this week’s school board meeting, when going over the same proficiency data, Olson made a point to mention that Crookston Public Schools students score significantly higher in math, science and reading proficiency that students in the Fisher and Climax-Shelly schools, districts that are home each day to a couple hundred Crookston students who open-enroll to them.

    On the list of eight districts, in math proficiency, Climax-Shelly and Fisher students come in seventh and eighth, respectively. Their placement is the same in reading. In science, Fisher has the fifth highest proficiency rate among the eight, and Climax-Shelly students are eighth out of eight in proficiency rates.

    “I want to make it clear that I’m not attacking anyone,” Olson said. “But what I’m saying is that districts that we compete with very heavily on open enrollment, we finish above them in math, reading and science, quite handily. How we’re competing against these districts, academically, we’re doing much, much better.”

Plenty of work to do
    But Olson and board members know there is much work to do. With a Hispanic student population of around 35 percent, district leaders and looking at ways to potentially bring back the Hispanic liaison position, which would work with students in and out of the school and their parents and families to boost MCA proficiency, as well as attendance and graduation rates.

    Among the eight districts he compared on the latest MCA 3 results, Fertile-Beltrami is tops in math, reading and science, by a significant margin in all three. While no one mentioned any districts by name, board member Dave Davidson this week, when he asked Olson if it might be worth visiting districts that consistently excel on the MCAs, Davidson received an enthusiastic yes in return.

    “In my mind, the best staff development money we can spend is looking at districts we compare to who are the best in the business, so to speak,” Olson said. “You identify who does well, then you ask them if you can go in and see what’s happening.”

    Identifying where Crookston schools are coming up short and where they’d like to go as far as student test proficiency, attendance and graduation rates is only a small part of the equation, Davidson noted. “It’s important as we start looking at these things that we then look at instructional strategies that will get things done; we need to get our teachers the training they need,” Davidson said. “We need to spend some money if that’s what it takes. Just to find out where we’re at…if I’m dead last in the 100-meter dash and I say my goal is to finish first, something more needs to be done at that point.”

    Combing through the Every Student Succeeds Act criteria and the Minnesota Department of Education’s North Star system parameters, Highland School Principal Chris Trostad says the attendance benchmarks might be the most difficult for schools to achieve.

    The message to students and their families, he said, must be that if students miss two days of school a month, that is considered chronic absenteeism. “We need kids in school more because they’re going to do better when they’re consistently in the classroom,” Trostad said. “Parents really have to understand that their kid can’t miss more than two days a month. So, let’s say a kid gets really sick and misses six days, then they need to have a long run of great attendance after that.”

    One thing that might help, Trostad continued, is the cases where a student doesn’t feel well in the morning and stays home. But if the student feels better later in the morning or by lunchtime, “Have them come in to school; if they’re here we get some attendance credit,” he said. “We cannot have all this chronic absenteeism that is going to put us below target.”

    That also goes for students who might take a Friday off because they have to head out of town for an athletic tournament. If the tournament is not affiliated with school district athletics, Trostad said, it counts against the school district’s attendance rate.