Iron Range districts eye shared school, new model

PHOTO: Science and Technology Facilities Council (UK), Flickr CC

Student desks form even rows on hardwood floors. A chalkboard at the front of the room frames the teacher’s heavy, spacious desk. Heavy vinyl maps roll down from the ceiling.

Most of us recognize this picture as school. In fact, this scene so imprints our minds that decades later we still dream about it. It’s a fixed image, varied only by the teacher at the front of the room and the students sitting around us.

While this vision seems unshakable, in fact it becomes less accurate each year. Internet reached classrooms 20 years ago, quickly followed by smart boards and interactive displays. Students began learning online soon after. iPads have been in the classroom for eight years.

The core concept of education remains rooted in ancient times, augmented by new perspective, research and technology. Trends in education and declining enrollment could produce dramatic change in coming years here in Northern Minnesota’s Iron Range region.

The Virginia and Eveleth-Gilbert School Districts are considering building a new shared high school that follows the academy model. This approach emphasizes group learning, skills training and technology over the traditional K-12 model.

Supporters, including teachers in the two districts, argue this will create new opportunity for Iron Range students while addressing declining enrollment and outdated facilities. The campus would be located just north of Eveleth in a location where all three towns would have direct highway access.

In a Nov. 17 commentary in the Mesabi Daily News, teachers spoke of what they saw at Alexandria’s High School, their working model for the proposed new high school.

Many of us have had the opportunity to visit Alexandria, and can speak to the success of their program. It is truly an impressive program that is appreciated by the students, staff, and community. Part of the reason their school works as effectively as it does is that the building is set up to facilitate the academies program. They have flexibility in their setup and in their furniture. If one academy or one class grows, they are able to remove and restructure walls to create larger or smaller spaces. Group work rooms exist that are in sight lines of teachers, meaning working in groups–a skill many employers and colleges seek–is encouraged, feasible, and safe.

Collaboration spaces for teachers exists, encouraging teachers to work together to provide the best for their students. Neither Eveleth-Gilbert nor Virginia Secondary have these collaborative spaces. As Alexandria’s school grows and their programs adapt to the changing needs of students, their school is able to similarly adapt to those needs. It was a cost-effective move to build a facility that met the needs of the students of the 21st century.

It’s true. Effective group work. Ability to learn new technology. Adaptability. Critical thinking. These are skills employers say they demand. I teach at Hibbing Community College. These are the skills we want students to have when they come to us, and that students must have when they leave us.

And it’s also true that sharing and consolidation among Iron Range school districts is necessary. Readers here have heard me harp on this in the past. Our regional enrollment is not large enough to support the same number of school districts it once did. Consolidation in favor of large, cookie-cutter schools hurts small communities. But using change as an opportunity we could develop specialty high schools while supporting smaller community-based elementary schools.

That doesn’t mean this will be easy. There’s going to be a lot of skepticism, and not just because this whole thing sounds “new-fangled.”

The byproduct of this project would be two large historic buildings in need of significant repairs marooned in the heart of Eveleth and Virginia, respectively. I just spent time extolling the beauty of Hibbing High School. Both the Eveleth-Gilbert and Virginia high schools are historic buildings as well. While not as opulent as Hibbing, they feature some of the same old world craftsmanship.

Remember the fixed image of a classroom from the start of this post? A lot of voters in these two districts hold such memories from those specific buildings. This alone has made change difficult in the past.

Further, there will need to be some understanding of the trade-offs with the new model. It’s obvious that students will gain different skills from this new approach. But will high achieving students have the same experience? Will this produce more college graduates, thinkers and innovators, or just better workers?

That conversation is happening now, as it should.

Nevertheless, everyone on the Iron Range needs to accept that change is coming. We see that in bad economic times and good that population trends seem unrelenting. Schools that innovate first will set the tone.


  1. independant says

    I think this is a great thing. We need to shake up and innovate our way to a better future. The entire K – College education experience will soon be upended by innovation and fresh thinking out of necessity. The greatest threat to our children’s future is being fooled into believing they need to go six figures into debt before they even begin their adult lives. All of that debilitating debt for a dusty and obsolete diploma, please. I believe the smaller community and technical colleges can offer some of the best education value you can find. Maybe Hibbing and Mesabi could be on the leading edge of innovative focused learning opportunities that don’t lead to an indentured existence until a person is 40 years old.

  2. I have been highly involved in this process, as an EG teacher and parent. My name is on that letter, and I’ve been to Alexandria to view their school. The academies model is NOT a trades model, but rather a shift in educational philosophy that is long overdue. This model seeks to address the question so many modern students– high flying or struggling learners–ask: When am I going to use this? That question is relevant whether kids are going directly into the work force, to a two year college or training program, or into a 4 year university. The academies model will help students refine their career choices, ideally allowing students to save the time and money often spent exploring– and discarding– career choices. Creating space for that exploration, by involving area business and allowing students to take classes that show how coursework is relevant to their future will be beneficial to all students– including those pursuing higher level academics.

  3. Dena Greenwood says

    Hello, my name is Dena I was born and raised in Hibbing I am a single mother of 2 teenage daughters that are currently attending the Hibbing High School. My oldest daughter is a senior this year and which means that this is my last 5months to spend with her in Hibbing… My daughter does not see why anyone wants to live in Hibbing and has been planned since she was around 10 years old where she was moving to as soon as she graduated from Hibbing High School…I have told my girls since thier first day of kindergarten that the only rule in my parent/child rules is that they both will graduate from Hibbing High School no matter how long it may take but that will happen without any questioning. The reason for this is because i believed Hibbing to be one of the best schools to Learn and to be able to be recognized for your accomplishments. Be honored for your hard work and outstanding grades. One would assume that im understanding now as graduation comes closer that maybe i did just assume this and that all my daughters hard work and dedication was nothing more than hard work and dedication for me…. I feel so horribly selfish that i didnt move my girls somewhere a long time ago , somewhere with rewards and recognition and reason for them to try thier best to succceed so that they too are not stuck in this mine pit in the middle of really Nothing…it brings nothing to or for our children but hopes but then takes any entertainment they have and puts back into itself again…”Broken promises in a ghost town” should be Hibbing’s motto.. My point is if Hibbing is a mining capital and that is what Hibbing is known to be….Then Hibbing needs to get some of this millions of dollars they profit and put it where it is legally right to put it which is back into the community….meaning our schools, stores things like parks with entertainment for our kids. SCHOLARSHIPS ,AWARDS and things to award our kids for thier hard work. I feel so bad for my oldest daughter ,she has been an honor roll student her entire school career…she has never missed a single day of school ever….she is a Varsity volleyball player which has so much potential and such a leader and roll model to others and she worked so hard for this because Like i said since the day she started school that you work hard and help others you will be awarded. But in less than 5 months i will be a liar and thats not fair i dont want my daughter to look at me and think why did i do all this mom, i thought you said i would be rewarded or my road will be paved….she will ask me” wheres my reward” mom?? And i will have to tell her i guess its all in the ground and you will never benefit from it but someone else not from hibbing will…..someday!! I feel sorry for these children having to live in Hibbing…why doesnt Hibbing quit investing in law enforcement cause they are just going to keep investing for more but instead invest in our children for thier entertainment and start recognizing children like my daughter for all thier hard work or they will keep dropping like flies….they have no hopes here just empty promises ..

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.