Pine River-Backus School District: Two surveys going to Pine River-Backus families, students

One survey will help PR-B with strategic planning while another aims to identify student needs.

Speakers address Pine River Backus School Board.
Teachers provide a presentation on "Spotlight on Education" at the Monday, Feb. 7, 2022, Pine River-Backus School Board meeting.
Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

PINE RIVER — The Pine River-Backus School Board discussed two surveys at its regular meeting Monday, Feb. 7, one as part of the district's strategic planning efforts and one issued by the state to identify demographics and risks in schools.

The first survey is part of the Big River Consulting Group LLC-led strategic planning process. The survey is only two questions:

  • What two or three things are working well within the school district?
  • What two or three things need more attention or need to be improved?

The strategic planning process will also include opportunities for in-person feedback. Meetings are planned at 6 p.m. Feb. 21 at Backus City Hall and 6 p.m. Feb. 22 in the Pine River-Backus High School media center.
These meetings will allow community members to give feedback and direction to the district.

The second survey is the Minnesota Student Survey. This state survey raised some eyebrows among the board. Superintendent Jonathan Clark was careful to provide clarification on several items:

  • The survey is on a voluntary basis, any student can opt out without reason, any parent may opt out without reason and students who begin the survey can skip questions or choose not to complete the survey at any time.
  • This is not a Pine River-Backus survey, and the district is not part of writing or reading the results of the survey.
  • The survey does not require any registration or identification, so students who fill out the information will not have their names attached in any way.
If they feel like these are things they don't feel like answering, that's fine.
Dave Sheley

This survey is issued every three years. The district gets to choose which age range will be surveyed. There is a survey for students in fifth and sixth grades. There is a survey for sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Finally, there is a survey for ninth, 10th and 11th grades.


Clark said the subjects in the survey change depending on age group. Grades five and six are questioned largely on bullying and their likes or dislikes. In the oldest grades the students are asked about alcohol and substance use in the school, smoking, vaping, sexual activity and other more personal and possibly sensitive information for some.

"The school district doesn't have anything with this survey except for administration of the survey," Clark said. "We don't create the questions, we don't ask the questions for it."

The district only sees the district wide results combined with the county data and state data. The district never sees individual answers. Survey results may qualify the district for grants, such as those meant to combat drug, alcohol or tobacco use.

Board member Dave Sheley said he had concerns but dug into the details.

"The thing I like about it is they can opt out," Sheley said. "If they feel like these are things they don't feel like answering, that's fine. The other thing is there is some information I could see could be beneficial. If there's a lot of vaping going on or they aren't feeling safe at school or home. There are things they can get from that that would be beneficial."

Once administration has decided which age group will be surveyed, Clark said parents will receive a letter explaining the survey and advising parents and students how to opt out if they so choose.

"There are some students who don't have a voice to express how they feel when this does happen in their school and their grade level and their community," Clark said. "This does give them a voice."

In other business Monday, the board:


  • Accepted the resignations of Dawn Kennedy, paraprofessional, and Conner Guetter, elementary math teacher and coach.
  • Approved hiring Mike Shetka and Andrew Rudlang as robotics coaches, Katie Verschelde and Rachel Warg as prom advisers, Guetter as varsity softball coach, Matthew Casperson as assistant softball coach, Leah Freeman as junior high softball coach, Mike Dinnel as varsity baseball coach, Ben Kinser as assistant baseball coach, Mark Gonnion as varsity girls golf coach, Steve Heslop as varsity boys golf coach, Rick Aulie as assistant golf coach, Tom Demars as varsity boys track coach, Tim Ramler as varsity girls track coach and William Jorgerson as van driver.
  • Learned the band trip was canceled and all funds refunded in light of current vaccination requirements on cruise ships.
  • Approved a contract with School Service Employees International Union Local No. 284.
  • Approved a memorandum of understanding with Services Employees International Union Local 284 adding language for additional stipends for paraprofessionals assigned to K-12 Federal Setting III programs for at least 50% of their day.

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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