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Team effort for Blackduck

A suggestion to market Blackduck Schools instead of cutting staff or programs resulted in a meeting to do just that.

When Rick Olhava challenged the school board at its March meeting to think along those lines, his idea was quickly accepted by the board. At a meeting last week, five of the board members were among the several dozen community, school staff and business people attending.

Blackduck School Superintendent Robert Doetsch was enthusiastic. So was Blackduck City Administrator Karin Elhard. Both mentioned the work of business teacher Andra Vaughn, who brought to the meeting, a marketing plan based on her experience and her career as a consultant to business companies and organizations.

Vaughn ran her own florist business in Bemidji for 17 years, and for the past three years has spent her summers helping companies as a marketing specialist with the Northwest Small Business Center. With a Master's degree in marketing, she's also a past president of the Bemidji Chamber of Commerce and brought all of that background to her presentation at the school meeting.

Starting with a review of demographic information, she told the 50 or more people attending last week's meeting that in recent years Blackduck's school population has dropped from 719 to the present enrollment of 641.

From that, she looked at causes including students lost because of Minnesota's open enrollment law. Another factor, she continued, was Minnesota becoming one of the first states in the nation to allow high school students to take college courses in what is a recognized 'virtual education' via the internet.

Having offered that explanation of the background to the problem declining numbers of students has created, Vaughan offered a quick course on some actions that could be taken to change direction. A list of positive, existing factors were emphasized.

"Our strength is in our students," she began. "They know and their parents and the community knows that Blackduck has a school that is safe and caring."

"We're a public school with private school values," she continued, putting emphasis on Blackduck schools being centered on student learning.

Since the board moved the school week to four days, Vaughan said, it hasn't changed for a majority of teachers who are still at the building on many Mondays which could have been their day off. Nor, she said, it hasn't changed the fact that many teachers still offer individual one-on-one help with students after school or on weekends.

As an aside comment later, she was pleased to add that students were 'on board' with the ideas offered.

These included expanded offerings and efforts to boost enrollment.

Superintendent Doetsch was pleased with the meeting, called it "very satisfying" both in terms of the attendance and in what was said.

He was particularly pleased with the prospect of joining with the business community in its recent "Buy Local" campaign.

"If we can work together and get more people involved, it will help both the school and the whole community."

Vaughn said the Blackduck website gets some 22,000 "hits" a month, and the Blackduck School site gets another 550. "That's a lot of people wanting to know more about us, and not just about 'How's the fishing.'"

Elhard urged school board members and Doetsch to attend the April 15 meeting of the Blackduck Development Council. In remarks similar to those of others at the previous week's meeting, she was enthusiastic and encouraged by the prospect of joint efforts in community and school development work.

Plans are being made for an event in May and a broad committee of the general public is being considered.

As Doetsch said later, "I think we're on the right track."