Carlton School District focuses on 'real-world opportunities' with 4 course categories

The new strategic plan aims to attract more families to the district as it pursues a one-site K-12 school.

File: Carlton High School
Carlton High School.
Katie Rohman / 2019 file / Pine Journal

CARLTON — The Carlton School District established a mission to become the leader in educational transformation under its 2023-27 strategic plan, which board members approved unanimously Monday, May 15.

The approval comes after months of development by the District Advisory Committee as a way to entice more students to Carlton Public Schools as it continues to pursue a one-site K-12 school. The committee consists of community members, elementary and high school staff, Indian Education staff and some board members.

Our message is that no matter what we do in our exploratory courses, we want a real-world, authentic opportunity at the end of it and that we’re considering how we can get our community involved in it.
South Terrace Principal Donita Stepan

The strategic plan will focus on opportunities at the high school level with four “Pathways to Success” for students to select. The four umbrella categories of courses include business, liberal arts, health care and STEM. Each designated pathway includes a list of courses available for students to sign up.

“We had to think about a different way that we could offer opportunities for students besides the courses that we offer,” South Terrace Elementary School Principal Donita Stepan said. "What is another way for us to provide students with opportunities?”

The fifth pathway includes exploratory options for students to take part in real-world learning opportunities. Classes may range from one to 10 sessions over the course of the year.


“For instance, things like snowmobile safety might be a course that a teacher has a passion for and they want to offer this to students,” Stepan said. “Students can sign up for this snowmobile safety class. That class might be over one session, or might be over the seven sessions that we have throughout the year.”

He also included examples like hockey refereeing training, computer coding, song creation and restaurant management.

“Our message is that no matter what we do in our exploratory courses, we want a real-world, authentic opportunity at the end of it and that we’re considering how we can get our community involved in it,” Stepan said. “We’re thinking about community involvement, citizenship and real-world, authentic opportunities.”

The high school teaching staff, which will be responsible for selecting the available exploratory options, has fully embraced the new plan, and have even requested to expand upon the number of exploratory sections.

They considered six or seven exploratory sections, Engstrom said. "When you met with the high school staff, a common response was, 'Can we do more?' And so you’re coming back Wednesday to solidify that,” he said.

As the exploratory options are made available for the next school year, Stepan and staff are in the planning stages of developing a two-track educational system for the 2024-25 school year composed of a traditional instructional track and a project-based instructional track.

The traditional instructional track will include seven, 50-minute class periods with courses that align with the selected pathway to success. The project-based track will feature students working collaboratively to solve real-world problems that align with their designated pathway of success under the tutelage of a teacher.

Exploratory options will be made available to students in both instructional tracks.


The project-based learning system will begin at the high school level before gradually moving to middle school and elementary school.

“All of our elementary teachers will be trained in project-based learning, so they will be expected to put in projects inside our classrooms,” Stepan said. “And we’ve also created a specialist schedule where we’ve got some exploratory options for next year.”

According to Stepan, the next step will be to discuss during the finance meeting June 20 the financial requirements needed to move in this direction.

more by Jake Przytarski

Jake Przytarski is a reporter for the Cloquet Pine Journal covering a mix of news and sports.
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