IRRRB Recommends Money for School Collaboration Project

Updated: February 22, 2019 10:29 PM

For years, there’s been discussions about Virginia and Eveleth-Gilbert joining forces for education. The longtime rivals are within just a few miles of each other. And each have faced similar challenges.


But Friday, a real first funding step towards making a joint high school a reality. It would be a 7-12 High School Career Academy.

The IRRRB is recommending nearly $100 million dollars spread over 20 years for the project. The funding will also help renovate existing elementary schools.

The proposed high school would be based on an academy model, which is more personal, project-based, and student-centered, with support from community and business partners. It would also be built in a neutral location, based on community input.

"They can figure out what they want to do, and get the experience and the contact, and also figure out what they don't want to do. If they can figure that out as a sophomore, versus a sophomore in college, that would be great," Dr. Noel Schmidt shared. He's the superintendent from Virginia.

Superintendent Jeff Carey, from Eveleth-Gilbert, added, "The world around us is changing." And he said the declining enrollment coupled with the cost of maintaining aging buildings are other factors for looking at this model.

Leaders from the districts say teachers and folks in the community are on board. Students from both districts attended the meeting holding signs to encourage the IRRRB to vote yes. And they did.

"This project means hope, knowing that it passed, it's just exciting," shared Kayla Wainionpaa, a sophomore at Eveleth-Gilbert. 

Braiden Aikey, a junior at Virginia, added, "I'm really, really happy. There were so many meetings to prepare for this. I'm so happy it was unanimous." He's got family who may one day benefit from this school. He wishes he could have gone to it.

"It's a big relief, knowing it's moving forward. To know there are the possibilities for future generations," added Jacob Breun, a junior at Eveleth-Gilbert.

Those students toured the academy in Alexandria, and said they were really inspired by what they saw there. Shakopee and Burnsville are also doing this type of learning, according to Schmidt.

Now the districts each will vote on sending this to a referendum. Their school boards are scheduled to do that on the 28th.

If the public votes, the referendum would be May 14th.

The project needs financial support from the state of Minnesota and the taxpayers.

And if all of the pieces fall into place, construction could begin in 2020 and take about two years.

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