Minnesota Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius addresses gathered students and staff at Kingsland High and Elementary School on Monday, Sept. 9.
Minnesota Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius addresses gathered students and staff at Kingsland High and Elementary School on Monday, Sept. 9.
Minnesota Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius visited Kingsland Independent School District's classrooms last Monday morning, Sept. 9, touring the buildings and learning from members of the district's administration and board what initiatives are in place as teachers and students strive toward excellence.

Following the tour of the high, elementary and middle school buildings, an assembly was held in the high and elementary school gymnasium, during which the Kingsland High School senior high band played a welcome and Cassellius addressed the administration, board, staff and especially the students.

Kingsland Superintendent John McDonald opened the assembly, saying, "I'd like to thank you for joining us as we have a special celebration at Kingsland. I'd like to thank everybody who makes it a great place to be, who has the vision to make it a great place to be academically. We can give a great education, and we're on the way to giving a world class education. In the elementary, we have Read 180, Response to Intervention, every student has access to an iPad, at the middle and high schools, we have Project Lead the Way (PLTW), and in Project Lead the Way, we're the first school in Minnesota to achieve three national certifications. We have College in the Schools (CIS) and offer over 80 college credits to students. The integration of those things...the skills learned...that's Kingsland strength.

"This morning we welcome and greet Minnesota's commissioner of education, Brenda Cassellius. She heard that we are one of the schools that is focusing on STEM education, and she works with schools to promote world class education. She heard about us, and she wanted to see for herself all the good things going on here at Kingsland."

Cassellius spoke next, thanking McDonald for the gracious introduction and elaborating on it in order for students to identify with her as the person in charge of the entire state's public education system. "I meet with and advise Gov. Mark Dayton on all the issues that he needs to know about education in Minnesota so that he can make the decisions that need to be made about how much to spend and where to spend it. He's my boss."

She went on to commend the teachers and support staff for a job well done. "None of this (education) would happen without the great teachers and support staff. Really great things are happening at your school here. Look at what all the wonderful staff is doing, what the community has done to invest in students, all the hard work you students are doing, too. Teachers, remember when you were little? You started with your very first assembly and got all the way to being seniors. The high school...you have a really great band. I bet you have a lot of fun at football games. And look at all the things happening here...Project Lead the Way, iPads in classrooms, all of that made possible by great teachers and staff."

She also noted the efforts made by custodial staff to keep the schools clean and ready for learning. "I saw how clean the halls were kept by the custodial staff. It takes a whole community of learners to keep the school clean."

The commissioner acknowledged the students' "really hard work. You know that if you work hard to get the skills you need, that will all help you to be successful in life. I'm so proud of all the work you've been doing. I saw you helping each other, treating each other nicely."

She then took questions from the students, including why the lunch program has "grain-y food," whether there could be longer recess at the elementary and middle schools, how to promote bigger school libraries and whether there could be less homework. She answered each as straightforwardly as possible, pointing out that first, there have been changes to the school nutrition guidelines that are meant to help students feel healthier, second, that there is a certain amount of learning that must be balanced out with recess and that the requirements are being weighed, third, that technology has meant that school libraries are now more likely found within classrooms as classroom libraries, and that while homework is necessary, educators and administrators are attempting to create a "school-life balance" in that respect as well.

There wasn't quite enough time in the commissioner's schedule to accommodate all the students' questions, but she took as many as possible, then reiterated that she was there to thank the teachers, the board of education, the community leadership members and students "for all your hard work."

The band struck up the Kingsland school song, and elementary and high school Principal Chris Priebe took a run up and down the gymnasium floor with a Kingsland sword and shield at the ready, rousing students' school pride. At the close of the assembly, Cassellius donned a Kingsland Knights sweatshirt and greeted students and staff as they proceeded out the door to class.