Board members agree that school climate, academic performance need to improve at CHS

    The retirement of Denice Oliver, who’s been with the Crookston School District for more than 30 years and is the longtime Washington School principal and director of Community Education and Early Childhood Family Education, is making it possible for the Crookston School Board to return a dean of students to the hallways of Crookston High School in the fall.

    Oliver has yet to submit her official retirement letter to the board, but she confirmed to the Times that she is retiring.

    In addition to approving the creation of a 2/3-time dean of students position at the high school, the school board on Monday also approved current full-time band instructor Matt Torgerson as the dean of students. He will spend the remaining 1/3 of his time fulfilling band instruction duties.

    The moves, on the heels of a board-approved 2019-20 budget reduction package totaling more than $400,000, will still save the district money on administration in the coming year, Olson stressed, and will create a full-time music instruction vacancy that the district will seek to fill. After having four full-time music instructors, the district in 2019-20 will have 3.33 full-time equivalent music staff.
Reservations, but need is clear

    Off and on in recent years, CHS has had a dean of students on staff at varying FTE capacities. Physical education/health teacher Josh Hardy was most recently the dean, through the 2017-18 school year, before he returned to a teaching-only capacity.

    Board member Dave Davidson voted in favor of adding back the dean of students position, even though he said he found it ironic that staff cuts have been made as part of the budget reduction package, and now an administrative-level position is being added back.

    “While I understand there will still be an overall reduction in administration, we need to make sure (the dean of students position) shows us results,” Davidson said. “We can’t just randomly add people, we have to make sure that something (positive) happens.”

    The conventional wisdom is that CHS continually struggles with two primary problems: Student behavior, discipline and the overall student climate and culture for one, and low scores on state standardized assessments for the other.

    “I would hope that (CHS Principal Eric Bubna and Olson) would be watching this very closely, and that they’d be the first to tell us if (Torgerson as dean of students) is not working,” board chair Frank Fee said.

    Olson suggested that in April of 2020 the board discuss the dean of student’s impact during the 2019-20 school year. Davidson agreed that discussion should take place, and be preceded by several smaller discussions on the same subject in the months leading up to April 2020.

    Olson agreed the position needs to spur positive change at the high school, “both academically and behaviorally.”

    Board member Kari Miller said she thought about the situation a long time before deciding to support the return of a dean of students at CHS. “I believe that something must change at the high school so the climate can change for the positive,” she noted.

    Davidson said when he’s contacted by members of the community about the public schools, he hears about the “school culture” at CHS far more than any other topic. “Like 7 or 8 to 1,” he said. “People are concerned about discipline (at CHS) more than anything, so we need to address that. But I’m really concerned that if you continue to do the same thing and expect changed results, it’s not going to happen. And we just can’t do more of the same thing, either.

    “I would hope we would come up with some actions that are perhaps new and innovative, that deal with this issue,” Davidson added.

    Tim Dufault and Fee, the longest-tenured board members, said academic performance and student behavior and discipline have been chief concerns at the high school for as long as they’ve been board members. And Olson, Dufault continued, “has been talking about discipline at the high school since he got here” last year.

    “We’ve tried to champion the dean of students for several years,” Fee added. “We need more discipline (at CHS), and we also need to free up our principal to work on another culture, to improve our academics.”

    As for the choice of Torgerson as CHS dean, he’s close to attaining his superintendent’s license and has sort of been shadowing Olson of late. Olson told the Times earlier Monday that he thinks Torgerson will be a good fit for the position and that he likes the way he works through various problems and other situations.

    “You can argue if we’re picking the right person, but just because he’s a music teacher doesn’t mean they can’t discipline people,” Fee said, noting that people have questioned to him the wisdom of hiring a music teacher as dean of students. “I’ll put my faith in Dr. Olson seeing something in him and what he thinks he can do with the job if given a chance.”