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Summer closes; schools open

Summer vacation has come to a close for area children as local schools opened their doors for the first day Tuesday, Sept. 6. Pequot Lakes Schools The Pequot Lakes School District welcomed more than 1,600 students Tuesday for a stress-free first ...

Mia Trumpold colors as she waits for the first day of first grade to begin Tuesday, Sept. 6, at Eagle View Elementary School in Breezy Point. Theresa Bourke/Echo Journal
Mia Trumpold colors as she waits for the first day of first grade to begin Tuesday, Sept. 6, at Eagle View Elementary School in Breezy Point. Theresa Bourke/Echo Journal

Summer vacation has come to a close for area children as local schools opened their doors for the first day Tuesday, Sept. 6.

Pequot Lakes Schools

The Pequot Lakes School District welcomed more than 1,600 students Tuesday for a stress-free first day, said superintendent Chris Lindholm.

"It's been very smooth so far," he said. "Can't ask for a better start."

High School Principal Chip Rankin said the school registered about 50 new students this year, which brings minor challenges.

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"That's a significant change for us, just trying to get everyone registered, get a schedule, get everything set," Rankin said. "That's been the challenge to get everybody going, and I think we were successful in doing that. Our counselors have worked really hard; our teachers have worked really hard. I feel like that's gone really well."

Another new element this fall for Pequot Lakes middle and high school students is the opportunity to use Chromebooks.

"We're walking into year two, but actually our first fall, of providing a way for parents of sixth-graders, ninth-graders and seniors to purchase a Chromebook at a very discounted price for the purpose of teaching and learning," Lindholm said. "So we're excited about that."

Eagle View Elementary School Principal Melissa Hesch said Tuesday marked a quiet start to the school year. Kindergartners have their first day Thursday, Sept. 8.

The elementary school has close to 590 students in kindergarten through grade four, with a smaller kindergarten class and larger fourth-grade class.

"It's not at quite the cap level but they're getting there," Hesch said of fourth grade, which has about 26 students per classroom.

That compares to other grades with 22-24 students per classroom. First grade also is higher with 23-24 students per classroom, she said.

Pine River-Backus Schools

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Though enrollment numbers for the high school aren't in, Pine River-Backus Elementary School is seeing a slight increase over anticipated numbers. This is in spite of the opening of the Foothills Christian Academy in Backus, which expected 35 students. This opening was taken into consideration by PR-B during projections.

"That certainly was one of the factors," said Superintendent Dave Endicott. "We are probably going to have a few weeks not knowing which students will be there or won't be there. Right now the elementary numbers as of last Thursday or Friday were up five or six students from what we projected."

Each grade has from 68 to 77 students, with class sizes in the elementary at 25 students or lower.

"In the lower classes there are anywhere from 17-20 kids from K-2, and in 2-6 we are anywhere from 22-25," Endicott said. "We are very pleased. Things have gone quite smoothly. We have a lot of enthusiasm and are looking forward to a great year for the kids."

For Pine River-Backus, the school year brings six new teachers, a new vocal music director and new high school clerical worker, in addition to others.

• Shianna Hicks is a new first-grade teacher originally from Brainerd. She has her bachelor's degree from Bemidji State University.

• Michael Lupella, originally from Pine River, has degrees in elementary education and special education. He has past teaching experience at Lake Region Christian School, Pillager and Red Wing, with Red Wing being host to him for 11 years.

• Naomi Horn is the new vocal music director as well as junior high volleyball coach. She is a 2016 graduate of Crown College and a three-year veteran of middle school band, teaching at Pocatello, Idaho.

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• Kara DeVriendt is PR-B's new seventh- and ninth-grade language arts teacher. She has an English degree from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and a teaching license from Bemidji State University. She's originally from Owatonna and taught in Walker-Hackensack-Akeley for a year, preceded by working as a literacy tutor with the Minnesota Reading Corps for three years.

• Gina Williams returns to Pine River-Backus as a long-term substitute for fourth grade. Williams is originally from Pine River and has a social work degree from Bemidji State University.

Other new staff includes special education teacher Rebecca Stabenow and industrial technology teacher Jason Trout.

Nisswa Elementary School

Nisswa Elementary School has "a couple of bubble classes," Principal Molly Raske said, which led to three sections of kindergarten and second grade this year.

Enrollment in those grades stands at 66-68 students, Raske said, while the number of students in other grades remains steady at 54-56. There are no multiage classes at Nisswa School this year.

Raske said total enrollment is around 300 students in grades K-4.

Nisswa welcomes a new teacher in each grade, as well as a new secretary, special education teacher and nurse.

• Brooke Weinhandl: Secretary.

• Shaylee Schei: Kindergarten teacher. She grew up in St. Michael-Albertville and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in education, a Title 1 reading credential and a math credential from Valley City State University in North Dakota. She also obtained a degree in human development and family science from North Dakota State University in Fargo.

• Erica Trafas: First-grade teacher. She has lived in the Nisswa area for a long time and graduated from Brainerd High School and Bemidji State University.

• Chanel Gangestad: Second-grade teacher. She grew up in Pillager and graduated from Bemidji State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education.

• Michelle Pfeiffer: Third-grade teacher. Previously, she taught first grade and elementary art within the Brainerd School District. She began volunteering at Nisswa School in 1996 and had an office at the school for several years as she traveled throughout the district as the elementary art coordinator.

Pfeiffer's children attended Nisswa School, and she was an artist-in-residence there for more than 10 years.

• Adam Langan: Fourth-grade teacher. He grew up in Thief River Falls and recently graduated from Bemidji State University.

• Jennifer Kotaska: Special education. Her background is birth through sixth-grade regular education and she is obtaining her master's and license in special education.

• Jackie Uphoff: school nurse. She was the nurse at Riverside Elementary School for the past 10 years.

Other changes include former third-grade teacher Holly Olson becoming interventionist/integrationist. She'll spend half of her time doing reading interventions with students who are struggling, and the other half co-teaching and researching to integrate technology into classrooms. She'll also spend time working with students using iPads and Chromebooks.

First-grade teacher LaRae Lambert became literacy coach, and will split her time between Nisswa School and Harrison Elementary School in Brainerd.

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