May 24, 2001

Beginning of the Road

By Dane Sorensen


In the last few weeks our Ely School District has had a rough time. Criticism about the administration and school board has been riding high. The public access channel's showing of the last school board meeting is more popular than Survivor. There was even a Letter to the Editor suggesting everyone home school their children. Although, I am still very upset about what has happened and pray that it may be reversed I think it is important to remember all the good things that are happening at this very important institution we call Independent School District No. 696.

There is much we should be proud of concerning our Ely public schools. First off, we have some of the best and most dedicated teachers in the Northland. In working at the school I get to see first hand how these teacher's operate. Many stay after school and give students individual attention. Many work at surprisingly low wages as coaches or directors of various programs.

The hours that someone like Mr. Lah gives into creating the Fall musical is poorly compensated for by the extra pay he receives. The same goes for his Speech program that teaches so many of our kids how to speak in public. That skill will help them throughout their lives.

Also, in the area of the arts is the work by Mrs. Homer. She spent many hours working on putting together the Canticle program last February. In that program students had a chance to sing with the community choir. Several students were able to join in playing with the other adult musicians. This opportunity to work on so impressive a piece of music is to be lauded.

Many of the sports coaches spend many extra hours working with their teams. I know Coach Visser runs a weight lifting program during the off season for his football players. The personal care given by coaches is not just limited to teaching a kid how to throw a ball. These people help our children learn focus and learn to deal with teamwork. These are lessons that are important to success in many areas of life.

As far as class subjects, I see enough to know that the teachers in Ely work hard at changing our brains full of mush into those of a thinking adult. Some kids fight learning as if it were a disease. Teachers have to deal with a wide variety of abilities and attitudes. It is no easy task.

Little is said about the important work of the principals of both Washington and Memorial School. Mr. Jalonen and Mrs. Murphy are to be commended on knowing every student in their building. They know who are the good kids and who are the kids that need a stern lecture on proper behavior. You would be surprised at some of the adolescent T-shirts some kids try to wear in the high school. Totally inappropriate words or images are emblazoned on their chest. Mrs. Murphy's rule is that if a shirt is in bad taste the student must go into a restroom and turn it inside out. Decorum is an important aspect of being well mannered and Mrs. Murphy works hard on enforcing this.

Further, Mrs. Murphy works to insure a good quality of student culture. She is very supportive of sports. The idea for no school after the big basketball playoff in Brainerd was her idea. She realized the team, the pep band, and the students who went to Brainerd would be very tired after the 8 hour round trip plus the energy of the event. These kids may be young, but they still need their sleep.

I am thankful for all that Mr. Jalonen has done for this district. Being principal is a hard job. Not all decisions please everyone. I know he has made some that did not please me, but I realize that 99% of the decisions he made were correct and all were made with the students' welfare in mind. I have never questioned his love of the children. I can still remember watching him a few years back while he was watching the Fall musical. He was right on the edge of his seat enjoying every minute of the play. He was proud of what his former elementary kids were doing. I, also, remember all the support and care he would show the sixth graders when they were on their end of the year trip to Wolf Ridge. I see every week the smiles the children give him when he passes by. He will be missed.

Superintendent Toutloff is another important administrator who often has thankless decisions to make. I have publicly disagreed with many things that Mr. Toutloff has done. I don't think he likes me and probably wishes I did not work for the district. However, he has always treated me with respect. Although many don't think he has made any changes in the district this is totally one-sided. Mr. Toutloff has written grants that have been successful in bringing money to our district. He has cut the cost of administration by cutting the staff. His door is always open and he is very approachable. Most of the decisions he makes are for the district's best interest.

All in all, we can be proud of our school. It has weathered many assaults as we have seen with the problems of declining enrollment. I am grateful for all the opportunities my oldest daughter has had at this school. They have taken her from childhood to young adulthood. She has had to learn many lessons, including many not in any school book. She is proud to be graduating from this school. She is grateful for the wisdom her teachers have given her.

As a parent I cannot ask for more success than that. I will still complain when I see a need. I will still be outspoken at waste or tomfoolery, but I can state that we as a community should still be proud and supportive of the district as a whole. Mr. Lhotka at his last concert told the audience to keep the music in their heart and with that I add to keep the knowledge that much is good about our two little schools.


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