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Cloquet schools: Stop moving kids, parent pleads

Valerie Bronniche made an emotional plea to Cloquet school board members Monday to reconsider the district policy of moving elementary students between the two elementary schools, Washington and Churchill, when class sizes fluctuate.

Her child just completed kindergarten at Churchill, and they were recently informed that he would be attending the first grade at Washington.

“I just want to be the parent who says, ‘this doesn’t feel right,’” she told the board, before tearing up. “We’re gonna have lots of kids who feel unwelcome and scared and confused about basically being booted from their school; they don’t understand. … It’s just really hard to be in this position to explain something like this to a 6-year-old.”

She pointed out that there are first-grade students being moved out of Churchill and fourth-graders being moved in. She also heard from another parent who told her their child was moved in the second grade and is being moved again in the fourth grade. She asked if there was room to move a teacher or find an alternative.

“It’s not about the building, although he is comfortable there,” she said. “It’s about the relationships he’s had. I don’t want to be the one to tell him, ‘You’re never gonna see your friends or your teacher,’ or any of the staff there again. It’s a hard conversation to have and explain to kids who don’t really understand why.”

Board member Hawk Huard asked if the school system was a factor when Bronniche moved to Cloquet, and she said it was. She noted it was especially shocking to find out this happens to kids every year — there was no warning, she said.

“That’s different than basically having no idea that this [happens] until this summer; it just feels gross,” she said, reiterating that it was about the relationships, not the building.

Although board members did not formally respond to Bronniche, they had already talked during the working session about looking into changing the grade structures at the elementary schools. Instead of offering K-4 at each school, superintendent Michael Cary offered an idea of one school housing all pre-K through the first grade, for example, while the other school could house second through fourth grades.

“From the school operation side, we can see a lot of value in that. We would put all of our grade-level teachers in one building. That helps them as a team and makes sure that we have consistency,” Cary said.

Right now, he said, first-grade teachers would hold two meetings, one in each school.

“It can make it harder to connect and maintain alignment across the grade level,” he said. “And when you’re talking about meeting the needs of kids, and you’ve got a team of eight to seven teachers working on that cohort of kids, I think it’s always a better situation.”

Cary warned board members, however, that making that kind of change would likely require a year of communicating with the public so they know what’s coming and why. It would also take time to relocate staff between the buildings and the district would have to work with transportation to change routes.

“I think it’s probably a minimum of a two-year process to get it done, as soon as we have the support of the public,” he said.

Board members agreed it is an idea worth exploring more in the future.

Also Monday:

• Board members approved several agreements with Northern Lights Academy that will pay Cloquet for various services (human resources, nursing, technology and speech) that the Cloquet school district had previously provided at no charge. The new payments will help the Cloquet school district improve HR services for the district long-term.

• The district is hoping to add an outdoor classroom for Cloquet Middle School students, which would help with both cultural learning pertaining to Ojibwe practices as well as science classes. The outdoor classroom would basically include a handicapped-accessible pathway to an open-sided structure with a roof and concrete floor, with space for seating within the school forest. The project would be paid for with federal pandemic relief funds that have to be spent before Sept. 30. The district got permission to use the funds for the classroom, and now has to find contractors who could complete the building before the deadline and get permits for construction.

“It would be a good thing for the kids, but a hard thing to pull off,” Cary said, noting that he is worried wetland mitigation could cause delays. “We won’t begin construction unless we’re pretty sure we can complete it.”


Budget correction

Figures in last week’s Pine Knot News story on the Cloquet school district budget for the upcoming school year were incorrect due to reporter error. That story should have stated that Cloquet school board members approved an unassigned general fund budget for the 2024-25 school year that was approximately $88,000 in the red, with general fund revenues projected at $35,638,978 and expenditures of $35,727,681. The unassigned general fund is where most of the district’s payroll and day-to-day money comes from, versus specialized funds for transportation, facilities maintenance, food service and community education, for example.

— Pine Knot News