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BHS students petition to keep English teacher around

Brainerd High School juniors Aiah Smith-Seelen and Douglas Mikkelson show off a petition students made in hopes of keeping English teacher Steven Fetzik at the school after the district decided not to renew his contract for next year. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

A petition with more than 30 signatures exemplifies a student-led effort at Brainerd High School to combat the non-renewal of English teacher Steven Fetzik.

BHS junior Douglas Mikkelson said he and his classmates were upset when Fetzik, a first year teacher, told them he would not return to BHS next year, as the district did not renew his contract.

"The whole class immediately was just quiet," Mikkelson said during an interview Friday, April 19. "And you could hear people saying that they didn't expect to be sad about something like that, but they actually were."

The news prompted students, including Mikkelson and classmate Aiah Smith-Seelen, to start a petition in hopes of keeping Fetzik around.

As of Friday afternoon, nearly three dozen students had signed the petition, which features large bold lettering on the top reading: "FIGHT FOR FETZIK."

"For those of you that have had him, I'm sure you know he's the best, for those of you that haven't, just trust me," the petition reads. "We are trying to get as many signatures as possible to show administration that Mr. Fetzik is definitely a teacher worth keeping, please sign below and help us in the fight for Fetzik."

The students also made of list of reasons they want Fetzik to stay at BHS, which include his unique way of making class fun, his knack for relating lessons to current events and his particular way of treating students.

"He doesn't treat us like kids; he treats us like people, and he actually makes going to school enjoyable," Smith-Seelen said. "With his class, you get excited to go."

Mikkelson said he and many of his junior classmates planned to take class with Fetzik again as seniors, though that may not happen now.

"He'll tell us stories of his past personally that relate to lessons," Mikkelson said. "He's the only teacher that really intrigued us. We wanted to know more about his story, and we barely got to do that because it's his first year."

When asked about the students' efforts Friday, Fetzik said in an email he felt blessed to have students speaking out in favor of the district retaining his services.

"It is inspiring to see them self-advocate for their beliefs and to become active members of the democratic process. Brainerd is a great town with great schools and amazing students and staff," the email said. "It's inspiring to see students, staff, and community members pick up the mantle for me and only reinforces why I chose Brainerd as a place to call my home."

Fetzik has been a teacher for more than 25 years.

The non-renewal of his contract is an item on the consent agenda for the Brainerd School Board's next meeting Monday, April 22.

Superintendent Laine Larson and Brainerd High School Principal Andrea Rusk said they could not comment on the issue.

Theresa Bourke

I started at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and the Brainerd School District. I follow city and school board officials as they make important decisions for residents and students and decide how to spend taxpayer dollars. I look for feature story ideas among those I meet and enjoy, more than anything, helping individuals tell their stories and show what makes them unique.

Everyone has a story. Let us tell yours.

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