Wadena-Deer Creek enrollment holds steady
Wadena-Deer Creek superintendent Virginia Dahlstrom was surprised on the first day of school Tuesday morning. Along with other school administrators, teachers and support staff, she has been in rehearsal for a far-from-typical 2010-2011 school year for the last 11 weeks. On Tuesday morning, the curtain went up for the first time.
"What surprised me was how smoothly it went," Dahlstrom said.
Not only did the school function normally, it didn't experience the large population drop some had feared. In fact, the opening day total enrollment of 1,001 was only five students off the previous year's 1,006, and broke a two-year trend of losing about 50 students a year due to declining enrollment.
The EF-4 tornado that slammed into Wadena June 17 created an emergency situation for District 2155 in less than a minute. In addition to destruction of more than 260 private residences, the tornado trampled the WDC Secondary School, blowing out windows, collapsing brick walls and leaving gaping holes in the roof.
The effort to find new class rooms for WDC students began almost immediately. Dahlstrom will be running a school operation in four different buildings, two different counties and two different communities this year but she feels she has an ace in the hole.
"We have good administration and when you have good administration they take care of that," Dahlstrom said.
Headstart and pre-schoolers are attending what was St. Ann's Catholic School until last June. The 107-year-old school closed its doors for the final time just two weeks before the tornado due to a lack of students. The chance availability of the school gave District 2155 an option they had not anticipated. A two-year lease was signed in August.
District 2155 administrators also signed a two-year lease over the summer with M State-Wadena, a two-year technical school and next-door neighbor to both the WDC Elementary and WDC Secondary schools. M State-Wadena will provide classrooms for WDC's top four grades.
WDC Elementary will be a home to grades K-6 for the next two years. It will also provide a gymnasium for extracurricular activities.
Seventh- and eighth-grade classes have been moved to Deer Creek, 10 miles southwest of Wadena. A remodeling effort at the former K-12 school gave WDC students their classroom space. WDC has been leasing a portion of the Deer Creek building to the Freshwater Education District.
The tornado left 93 percent of the WDC Secondary School unusable. School officials have received no official report from their carrier, the Riverport Insurance Group, but three engineering firms, two hired by Riverport and one by District 2155, have been studying the damage. District has the assistance of two law firms in negotiating a settlement.
Assistance to the school district has also been rendered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The federal agency recently helped the district lease eight new buses for the next six months.
"This is working out better than I fully anticipated two months ago, I think we are doing well," Dahlstrom said. "The teachers have stepped up, principals Tyler (Church) and Louie (Rutten) have stepped up, the entire district and the parents have stepped up, we're doing well."