One of the most poignant lessons I’ve learned or become even more aware of as superintendent of a rural school district in the 2020-21 school year is the pivotal role that a school district plays in the economic heart of a local community.

I’ve certainly always known that decisions to close school are a big deal - just ask any superintendent about how well liked they are when making weather closure decisions - but never have I had to shut down schools for weeks at a time. Not in 20+ years.

As I drove to and from work in December and January, I saw what looked like a ghost town in downtown Pequot Lakes, Breezy Point and Crosslake. It was heartbreaking - and yet I clearly understood we had to intervene with hospitals over capacity and no room to deal with regular life health tragedies and struggles.

It is definitely true that we must find a way for schools to operate to keep the economy and community life rolling even if it has to look different - and that is humbling and a challenging charge, but it is what we must work toward together.

The week of Jan. 18, our school district staff was blessed with an enormous gift from Cuyuna Regional Medical Center and Crow Wing County Public Health. We learned on Tuesday, Jan. 19, that CRMC had enough COVID-19 vaccine available to vaccinate our staff, and the race was on.

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We quickly established a clinic schedule and the CRMC team vaccinated 110+ staff on that Thursday afternoon, increasing our chances of staying open to teach students onsite at school. It was a 36-hour turnaround with execution modeling discipline the U.S. Marines would be proud of.

We in Pequot Lakes Public Schools cannot thank our partners at CRMC and CWC enough for making this happen so quickly to help us do our important work and to help us navigate the months ahead helping our families get to work. Thank you, CRMC and CWC Public Health, for going above and beyond for the public you serve!

Patriot families, we are not through this yet. Quarantine rules, mask and distancing rules, crowd size limits and all that we’ve been doing this year still apply and will likely continue through the end of the school year.

We must all remain vigilant to keep schools open and not be forced to close due to a lack of staffing with quarantine and isolation requirements (which the vaccination doesn’t change as of yet, per the Minnesota Department of Health).

That said, our partners have helped us lead the pack in Minnesota with the earliest vaccinations for our educators, and that calls for a big kudos and thank you. Thank you friends at CRMC and well done serving your local communities. We couldn’t be prouder and more grateful.

Go Patriots!

Chris Lindholm is the Pequot Lakes School District superintendent.