Red Lake school district preps for big changes

By KBJR News 1

September 3, 2010 Updated Sep 3, 2010 at 11:09 AM CDT

Posted by Boua Xiong

Five years ago a 16–year–old gunman shot and killed 9 people before turning the gun on himself. Most of the deaths happened at Red Lake High school.

Today the scene is very different. Friendly smiles greet visitors at the school entrance and the pain from the incident is slowing turning into hope.

This fall district officials are hoping to take the strength the community has shown and transform the district from being one of Minnesota's lowest performing schools to one of the highest.

"We are a growing school district that is not good yet but is getting much better with each day and we do expect to reach our goal which is high performance," superintendent Brent Gish said.

To reach that goal the district is getting more than $2 million in school improvement grants. The money is being used to develop staff and re–vamp curriculum in hopes of increasing student test scores and graduation rates.

Another big part of the effort is making sure students feel safe at school so they can learn. One way they're doing that is through a significant network of surveillance cameras. The school has installed almost 200 cameras at various locations throughout the building. These cameras will be monitored throughout the school day.

"Some of these kids have lived through some very sad events and to lose friends in accidents at a very young age has affected some of them. It's made it very hard to cope with and think about school first," Ramona Gehlert, Red Lake high school principal, said.

To help kids put school first the district is pushing for greater parent involvement, which hasn't been easy.

"Sometimes parents aren't very anxious to come in and talk with you or meet with you. Maybe they had a bad experience in school before and so it's not a pleasant place for them," Sharon Hoverson, a kindergarten teacher for the district said.

However, with teachers calling every single parent of every single student to open those doors of communication the district said it's starting to see progress.

"(I had) a girl who came into 4th grade performing at, initially a 2nd grade level in math, at the beginning of the school year. By the end of the school year she tested proficient on her 4th grade math test," Chris Bjerklie, a former teacher who's now part of advising the district on their turnaround plan, said.

"Every time we make a gain, we raise the bar. These kids can do it. And we don't tolerate 'they can't. Yes they can and they will and we won't stop until they do. That's what we do here," Dawn Peterson, a 6th grade teacher, said.

As part of the turnaround plan each student will develop an individual learning plan. Principal Gehlert said if students ever feel like they can't reach their goals all they have to do is look around.

"We had a tough time as kids too and people helped us and supported us and because we were open to that we've been able to be achieve what we want to achieve and do what we want to do," Gehlert said.