Chatfield school ready for students to begin new school year next week

Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

Chatfield Public Schools are shined up, polished, fully roofed and ready to go.

“We were able to do some additional roof sections because during the high school renovation project, we did well enough on our budget to allow us to do some things at a later date,” stated Chatfield Superintendent Ed Harris. “There were a couple of other things that eased the budget and let us do well enough that we could replace lockers in the girls’ locker rooms with bigger ones because they’re not very big or very useful, and the front wall of the high school is the same…it’s nearly complete. We’ve finally gotten the design improved to the last phase. I think once it gets done, we’ll be able to consider the project near completion.”

Harris and his staff are excited to see the final work of the 2015-2018 renovation project being done on Chatfield High School as the district opens that building and the elementary school for the 2019-2020 school year. The custodial crew has spent the summer emptying classrooms and polishing everything from ceiling to floor to prepare for a year of learning at both buildings brought to students courtesy of longtime and new staff members.

“I want to commend our administration, office staff and custodial and cleaning crew for a lot of transition and changes in the district,” he said. “They’ve really worked hard to get us to where we are. Also, we have several new staff members, made some really good hires we look forward to working with this school year. The teachers are coming back next week, and the buildings are getting busier. I can’t wait until the kids come back to school.”

Harris noted that Chatfield’s School Board held a special meeting early in the morning on Wednesday, Aug. 21, to discuss the implications and possibilities of holding an operating levy referendum on Tuesday, Nov. 5, in conjunction with the School Board election scheduled to find a new member for the seat currently held by appointed member F. Mike Tuohy, who was chosen to finish Jerry Chase’s term.

The operating levy referendum, if met with positive responses, would help raise the amount per pupil that the district receives to offer public education.

Harris commended Chatfield’s residents on the returned replies for surveys sent out to gather public opinion on the matter. “The community survey – we had a super good response coming in, good input over the last few years on the projects we’ve done. We’re working on our budget and in the spring, we realized that enrollment is not really doing anything. It’s stable, but actually less than the last couple of years, so that makes it a difficult position to shore up our budget,” he said. “In the long term, we want to address revenues. There was some support for additional revenues, and some of the taxpayers were not quite ready for an additional $375 per student.”

The superintendent continued, “The good news is that we’ve had several different staffing changes over the summer that allowed us to rehire in ways that are economically favorable to us. There’s a position and a half that we’re not replacing, so that kind of started some cost savings. The reason that the board held a meeting this week is that they needed to have a decision made by this Friday (Aug. 23), which was the state deadline, and they did decide to put an operating levy on the November ballot.”

Harris shared that the ballot will have two questions on it regarding amounts – one contingent on the other’s passage – and that further information will be available as soon as the board sees fit to release it, as there will be a regular School Board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 4, and other meetings to follow before the election.

“This gives the public an opportunity to choose how they may or may not want to support it. It is possible that we may approach some modest reductions in the future…but as of today, the board decided to put two questions on the ballot together,” Harris said. “We have heard and know that a lot has been asked of the community as of late, and they’ve supported us well with the high school project in 2015, and then there’s the pool project with the city, so we’ll try not to ask for a whole lot more than we need.”

Harris said the School Board is trying to appeal to both opinions in the survey with a compromise, based on the opinions of the replies in the survey.

“We want people to know that we value their opinions and honesty and plan to use that as a guide as we go forward,” he said.

High School Principal Randy Paulson remarked that he’s glad to start the 2019-2020 school year in a building that’s been renovated and cleaned to a shine, unlike last year’s last-minute construction start.

“It’s nice not to be coming into construction this year because basically, last year, they were not done with construction until the end of October. So, it’s nice not starting out the school year working around construction dust,” Paulson said.

In regards to programming, Paulson noted that the school has been implementing the award-winning Flex Time in ninth through 12th grade in separate Flex Times for seventh and eighth grades.

“They’ll have about a 30-minute time in period two for eighth grade and about a 30-minute period in period eight for seventh grade,” he added. “We’ll have about five staff members available for each time with various different things that both seventh and eighth graders can do.”

He highlighted staffing and said, “Jay Harstad is moving from fifth grade to seventh and eighth grade math, Sara Duxbury is coming from the elementary to the high school counselor’s position, Chad Olson has been hired as our new FOCUS alternative learning program (ALP) teacher, Abbey Potter will be full-time at the high school art class – she was part-time between the elementary and high school, but this year, she’ll be full-time, and Trish Doyle is moving to middle school English. In the office, Christy Carr has been a paraprofessional but is now moving to assistant to the principal. In the LINC, Adam Hurley will be joining us again, and he’ll also be working in the weight and fitness program.”

At the elementary school, Principal Shane McBroom listed that Kristine Welper will be teaching kindergarten, Kaitlyn Ellringer will take the head of the class in fifth grade, Jenna Dokken will serve as guidance counselor now that Duxbury has been moved to the high school, Amy Gernes will teach art part-time because art instructor Abbey Potter has been assigned to spend all of her time at the high school, and new nurse Anna Pence will be available one day a week to help students feel better.

“There’s not a lot of other big changes,” McBroom said. “We’ll get the school year off to a good start, welcome all the students back. Parent-teacher conferences are Sept. 3 and 4. We’re continuing to do Gopher Time on Wednesday afternoons and still doing late starts for professional learning communities on Wednesdays.”

He added, “The building is in good shape because the summer custodial staff is doing a good job getting everything ready. I’m looking forward to seeing the kids back.”

Community Education Director LuAnn Klevan outlined changes in her department, specifically in Chatfield’s preschool program. “Jayna Harstad will teach our mixed-age group that meets on Mondays and Wednesdays, and Colleen Bradt is her assistant who will work on Mondays and Wednesdays and in our new Friday Child Care Program. We have added a four-day class for our 4- and 5-year-olds. The class will meet Monday through Thursday, and Renee Bakken is teaching the four-day class which is a popular option that makes it possible for families to use preschool and Valleyland without having to pay for additional daycare,” Klevan said.

She added that families do need to have a backup plan for non-instructional days and snow days.

“Children in this class may also attend Friday Child Care from 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Families may use Preschool Valleyland before and after the Friday Child Care Program. Julie Obritsch is the lead teacher for Friday Child Care,” she added.

Furthermore, the department has added another early childhood family education (ECFE) class on Tuesday evenings from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. “For the past two years, the Thursday evening class has been very popular. The class is overflowing. The goal is to offer two evening classes, thus reducing the numbers in the Thursday evening class.”

Klevan commented, “Chatfield Preschool has received a Four-Star rating from Parent Aware. That means that we offer a high-quality program with well-trained staff and approved curriculum and assessment. But more importantly, it is a place where children learn and have fun at the same time. Children in our program learn through play. Teachers provide intentional play opportunities to support the learning goals for the day. When you walk in the room, you see smiles, hear laughter and see kids engaged in learning. Our staff is an incredible team. We work together to make sure that our students feel welcome, supported, encouraged and loved. Everyone who works in the preschool program is here because they care. Our staff is here to serve our families. Open communication helps us improve, adjust and better serve our children.”

Klevan invited families still interested in registering for preschool to do so. “It’s not too late to register. We have openings in the 3- and 4-year-old classes, the mixed age class and the 4- and 5-year old three-day class. Scholarships are available based on financial need. I look forward to the sound of children in the hallway! I always look forward to welcoming the staff and families to a new year of preschool and ECFE.”

She reminded parents, “The first day of preschool can be difficult – particularly for new students. We will do our best to help children and parents with the transition. Be excited and positive. Let your child know that it is going to be a great day!”

For more information on 2019-2020 school year news and activities, log onto the district’s website at