Dancing with the Yeti; how three resilient Iron Range communities in Northern Minnesota and two formerly competitive school districts remarkably came together and joined forces around a hopeful Next Century Vision for Learning to reinvigorate optimism

Association for Learning Environments (A4LE)

1 LU

Like many rural school districts around the country, for years the Iron Range in Northern Minnesota has experienced a declining population base, dwindling resources, and deteriorating school facilities. For years people have said nothing would ever change and there was little hope for improvement. That belief has changed… This session will chronical the tale of resilience and transformation of three communities in Northern Minnesota and the newly formed Rock Ridge Public School District from the perspective of their visionary superintendent Dr. Noel Schmidt supported by Cuningham’s Principal Judy Hoskens and Lead Interior Designer Hailey Wrasman, who led Cuningham’s student engagement sessions. The session is intended as a concrete example of this year’s conference theme and will focus on the many obstacles that had to be overcome (which have come to be known as the “Yeti”) and the steps taken to engage communities in the design process. The process resulted in the design of three new Next Century school environments: one new 7-12 academy-style high school and two new elementary schools, which will be presented as evidence of how the design reflects their bold vision of the future. The session will also cover the remarkable logistics involved in securing funding and consolidating school districts: -working for years on cooperative building efforts and secured $96,000,000 in funding from the State of Minnesota’s unique IRRRB program which funds investments in the growth of rural Minnesota communities. -passing measures in two separate school districts to fund a cooperative building project involving three separate facilities for $178,500,000, which represents the largest successful school bond project in the State of Minnesota history (calculated on a per-student basis). -passing a consolidation question in both districts to merge the Virginia and Eveleth-Gilbert school districts on July 1, 2020 now called the Rock Ridge School District.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Learn about the opportunities and challenges that face rural school districts around consolidation, and the steps taken to succeed.
  2. Learn about alternative funding methods and their inherent constraints and opportunities.
  3. Learn about the structure and methodology of the community engagement process, including a robust engagement with students in both the pre-referendum and design phases.
  4. Learn how the Superintendents vision for 21st Century Learning inspired the students, and how the students inspired the community to gain support for this vision.

John Pfluger, AIA, NCARB, LEED® AP, Principal, Cuningham
John is a Principal at Cuningham and has served as a Design Principal in the firm’s education studio. Central to John’s design approach is his personal commitment and passion to achieve highly creative, sustainable design results that enhance our clients’ goals through a highly inclusive and co-creative process. He is often called upon to serve a Design Resource for Reimagine America’s Schools, a consortium of national leaders innovating in the design and education space.

Dr. Noel Schmidt, Superintendent, Rock Ridge Public Schools
Dr. Schmidt is the superintendent of the newly consolidated Ridge School District. In the school setting he has worked as an English teacher, coach, Dean, Assistant Principal, Principal, and Superintendent. He also taught adjunct classes through the University of Minnesota and was President of the Minnesota Middle School Association. Over his career, he has observed and participated in many school reform efforts, most of which failed spectacularly. However, the latest one, the merger of the Eveleth-Gilbert and Virginia school district and the communities decision to cooperatively build a new high school and two elementary schools, has been a spectacular success.

Hailey Wrasman, NCIDQ, IIDA, WELL AP, Cuningham
Hailey’s an interior designer in Cuningham’s education studio. Her attention to detail and passion for design inspires her to create innovative learning environments. She’s involved in every level of the design process, from concept through completion, providing clients exceptional service. Hailey is one of Cuningham’s four WELL-accredited professionals, providing expertise on developing insightful designs that benefit occupant health and well-being. She’s the designer for the new Sartell High School and the Eveleth-Gilbert Virginia Secondary School. 

Association for Learning Environments (A4LE)

LearningSCAPES 2021

October 14-17
Hyatt Regency | Denver, CO