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New classes surprise parents, board members

Another school year is reaching the end and high school graduation is right around the corner.

That was one of several discussions held at the Cloquet School Board meeting Tuesday night including one about another hit to the music program in Cloquet. The latest one comes as an unintended consequence of a good idea to provide students with more class options.

Over the years, classes have been cut back to bare minimum, according to Cloquet Middle School Principal Tom Brenner.

Earlier this year, he proposed changing from trimesters to quarters next school year, which the board approved. With that change came the opportunity to add a few fun elective choices for CMS students who currently choose between choir or band, or a study hall.

The idea was for students who would be sitting in study hall to have other electives to choose from, for example shop, computer, home economics, 3-D printing, or more.

CMS officials recently sent students home with paperwork regarding the new electives, to the surprise of many parents.

One of the surprised parents was school board chair Duane Buytaert. He was aware of the idea in the works, but not that it had been shared with the students or their parents. Buytaert told Brenner he heard from several parents Friday morning. He made it clear he was unhappy about being caught unaware of the situation until the parents contacted him looking for answers.

During the work session, he shared his thoughts with Brenner, who said he thought the board was aware of the changes due to the prior discussion about the new classes and schedule.

The problem came when students in band or choir informed their parents they wanted to drop music classes to take the new electives.

The unintended consequence caused the parents to seek more information from Buytaert, who added that parents expect board members to know what is going on at the schools.

Buytaert stressed that there had not been communication from Brenner to update school board members that the new classes were being implemented next school year.

"My own son said he would rather take these new classes and he wanted to quit band," Buytaert said.

Buytaert has a background in music and is married to a music teacher, so was not happy to hear that choir or band students would have to drop music if they wanted to take one of the new electives.

"Music has had struggles at different levels over the years," said Buytaert, adding that he thinks the new electives are a great offering to students who would otherwise sit in a study hall.

Cloquet cut its orchestra program in 2011, and no longer offers marching band. In related news, choir teacher John Holmstrom submitted his resignation letter, which the board accepted Monday. Holmstrom taught grades 7-12.

In a followup phone call a few days later, Buytaert said he feels like his message of frustration about lack of communication was heard.

In the midst of the end of the school year and coordinating efforts of packing and planning the move from the old middle school building to the new one, several emails have been sent from the middle school to board members with updated information and new schedules for the students next school year.

"It happens from time to time," acknowledged Buytaert. "People get busy with life and forget not everyone knows what is going on because they do."

He thought good compromises for students who wanted to take both the music option and the new electives would be an independent study or a power-up, which are mini classes held during lunch hour.

In other school board news:

• A Kraus-Anderson representative spoke to the board and said the middle school project is moving along smoothly and ahead of schedule.

• High School Principal Warren Peterson said the school year is winding down and school officials are busy with graduation coming up Friday evening.

• There are 394 open-enrolled students coming into the district and 294 open-enrolled students going out of the district.

• Community Ed Director Ruth Reeves said this is the last week for Time for Tots for the school year. The Early Childhood and Family Education department plans to move to their new building adjacent to Churchill Elementary School in early June. She also noted that The Beach at Pinehurst Park will open June 6.