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St. James Plaindealer - St. James, MN
  • SJ School Board hears from community over loss of teacher

  • Approximately 20 people attended the meeting with many of them expressing their opinions over how the District lost a teacher who many in the community feel was one of the best teachers in the District. Most of these people left after the discussion about Blomgren was concluded.
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  • Prior to the start of the regularly scheduled St. James School Board meeting on Monday night, some people from the community voiced their disappointment over sixth grade teacher Kyle Blomgren accepting a teaching position in the Mountain Lake School District.  
    Approximately 20 people attended the meeting with many of them expressing their opinions over how the District lost a teacher who many in the community feel was one of the best teachers in the District. Most of these people left after the discussion about Blomgren was concluded.
      Blomgren was first told by the District’s Adminstration that he was being reassigned from teaching sixth grade to second grade.
    After listening to several comments from attendees, School Board Chairman Bill Brown said he spent about 20 hours over the Memorial Day weekend working on learning about the issues around the Blomgren reassignment.
    He went on to say, “From my role in it, I was just trying to persuade Kyle to accept his teaching reassignment.”
    He then said, “I did not know of his passion for sixth grade and social studies.”
    This reporter had a conversation with Blomgren earlier in the month. He relayed to me there were sixth grade position openings at Lake Crystal, Madelia, Butterfield-Odin and Mt. Lake.
        I told the Board of this discussion with Blomgren and then asked Superintendent Becky Cselovszki if the way Blomgren was approached, saying his next assignment would be in second grade, would have been different  if she had known other schools were looking for a sixth grade teacher.
        “I do not believe that would have changed our decision or discussion,” Cselovszki said.   
    In responding to comments from several Board members on how Blomgren’s leaving came to pass, Mike Tonsager said from the audience, “Aside from all that What is the end result? Kyle is gone. We’ve lost arguably one of our best teachers. One of our best coaches.”   
        Tonsager spoke for several minutes on the outcome of this reassignment process. “People are baffled,” Tonsager said that the District lost a teacher like Blomgren.
        “I already know at least five students that are leaving (the District) because of that decision,” Tonsager said.
    The process that resulted in Blomgren leaving for Mt. Lake played out over several weeks and  involved several Board members and administrators.
    Participants from the Board and administrative side attempted to work out an arrangement where Blomgren would stay. This included offering Blomgren a fourth grade teaching position. 
     
    Board member Jennie Firchau said, “I don’t think he was forced out.” Brown said, “In the end Kyle was the one who chose - I mean Kyle would still be here if he chose to be here.”
    Page 2 of 3 - In a letter to the School Board, Blomgren wrote, “It is with a saddened and confused heart that I find myself writing this letter. To have even thought of its possibility 2 months ago would have been unbelievable. Yet, I have found myself forced to seek a teaching position in which my skills, my expertise, and my experience will be used to their full benefit to reach an age level and be used to excite as many students with the passion for understanding our past and connecting that to our present and their futures as possible.”
        Blomgren went on to request a leave of absence from his teaching assignment in St. James and did not submit a letter of resignation.
        In it’s formal meeting the Board did grant Blomgren a one year leave of absence.  
    Other topics discussed prior to the meeting being called to order included the Asst. Principal of Northside Mike Fugazzi talked about Camp Northside, which is a unique educational experience going on at the elementary school from June 10-21.
        Approximately 165 students from K through 5th grade are participating in the educational sessions. In describing the program Fugazzi said, “Every sentence I say about this should end with - and thanks to Jill Stark.”   
    This program was made possible and is funded by the School Improvement Grant (SIG) funds. A little more than $41,000 is going into these camp sessions.
    In the regular Board session Northside Principal Karla Beck made a presentation on the SIG program. She summed up what was left to do in the remainder of this school year and recounted the awarding to the SIG federal funds for next year, which was recently awarded in the amount of $558,926.72. This amount is about $114,000 more then the first year’s grant.
        The SIG funds were given to Northside to improve educational scores. Beck said secured math and reading scores, the bottom line metrics being used to measure progress, will be available in July.  
    The Northside Principal went on to discuss in some detail the strategy being developed, the tactics and changes being made that flow from that strategy and the human resources or ‘People Power’ who have been marshalled to meet the goals of SIG.
        Beck also summarized the challenges that needed to be analyzed and the and successes to be celebrated which have come from working to implement the grant program.  
        The School Board approved the School District Budget for the 2013-14 school year. General fund revenues were projected at $12.05 million against projected expenditures of $11.80 million. Community education revenues were set at $590K compared to expenditures of $580K. Food service balanced out as $600K for revenues and expenditures.
    Page 3 of 3 - The budget includes a reduction of a high school business position, a 1/4 high school art position, a band instructor position and a CRIC teacher.
        There is a Federal sequester cut in the budget of $50,000.
    The Board also approved the paying of the bills for the month of May in the amount of $838,246.52 and the receipt of gifts and contributions totalling $10,177.48.
        In two separate motions, the Board approved the District’s health and safety policy. It is an annual renewal and there is no change from the previous year’s policy. The Board also approved the health and safety budgets for fiscal years  2013, 14 and 15.
        Revised secretarial and custodial contracts were also approved by the Board.
    Sports conference realignment also reappeared as the Board approved a resolution that permits two conferences the South Central and the Southwest to enter into discussion to concerning the scheduling of events between schools in the two conferences beginning no earlier than the 2014-15 school year.
        This resolution was going to be approved by the 13 schools in the two conferences before discussions would begin. A plan would be developed which would be finalized no later than Jan. 31, 2014.
        High School Principal Ted Simon said attendance for the school year was 95.22 percent. The School’s security system is being upgraded. He also said there would be a focus next year on raising students ACT scores.  
          
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