Community shows support for new charter school
Marshall Helmberger
S. Swanson
People gather during the dedication last Thursday, which featured short presentations and plenty of good food.

TOWER- More than 250 parents, students, and community members turned out last Thursday night for the formal dedication of the new Vermilion Country Charter School. The event was a chance to thank those who had helped get the school up and running, as well as a time to tour the school, and meet the staff and students.

With a little over a month and a half under their belts, teachers and students were ready to show off some of their work, and talk to their families and community members about what a day at the Vermilion Country Charter School is like.

Students got the chance to show their parents their colorful desks, now mostly decorated to match each student’s personality, and to introduce their parents to their teachers and friends.

Students at VCCS focus on project-based learning, and the walls of the school were decorated with students’ first projects, which ranged from simple explorations of the environment to more detailed research on specific topics or interests.

Student projects are designed through a collaborative process between the student and teacher, and must meet certain standards. By completing projects, students work towards earning credits towards graduation and meeting state standards. Projects are done both individually and in groups.

The flexibility of project-based learning makes it an effective teaching method in the multi-aged environment. Students at VCCS are not separated by grade, but instead work in multi-age advisories, spending most of the day working under the supervision of one teacher/advisor. The school also welcomes community volunteers, who can teach in their area of expertise, or simply help out with day-to-day learning.

The school’s board of directors planned the evening, and Board Chair Jodi Summit thanked all who came, the many volunteers and donors, as well as the city of Tower, wich invested the funds needed to renovate the former manufacturing building to turn it into a school.

The school has truly become a community project. In addition to support from the city, local businesses and the chamber have been big boosters of the project. The school has 16 full-time employees, and a payroll of about $60,000 per month. School vans buy gas in Tower and Soudan, and get serviced at the local businesses. The school’s desks, built by volunteers over the summer, were constructed with locally-purchased materials. Local clubs have expressed interest in volunteering at the school and working with students.

Lake Vermilion Area Chamber Director Troy Swanson said the school has provided a nice boost to the local economy. He noted that several new families had moved into the Tower-Soudan area. Tower-Soudan has seen several positive developments this past year; in addition to the charter school, the new Scenic Rivers Medical and Dental Clinic opened in Tower, there is ongoing development work at the new Lake Vermilion State Park, and the harbor project is set to move ahead.

“Our future is looking bright,” he said. “We have one of the top elementary schools in the state, and now can offer K-12 education right here in Tower.”

“This is a very important aspect of economic development,” he said. “Hopefully this will bring new families into the area.”

The local chamber helped purchase food for the evening event.

While the school is certainly important to the local economy, the real reason to celebrate, said Summit, was the impact of the school on the children.

“We are providing an innovative and 21st century education for the children in our community, and neighboring communities,” she said. “Kids in Tower now have the option of walking to school. Other area kids have a 10-minute bus ride, instead of spending as long as 90 minutes each way to get to another ISD 2142 school.”

The school is also focusing on creating active citizens.

“Our kids are volunteering in our community. They are learning about our community,” said Summit. “They are learning to be global citizens. They are learning that school can be fun. They are making new friends.”

Not registered? Click here
E-mail this
Print this
21 comments on this item

I just have to wonder what Albertson's spin is on the new charter school? He is always still promoting what a great idea it was to build out of town. Saying that the school gymasium was "Packed" when in fact it was a little over half filled. He also said how the students are embracing the new school. I went there for the homecoming festivities during the day and most of the students looked like they were serving sentences. And now, how about how it affects businesses having a school located outside of town. Four businesses in Cook have closed in the last six months. Some might think that the fire at the Brown building was the reason two businesses closed but the fact is that Gilley's was closing in August anyway and there were some strong rumors that the Dollar Barn was considering closing also. How much advertising revenue do you think he is getting from the flower shop, Gilley's and the Dollar store?

All good points, SteveJacobson. I predicted this two years ago, some people (including Albertson) thought I was nuts. Look at downtown Orr today. You could shoot a cannon in town and not hit anybody. Meanwhile, the Orr and Cook schools sit vacant. Great plan for the kids (it's always for the kids, isn't it?).

I have heard references from him saying that state education money going to the Vermilion School is taking away from legitimate schools like North Woods. I think that making the new school work will take a lot of commitment from local businesses and residents but it is worth it. Like OC referred look down the main street of Cook now that there is no school traffic in town. I would like to see Albertson anti up for all the school donation requests like the yearbook and pay for the businesses that closed.

Steve, I also heard those comments about the Vermilion School.

To address your concerns about Cook downtown businesses closing, I suppose we could make a case that the owners and progress brought this about. The license bureau moved out the 53 corridor to gain more visibilty to traffic patterns. Whether they can survive remains to be seen.

Albertson will not feel the pain until the school board takes away his contract to print the monthly newsletter and to publish the official school board minutes. I'm sure you understand that Gary, who doubles as the public relations agent for Johnson Controls, gets paid handsomely for the newletter and minutes, most of our friends and neighbors are brain dead and don't realize that the publication of those organs are revenue producers for Gary and and not public service publications provided to people as a free service by Gary.

Take away that revenue from Gary, and suddenly, the staunch Republican who became a tax and spend liberal when the bond referendum was floated, will squeal loudly over the lost revenue.

Why hasn't a lawsuit been filed against Johnson Controls yet? The levy passed only because of misinformation. Tower was punished the most. Demolishing the pool was for revenge and spite because we overwhelmingly voted NO! The charter school will succeed, but Tower, Cook and Orr will never be the same.

Hard rock: The Timberjay has filed a lawsuit, through the Minnesota Newspaper Association under the freedom of information act. So far, the Timberjay has prevailed, but Johnson Controls has appealed along the way. The case will now be heard by the Minnesota Supreme Court when they get around to it. The case has merit, and should be upheld. But who knows?

Tower was indeed punished the most. The beautiful original 1917 section, along with the grand piano was demolished without remorse by JCI. The pool was also demolished. And you are right, it was in retribution.

I don't realistically know how Tower, Cook and Orr can survive. I can guarantee you one thing...Gary Albertson and Johnson Controls don't care. Nor does Troy Swanson, school board member from the Tower-Soudan school attendance area, whose constituency voted 9-1 AGAINST the bond referendum that closed the Tower school. Yet he consistently votes with the members of the board that supported the closing and against his community. That is, when he is well enough to show up at meetings.

Well that's strange "Orrcountry", Leading up to the vote on the referendum I was at every single Picket line, study session, board and community meeting every other week for over a year ( This if course before I was on the board myself ) trying to stop or change the "plan" and never saw you anywhere. Some of us fought very hard everyday to save those schools. I just spent every week over the last 3 years trying to help get this great charter school up and running in our community while all you seem to be able to do is attack people. If you want to help your community you need to participate. Stop Whining, Complaining, and throwing rocks at everyone all of the time! It's not productive.

Also, Voting against funding an educational program, buying buses, Hiring teachers, etc ... Does not get back at Johnson Controls so try and get and grip!

Troy Swanson


Troy: You get a grip. Why don't you start supporting the best school board director we have Nancy Wall Glowaski in her quest to get to the bottom of district finances? Instead, you are telling people you think she is a "loose cannon". What's that all about, school board director Swanson?

I have never said any such thing at any time about Nancy but nice try. I like her perceptive and I like her but just like you.... you did nothing to help us save your community school when we had the chance. If you could have at least helped us a little it may have made the difference but you just sat on your ass and attacked people. I worked hard everyday to save our schools ( Including Orr ). I continue to work hard everyday now to make sure that the kids in our district get the best education in the state. I can sleep well at night knowing that I did everything in my power to stop the consolidation. I don't know how you sleep.

Troy Swanson


I did nothing to save our community school? I think, son, you had better ask around. Start at the offices of the Timberjay, contact Tim Kotzian, contact Killer Glowaski, contact Mike Friend, contact Dennis Udovich, contact Barry Polich. Go ahead young fellow, contact them, they're all in the book. Tell me what you learn from them.

You folks in Tower did a much better job than those in the Orr area did. You stuck together. Our people were hard to keep on message, that Bill Arthur tried to marginalize people by stoking the fire about a charter school in Orr. Experienced people already knew it was impossible in our community, because the success of such a school depends on total community effort. Heck, we couldn't even get the bitchers to vote on election day, yet they sit at Pattenn's, the Liquor Store and the Dam and complain about their tax statements. But they didn't vote. Try to get people like that on message, but Tower was able to do so. I worked my ass off more than you know, but our district problem was the Cotton, Meadowlands and AlBrook areas, who didn't have a community center or a newspaper to keep them informed. We lost the vote down there and also Babbitt and Cherry which got to keep their schools.

Now, Mr. School Board Director Swanson, are you going to vote to allow Johnson Controls to add onto the Cherry School, while the rest of us have no schools at all?

In my humble opion it was Zelda that hurt the Cook/Orr schools the most. Most all wanted the Orr school to survive but the student numbers were just not there. I believe the school itself ran in the black but there just wasn't enough students. They should have just either built the new school right where the old one is or some place nearby. Penalizing two towns was not a good option. Cook had the numbers to keep a school going but Orr didn't. Repeating what I said earlier that the effects of not having the daily school traffic through downtown Cook has helped four businesses call it quits.

Steve: Most of what you state is correct. It was Zelda, she was a witchy woman and got Killer Glowaski, the Astlefords, the Mankus' and a few others to abandon ship which I had put together. She snookered them like a saloon lady on Gunsmoke, but they found out she was just using them.. Only Killer had the guilt to apologize to me and stated he was sorry he strayed. We finally found Nancy Wall Glowaski to run against Zelda and thank God, she beat her. Broke Zelda's ego to pieces and there was nothing she could do about it.

Orr could have made it, since their operating costs were manageable. Nett Lake students, who tuition in to the Orr School, were experiencing an increase in numbers. However, Nett Lake has their own elementary, Orr K-6 numbers didn't look good, but the school could have made it.

There were political pressures, both from Dougie Johnson and Tom Bakk, to send the Orr kids to the Cook school and that upset people from Orr.

There will be other businesses in Orr and Cook that will fold within the next couple years. One, because of decreased traffic in the business district. But mostly, the owners that are operating the businesses have little to no retail merchanising skills, nor do they wish to acquire them. That leaves people from the outside to consider buying some of the businesses, bringing with them capital and retail/customer service skills with them. I would like to see it happen, but without schools in town, that likelihood doesn't seem promising.

I see where Hermantown just passed their school bond and I can't believe it but they will be using Johnson Controls also. Marshall, do them a favor and let them know what they are getting into. For gosh sakes Duluth got hosed by them just a couple of years ago and yet the school board doesn't care!

As previously mentioned. I fought EXTREMELY hard to stop the consolidation but we lost. Now, put yourself in my position. We need to make sure that this district educates our kids to the highest level possible to compete in a world economy. There is no question that there was a massive FAIL on the Cherry school planning and that is talked about in every conversation about the expansion. John Powers predicted 350 students (2008) and they are cramming 470+ with more demand. Here is the dilemma, We have 2 options in Cherry. Either close enrollment or expand. Know that each students brings in approx 12,000 per student a year TO THE ENTIRE DISTRICT which of course totals 900.000+ A YEAR

The Cherry school ,like it or not, Is located in the largest open enrollment pool in our district that can draw from the Hibbing/Virginia area. The Flex Wednesday, I pad initiatives, Early Childhood, Cognitive Guided Instruction, and other programs are attracting a large wave of families deciding on the Cherry school. I know I would never vote to close enrollment and any board member would be foolish to do so. Voting against things to protest the consolidation is ridiculous and wasting time and energy. We are trying to move forward now and provide the best education to our kids we possibly can. It may cost 5.00 per 100,000 on our property taxes because they screwed up the "plan" but the massive influx of students into our district helps fund all of the schools. If you have a business and too many people are standing outside waiting to get in you don't lock the door. If you do.. Get out of the business.


I know it seems the most logical to add on to the Cherry school because of demand but two things come to my mind. First is that the demand may go away and we are stuck with too much school which was the reason for the last referendum. The second and most prevelant thought is that the school district will again rely on Johnson Controls who will perform their work with the same incompetancy as they have in the past and will also either run up the bill with extras or get change orders to get more money. Marshall brought up once before that the board is unqualified to understand a project of this magnitude and for that matter probably 95% of everyone are not qualified. This is how Johnson Controls makes their money and why they target school districts for their work - easy fishing!

It is my understanding that the increase in the Cherry school student population is from open enrollment. Open enrollment is a fickle issue, the numbers are variable and can't be depended on year after year. It's the people who live in the district that have to pay the cost, despite the state funding that goes along with open enrollment. We don't know why these students are enrolling in Cherry, some say sports participation (kids can make the team at Cherry, where they can't at Hibbing, etc), others like Albertson says it's the quality education.

At any rate, people in the district are upset with Johnson Controls, but the school board once again ignores the voters and goes ahead and hires the outfit anyway. Any wonder why we are upset?

I just got back from a study session on it ( Cherry expansion ). You are both right. We don't know what the future holds for that area but at this time our mining industry is ramping back up and they just keep pounding on the doors at the Cherry school to get in. The school is WAY over capacity. Of all of the schools in the district it is positioned perfectly to increase district enrollment which of course increases revenue for the entire district. When you look at the demographic maps its positioned in a large pool of open enrollment opportunities. Being right in between Virginia and Hibbing as the area expands in population helps us compete. The original plan should have leveled that school and placed a new ( Southridge/Northwoods) type building with larger capacity but the initial projections in 2008 were for a max. of about 350 students. Today ( as of Oct 31 ) they're at 452 and increasing... Cherry has become a money pit, but it's also the only school increasing enrollment ( increasing dramatically ) and has the ability to continue that trend into the future. Our choice is expand it or lock the doors and close enrollment... In regard to JCI, they are not hired and we are still debating that but one thing is for sure. We will have an independent watch dog that oversees the project which should have been done on the consolidation. I have always said that we know nothing as a board about construction on that level etc. We can't watch over this ourselves so we NEED to have somebody watching over thing for us that is completely independent from whoever we choose.

Troy Swanson

Troy: Talk to Nancy Larson about the special meeting we attended where the board gave JCI the contract to serve as project manager over the construction projects. I stood up and questioned who was going to serve as contract administrator, go to all the projects with a clipboard and oversee the construction on behalf of the district. Supt. Rick said he was. I asked him if planned to don a hardhat and go from site to site, and if so, who was going to be doing his day job as superintendent. At that point, John Henry of JCI jumped up like a jack in the box to say he was going to oversee the projects, to which I said I had never, in my professional career, heard of any vendor approving their own invoices. Your friend, Bob Larson, ordered me to sit down, that the meeting was not the place to talk about these things and that if I wanted to talk about them, I needed to schedule an appointment to meet with JCI at the district offices. Want to know where you called to schedule an appointment? The district staff told me they could not connect me with anyone from JCI and that I would have to call a long distance number in Chicago to set up an appointment in Virginia.

Open enrollment is a wild card. I am not a gambler. I don't think the school board should be spending our taxpayers money on such a gamble without first going to the taxpayers for approval. Your analogy of a business not turning business away is interesting. Having a business background, a business doesn't automatically add bricks and mortar when they experience an uptick in business. They increase their hours of operation and do everything they can with the current physical plant until it is proven the uptick seems sustainable. And, they put up their own capital, not the taxpayers money, when they do choose to expand. That's a big difference, partner.


I appreciate your response. Regarding an independent watch dog I just have this vision of Colonel Sanders babysitting my chickens! This is truly an opportunity for the board to show that they have learned either from their mistakes or from their previous experience. Troy, I truly believe from the bottom of my heart that the district has mismanged the money from way back. I do not have any faith in your current business manager. So my point is that trying to increase revenue by these means will just give them more money to manipulate. It will maybe take years for me to ever trust or have faith in the way the school district manages their money.

I wish to congratulate Troy Swanson for sticking up for the people at yesterday's school district study session by appealing to the board to not select Johnson Controls as the Project Manager for considered Cherry School project. While I do not agree we should be spending money, especially without taxpayer approval, on the Cherry School, sending a message to Bob Larson and JCI is a good thing.

Thank you very much, Troy!

Using JCI for a bathroom cleaning contract would be a mistake. Repeating the same mistake over and over again and expecting a different result I believe is the definition of insanity. Similar to the re-elections of Baak and Obama. The timing of the vote by ISD was perfect for their agenda. Many of the voters in our area are retired and flee for warmer weather for the cruelest months. Had that election been held in June we would not be discussing this nearly criminal hoodwinking. If I recall, the piano mentioned earlier was found in or near the dumpster. I admire what Marshall has done tremendously. If all I have read is true about JCI , criminal charges should be in the works. Wonder what info.they have on the board to even be able to show their faces in the area. Collusion at the worst, and incompetence by both sides also seem to have occurred. Why we are paying for ANYTHING in Cotton and Cherry shows the madness of the idiots that planned this silly, unmanageable district. 78 million? Assinine.

You must be logged in to post a comment. Click here to log in.