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Speaking on education

PEQUOT LAKES — A panel representing five area school districts joined State Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, and a crowd of more than 20 who turned out at Pequot Lakes High School auditorium for an education forum.

The panel provided plenty of variety, with perspectives from students, parents and teachers. In attendance for Tuesday’s forum was: Ward, Cassellius, Pine River School student Meghan Wheeler, Pillager school parent Don Gaalswyk, Crosby-Ironton school board member Kelly McCalla, Pequot Lakes educator and Teacher of the Year Karen Rubado and Brainerd school education support staff member Connie Christensen.

Each panelist took turns discussing issues as they pertain to each district and their role in the district while focusing on the overall positives seen in Minnesota education, in particular the area.

“There’s a lot to be proud of in this area and in the state of Minnesota’s commitment to education,” said McCalla. “But aside from that, there are some things that we need to look at changing or adjusting to better that education.

“One area that we see that is in how the competition for schools works. Even the WWF has rules and I’m not sure I’ve sorted out all of the boundaries in open enrollment but I’m not sure that we want that kind of competition.”

To counter McCalla’s hesitance to open enrollment in the area was Gaalswyk, who said for him as a parent, open enrollment is a way to put the choice back into parents hands.

“I am in favor of open enrollment and of giving families a choice,” said Gaalswyk. “I understand there are issues of ‘robbing’ students from other schools, but if parents have a choice, they choose what is best for their family and I think that competition has forced schools to become better.

“Competition works in athletics between the area schools, why not use it to raise that level and see it work inside the classroom and education.”

Another topic of concern for more than one panelist was classroom size.

“I’m lucky I have a small sized class of 18 and another one of 28,” said Rubado. “And I can already tell that my class of 18 (students) is moving along faster and further than my class of 28. And (the class of 28) is getting there, but those 10 extra kids make a difference.”

Christensen echoed Rubado’s concerns as seen in the Brainerd school district, saying there are classrooms where there is very little room, even to walk at times.

Following each panelist sharing their own concerns, audience members had the chance for a question and answer session before Cassellius wrapped things up.

“We (Minnesota Education) are working hard to achieve what the governor set up two years ago in his seven point plan,” she said. “And we are only going to continue to grow and improve, as I can see from all of the panelists that are here tonight voicing their concerns.”

JESSI PIERCE, staff writer, may be reached at 855-5859 or Follow her on Twitter at (@jessi_pierce).