Principals tell Park Rapids School Board about first day of ’20-21

Superintendent Lance Bagstad called Tuesday, Sept. 8 "a good day for not knowing what to expect."

Karen Onstad's fifth grade class enjoys some outdoor time during their first day of school Tuesday at Century Middle School. Park Rapids students' previous in-person school day was March 16. (Submitted photo)

The Park Rapids School Board on Tuesday, Sept. 8 heard their principals report about the first day of school.

Century Elementary Principal Mike LeMier reported his staff achieved their goals “to get (students) in there safely, keep them safe while they’re there and send them home safely.”

Other than some “minor, first-day hiccups,” he said, it was a good day.

“Our kids are so resilient,” he marveled. “They roll with it. You never would have known that they’d been off for six months, and that they’re wearing face masks, and that there’s all these changes.”

Steph Mercil, elementary coordinator of educational services, agreed that things went well overall, but arrival and departure were “a little clunky” and procedures were improved for Day 2.


Board chair Sherry Safratowich questioned why parents have to park to drop their kids off, rather than stopping and letting them out at the curb.

Mercil said the issue is in the afternoon, when everyone is leaving at one time, and a car will sit at the curb blocking traffic while a parent tries to find their child in the crowd. “We thought, to keep it consistent, we would make the morning drop-off be the same look as the afternoon,” she said.

Century Middle School Principal Shawn Andress said parents were understanding about the closed campus and changes in drop-off and pick-up procedure.

Comparing the middle school’s hallway seating to the dining hall at Hogwarts, Andress reported only 10 of her students ate breakfast at school that day.

“We’re hoping that number grows,” she said, adding, “As long as the weather holds, our kids are going outside for lunch. … They were just tickled to be together.”

“Kids were coming in, putting up their masks,” said High School Principal Jeff Johnson. “They were very happy to be there, although you couldn’t necessarily see the smiles.”

Only half of the high school students had their first day Tuesday, he noted, with the other half scheduled for Wednesday. Each class spent time hearing about the different learning scenarios that could be in play this year, depending on COVID-19 case numbers in the area.

Johnson said the half-capacity bus routes went so quickly that one student missed their afternoon ride home. He said transportation supervisor Cindy Leach is making adjustments.


“I think it will just continue to get better,” he said.

Superintendent Lance Bagstad said food service went fine at both buildings.

“All in all, it was a good day for not knowing what to expect,” he said.

Further reports

School board member Dennis Dodge reported that the North Country Vocational Co-op Center board continues to look for an available meeting space large enough to allow social distancing.

Safratowich discussed a meeting between the athletic committee and the hockey board to discuss board members’ concerns.

She also reported that the “Vote Yes” committee has been busy, planning to call voters in September and October and preparing fact sheets and business window signs about the upcoming school bonding referendum.

Bagstad discussed presentations he recently gave or was going to give to the Park Rapids Downtown Business Association, the Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and the Park Rapids Rotary.

“So far, I’ve had positive responses, good questions, and people are actively engaged when they’re at the meetings,” he said.


Bagstad said the PRoject 309 team is preparing to hold “ice cream social” events to discuss the district’s school facility improvement plans from 4 to 7 p.m. on Sept. 22, 24 and 28 at locations to be announced.

School board member Gary Gauldin encouraged board members to participate in the Minnesota School Boards Association’s virtual conference Sept. 28-29.

Although he is retiring from the school board at the end of this year, Gauldin said he will be on the MSBA delegate assembly for another year.

Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at or 218-252-3053.
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