About 150 miles southwest of St. Paul on Friday, House Education Finance Committee members and staff stepped out of a coach bus and into the lobby of Windom High School, where Superintendent Wayne Wormstadt warmly greeted them. During this rare off-site meeting, the Committee received a tour of the high school, had lunch with the Student Senate, and hosted its  planned formal public hearing in the auditorium.

On the tour, committee members saw the hydroponic garden run by the agriculture classes that supply the school food service with fresh lettuce.

Superintendent Wormstadt described Windom’s freshman career pathways night where students and parents discuss careers. “The best choice is the path they don’t take,” he said. “We want to make sure [a student] knows what they don’t want to do. It saves a lot of time and money later.”

Windom’s intro to manufacturing class spends six hours a week in a local manufacturing plant cycling through all the phases of the manufacturing process.  The intro to health careers spends a similar amount of time at the local hospital.

Chair Jim Davnie gaveled the committee together at 12:30 pm on the stage of “Sister Act,” the current production of the Windom Eagle Theatre Department.  The committee heard from a good mixture of students, teachers, superintendents, school board members and other leaders on the key challenges and opportunities in rural education. Highlights included:

  • Eliana Tade, senior at Windom, described falling in love with teaching first as an instructor at the Windom pool, and now in the concurrent enrollment Intro to Teaching class where she is a job shadowing 3rd grade teacher and working with the students. “When you see them grasp a concept, it’s amazing,” she said.  “As a woman of color, you don’t see very many [teachers] of my color. I hope I can be an inspiration.”
  • Parker Bramstedt, junior at Windom, talked about his experiences in the manufacturing and technical classes at Windom and how he is excited to be heading to a technical career in diesel mechanics. “We need to increase areas of CTE to students earlier in school,” he said.
  • Wormstadt testified that the 40% Ag2School bond credit was critical to passing the district’s recent school bond with 57% of the district’s value in agriculture land and encouraged the committee to look at Ag2School as a model for future equalization because it is so transparent to the taxpayer.
  • Four FFA students from Mountain Lake described their experiences in FFA and how much confidence and skills they are gaining.
  • Dawn Teerink, teacher in Worthington, described how her school has run out of space and what used to be storage spaces are small group learning spaces. “We have attempted five [bond] referendums, each one different, in an attempt to pass one… The last one failed by 17 votes.”
  • Loy Woelber described being the superintendent of three districts so each could have a full-time principal. “Staffing is always a concern… Do not let go of Tiered Licensing and Alternate Pathways.”
  • Cliff Carmody, Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative Executive Director, testified that the fastest growing student demographic is special behavior disorders. He thanked the committee for $5 million in the 2018 bonding bill to repurpose the Cosmos elementary for these students, and added “We don’t have the tools [our member districts] need in rural Minnesota to finance facilities for these students.”
  • Lee Carlson, MREA President and Windom English teacher, talked about the importance of building relationships with students to know them and teach deeply. With 170 students, many in concurrent enrollment classes, I feel I’m managing [their learning] more than deeply teaching,” he said.
  • Lyndon Olson, Worthington Board member, and Sherri Broderius, Superintendent of MACCRAY both spoke of the inequities in school facility tax burdens and difficulties to have voters approve bond referendums especially in this difficult farm economy.

The hearing concluded with the planned introductions of HF 1143 (Huot) and HF 1142 (Tabke), which increase the equalization factors in the current formulas for operating referendum revenue and voter approved bond referendum debt service payments. Brad Lundell, Executive Director of Schools for Equity in Education (SEE), testified briefly to explain how the bills worked. Both bills were sent on their way to the House Tax Committee.

With many “thanks” all around, especially to Committee Administrator Sarah Burt and Superintendent Wormstadt, for making all this possible, the committee members boarded their bus back to the Capitol as students boarded theirs to homes and farms, and section wrestling weigh-ins began.