School board approves Davidson's motion to table the matter so concerns can be better addressed.
A wide-ranging proposal by Superintendent Jeremy Olson that involves a modified administrative configuration at Crookston High School as well as an expanded, five-day-per-week preschool program was tabled by the school board Monday at the suggestion of board member Dave Davidson so it can be discussed further.
While Davidson is a fan of expanding preschool and he expressed no obvious concerns about making Matt Torgerson a full-time assistant principal at the high school, the main personnel-related move making the proposal possible, not filling the position of retiring CHS academic counselor Ray Lutovsky’s position, raises red flags in Davidson’s eyes.
The board, with Tim Dufault casting the lone vote against Davidson’s motion to table, agreed to delay the matter. The board will hold a special meeting at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, March 17 to further discuss the proposal and possibly vote on it.
Davidson thanked the board for putting the brakes on the proposal.
“In my opinion, this is so important to our school district that we need to reflect on it a little bit,” he said.
Davidson wasn’t alone in being concerned about removing a school counselor position from the high school’s administrative ranks. During the open forum that began the meeting, parent Jen Lubinski expressed similar concerns. She said that right now would be the worst time to consider reducing a mental health counselor from the schools. “I’m very worried we’d even consider doing that,” Lubinski said. “…We would be doing a disservice to our students and the community at large.”
While Olson agreed with the various positive impacts that school counselors have on students that Lubinski detailed in her remarks, the superintendent noted that Lutovsky is an “academic” counselor who helps students with things like the post-secondary enrollment option, testing, graduation and college preparation. Lutovsky, Olson said, is more of a “generalist” and not a “mental health professional” who counsels students who might be struggling with any number of issues both in school, at home, or wherever. Olson noted that there’s a part-time mental health professional at Washington School, and just under two full-time equivalent mental health professionals at Highland School (Tara Miller and Jessica Shockman), all three of which work as part of a collaboration between the school district, Northwestern Mental Health Center, and Polk County. Olson also mentioned that Leah Zimmerman remains on staff full-time at CHS as a counselor who works directly with students.
Olson went on to say that Torgerson, as full-time assistant principal, would absorb many of Lutovsky’s responsibilities.
“Right now our focus has been more on the mental health side (of student counseling) and less on (the) academic (side of school counseling),” he explained, adding, “I stand ready as superintendent to increase our mental health full-time equivalents. The needs are constantly expanding.”
The board accepted Lutovsky’s retirement at Monday’s meeting, effective at the end of the current school year. Torgerson was once the full-time band instructor, but when longtime choral instructor Belinda Fjeld retired last year, the K-12 music staff was reconfigured, with Torgerson moving to a 2/3 time dean of students and 1/3 time band instructor.
Under the proposal being put forth currently by Olson, Torgerson would no longer teach band and would become full-time assistant principal at CHS. Tied to the administrative reconfiguration at the high school is the addition of a fifth day of preschool at Washington School on Fridays. With a fifth day added, Olson explained, preschool staff would lose Fridays as their prep day and instead would have to squeeze some prep time in throughout the week. So a music elective would be added to the preschool schedule to give the teachers the necessary prep time, and a full-time music instructor would be added. That instructor would spend half his/her time with preschoolers and the other half teaching a music elective at the high school.
Staffing-wise, Olson said the proposal is cost-neutral.
The importance of expanding to full-time preschool can’t be overstated, the superintendent added.
“A fifth day of preschool is strategically very important to us,” he explained. “We get kids into the system, we make sure they’re ready for kindergarten, and parents have a convenient place for their kids.”
Davidson didn’t disagree with that, saying that retaining students and stopping the constant “trickle” of families who open-enroll their kids in neighboring districts is perhaps the biggest challenge facing the school board and district administration now and 20 years into the future.
“I’m concerned, though, about how this will impact the CHS counseling program,” Davidson said. “Preschool is extremely important, but the school climate at the high school is also extremely important, and the counseling department is a key component of that.
“We need to do both (counseling and preschool) well, and I’m afraid we haven’t looked at it carefully enough,” he added.