Greenbush-Middle River Superintendent Larry Guggisberg had the chance to address some of his school’s concerns during a conference call between him, several other Northwest Minnesota school superintendents and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
Each of the superintendents, including Chris Mills from Stephen-Argyle Central School, Mike Kolness from East Grand Forks Public Schools, Lance Bagstad from Park Rapids Area Schools, and Guggisberg discussed with Senator Klobuchar the pandemic’s impact on their schools and students.
These issues ranged from distance learning and high-speed internet to nutrition and mental health.
During the call, Senator Klobuchar addressed the recently passed American Rescue Plan that includes a $130 billion federal investment of K-12 schools.
“We’re heading into what we hope will be our way out of this,” Klobuchar said when discussing the American Rescue Plan. “I was going to call it the light at the end of the tunnel, but when I was in Duluth, the mayor called it the lighthouse on the horizon.”
Minnesota received $1.3 billion in funding through the elementary and secondary school relief— what Senator Klobuchar called a “major part” of the American Rescue Plan.
“That was a big deal,” Sen. Klobuchar said, “and hopefully will be helping all of you. And we know how important that is to address the learning loss.”
Before each of the superintendents took his turn to speak, Klobuchar said, “Thank you for spending time with me. It really does help me to do my work when I can get your on the ground view of exactly what’s happening.”
During his time speaking to Senator Klobuchar, Guggisberg highlighted how his district had been doing in-person learning all school year. He mentioned how the district did have an eight-day reset last fall, where it had just ninth to twelfth grade students doing distance learning. He considered this reset necessary due to an adult substitute and paraprofessional shortage.
Due to being in person, Guggisberg said his district has not seen the learning loss other districts have claimed. He added how his teachers have been “outstanding.”
“I was given some consideration to go into a hybrid model. And I had the teacher union come to me and say, ‘Let’s not do this. We want our kids in school. We want in-person,’” Guggisberg said. “And we got the teachers on board (and) the community on board. So we’ve been very fortunate to be in-person as long as we have.”
He also highlighted how that without question the free student meals have helped district families, explaining how it has become something his district has grown accustom to.
“There is an element of working poor and free meals helps families out a little bit. I think a continuation of that would be important,” Guggisberg said. “We’ve gone a full year and then part of last year where it’s been free and that’s what people get used to… There’ll be some fussing going on if we go back to paying for those.”
In his 243-student school, Guggisberg explained how they have had just six students doing distance learning the entire year. Due to the small numbers, starting virtual academies like larger schools are doing, “wouldn’t seem to work” for his smaller school district.
“At the same time, we’re concerned that if we don’t offer some sort of option, we’ll lose those kids,” Guggisberg said. “And as you know, when the kids go, then the money associated with them goes also. So that’s a concern that we have in a small rural school here in Northwest Minnesota.”
As for summer school, Guggisberg said the district is looking at options, but doesn’t know if it will have enough teachers and other people to run it.
“It’s been a pretty challenging year,” Guggisberg said.
Before the 40-plus minute call ended, Senator Klobuchar gave a final message.
“I mostly just want to thank you. And your stories are incredible. I’m really impressed by how you’ve kept your spirits up,” Senator Klobuchar said, “and that helps your whole school— parents, teachers, students. And thank you for that and thank you for serving our kids so well.”
To see the complete story, read the April 7 issue of The Tribune in print or online.