Crookston School Board News & Notes: New CEA contract approved

Also news on Olson's evaluation, COVID and the upcoming school year, and lots of staff moves

Mike Christopherson

Following in the footsteps of the Crookston Education Association’s unanimous ratification, the Crookston School Board this week unanimously approved a new, two-year contract with the teacher’s bargaining unit covering the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years.

Board Chair Frank Fee said after only two meetings the teachers settled for “what the state is going to give us,” which amounts to a base salary increase of 2% in the first year of the contract and 2.45% in the second year.

There were compliments and high praise all around, especially considering that the new contract is in place prior to the start of the first school year it will take effect, meaning no retroactive actions are necessary.

“It went very well,” Fee said, while thanking the CEA and its leadership that was involved in the negotiations.

Superintendent Jeremy Olson said “both parties came ready to work out and agreement” and that both parties were “very reasonable” and came into the negotiations with “lots of relational capital” and mutually understood each other’s needs. The increase in base pay in the new contract is especially critical, Olson noted, “Because, as you can tell, and this is statewide, we are struggling to find applicants.”

Olson annual evaluation

The board recently conducted its annual evaluation of Olson, who is less than a month into his second, three-year contract as school district superintendent, and Fee said Olson once again received very high marks from board members. Olson received ratings of “distinguished” or “accomplished” – the two highest ratings – in 85% of the board’s rankings, Fee said.

“Dr. Olson is very highly thought of by all school board members,” he added.

Fee said communication under Olson is “outstanding” and that the district’s finances are “in the black.” As for enrollment, he said it might not be up, but that the number of “students flocking out of Crookston has greatly diminished.”

Board member Tim Dufault said that even with the high marks he continues to receive, Olson is always quick to ask the board what he can do better. “But I think you stumped us,” Dufault told Olson. “I was searching for things you could do better on.”

Olson deflected much of the praise, stressing that he works “with a really great team” that has “really gotten after some of our goals.”

“I don’t want to take credit where it’s not due,” Olson added. “There’s a really great team around here.”

COVID-19 and the upcoming school year

Although noting that everyone is looking forward to a “normal” 2021-22 school year after a year-plus of instruction and activities gone haywire thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Olson stressed that the pandemic isn’t going away and that in the coming school year “normal may not look normal.”

With lagging vaccinations and the Delta variant and possibly other variations of COVID-19 to come, Olson said that “health and safety” needs to continue to be the top priority, and that he continues to consult with Polk County Public Health leaders to stay on top of the situation.

“We need to have precautions in our pocket in case something happens; we have to be quick in our response in case things start to blow up in our area, so we’re not in chaos,” Olson explained. He stressed that “we’re not seeing signs at this point that would lead me to be concerned,” but added that “we need to be ready, we need to be responsible.”

Lots of personnel moves

This week’s board agenda contained numerous personnel items. Here’s a rundown of some of the biggest staff moves:

• The board accepted the resignation of CHS science teacher Isaac Black and approved the hiring of Austin O’Hare to replace him. The hiring was an addition to the agenda so there was no additional information on O’Hare’s background. Board member Adrianne Winger said Black would be missed.

• The board accepted the retirement letter from longtime Highland School custodian Kenny Winger, who’s been with the district for more than 40 years. Highland Principal Chris Trostad said Winger deserves a “big shout-out” for his dedicated work and his continuous “pride” in the school building.

• The board hired Sutton Junkermeier as a social studies teacher at CHS. He’s a first-year teacher and a graduate of Concordia College in Moorhead. Nine applied for the position and four were interviewed.

Junkermeier’s hiring was necessary, Olson explained, because the district was having a hard time getting a solid pool of candidate to fill a Business Education teaching vacancy at the high school. So social studies teacher Tim Moe was approached to see if he’d be interested in moving into Business Education, and he agreed to do so. “Thanks to Tim,” Olson said. “He was under no obligation to make that move.”

• The board hired Kiely Tate as a School Readiness/ECFE instructor at Washington School. She has a bachelors degree in early childhood education from UMN Crookston and a masters in the same discipline from UND and has eight years of experience.

The hiring was made necessary by an increase in School Readiness enrollment, Tate’s hiring documents indicate. Three applied for the position and all three were interviewed.

• The board hired Ashley Nirschl as a special education instructor. The first-year teacher is a Minnesota State University-Moorhead graduate with a degree in elementary inclusive education. Her hiring is necessary due to the addition of a special education resource room, Nirschl’s hiring documents indicate.

• The board approved Emily Fontyne’s change from the Success Coach to the Interventionist at CHS.

• The board approved Emily Meyer changing from a paraprofessional to the Success Coach at CHS.

• The board hired Danielle Edlund, Jessica Holzer, Cindy Johnson and Emma Sherman as paraprofessionals, and changed Dawn Brusoe and Kahty Borkowski from instructional aides to paraprofessionals.

Free and reduced meals

Once again, school district leaders are encouraging all families, even those who know they won’t qualify, to apply for free and reduced meals for their kids. The more people who apply and the more people who are identified as being eligible, the more “compensatory aid” the district receives.

Last year, Olson noted, the district was in line to miss out on around $500,000 in compensatory aid, but a push to get families to apply cut the loss about in half, but the district still missed out on around $250,000 in aid.

More than half of the families with kids in Crookston Public Schools are eligible for free and reduced meals.