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PIONEER VIEWPOINTS: Growing in the right direction

Some cheers for the news events of the past week.

Quickly becoming a focal point for entrepreneurship in Minnesota, the LaunchPad in Bemidji already is expanding and deserves a cheer. As part of the revamped Mayflower Building downtown, the LaunchPad helps startup business and entrepreneurs, offering co-working space, meetups and training.

Opened in 2015, the LaunchPad is already set to expand, renovating some 7,000 square feet of space in the Mayflower’s lower level. The new space will feature what LaunchPad officials call “campsites,” instead of traditional cubicle-based office space. The entrepreneurial spirit of the LaunchPad and Bemidji in general are some of the reasons Twin Cities Business magazine decided to highlight Bemidji with a 10-page spread in its February issue.

Here’s a cheer to Jim Fretheim, recently elected as president of the board for the Bemidji Community Food Shelf. Fretheim served as superintendent of the Northwest Conference of Covenant Churches from 2004 to 2012, an association of 145 Covenant congregations in Minnesota, Wisconsin and North and South Dakota. As part of that work, Fretheim was involved with a variety of food distribution and outreach ministries through the years. Fretheim takes the reins from Bill Beyer, who did a terrific job leading the food shelf board for the past eight years, through moving and expanding the physical space for the food shelf, as well as developing new projects to help the community. Fretheim, like Beyer, is officially retired, and it’s a credit to him and others who give back tirelessly to their communities.

Gov. Mark Dayton’s last week proclaimed Wednesday as the first-ever School Bus Driver Appreciation Day in Minnesota. It’s a well-deserved honor for these men and women who deliver our students to and from school each day. We are especially cognizant of the need here for the Bemidji school district. Did you know that the district’s bus drivers cover 1.3 million miles each year, transporting some 4,000 students. That’s impressive. It’s a demanding job, one that includes technical skills, as well as people skills and, we imagine, a heap of patience. Thank you to all the bus drivers!

Cheers also go to Oak Hills Christian College on the dedication of the new Robert H. Thompson Memorial Residence Hall, a multi-million dollar dorm on campus. With room for 88 students, the new dorm enhances what Oak Hills has to offer its students. As part of the higher education framework in the Bemidji area, with Bemidji State University, Northwest Technical College and tribal colleges at Red Lake and Leech Lake, the continued success and growth of Oak Hills is a boon to everyone.

Speaking of education, cheers also are deserved as statewide high school graduation rates continue an upward trend. That’s also true for Bemidji. Statewide, 82.2 percent of the class of 2016 graduated in four years, while that number was 75 percent of Bemidji School District. Bemidji’s district-wide graduation rate includes alternative schools such as Lumberjack High School and BYLaW. The four-year graduation rate for Bemidji High School alone last year was 86.4 percent, just a bit higher than in 2015. Still, the trend is going in the right direction, and programs such as Link Leader, Students First and other programs help students achieve those diplomas. Another positive trend statewide is the gap between white student rates and those of non-white students.