Despite a long-weekend before the official start of school, halls of both Two Harbors High School and the Minnehaha Elementary were filled with students, parents and teachers on Wednesday, Aug. 28 at the annual open house night.

Students looked for their new lockers and examined class schedules, parents and teachers had face-to-face time and community and district-wide programs provided swag and information to passersby.

Two Harbors High School

Enrollment at Two Harbors High School looks strong, according to Principal Jay Belcastro, with an estimated 640 students enrolled for the 2019-20 school year. The student-teacher ratio is approximately 25 to 1. The incoming sixth-grade class is down from the 2018-19 school year and will return to having three sections, rather than four.

Returning to THHS this year will be an advanced chemistry class. The class will be in partnership with the University of Minnesota Duluth and enrolled students can earn U of M college credit.

Also new this year will be five new teachers, which Belcastro reports as the most he's seen in his tenure. A Two Harbors High School graduate, Charlie Pavlisich will join the staff to teach pre-algebra 1.

"I'm really excited to get to know all my new students," Pavlisich said.

Sarah Pierce will also be joining the math department to teach algebra 1A and 1B and she will represent the math department on the eighth-grade Building Assets, Reducing Risks (BARR) team.

Orianna Scherer will teach seventh-grade science, Joe Zeutenhorse will teach high school special education English and Liz Smith will teach social skills, special education and ADSIS reading.

Also, new this year, the student council has made some changes including a senior tribute and a welcome back pep-fest.

"We are very excited to have students and staff back in the building," Belcastro said.

Belcastro also has some news as he has joined a cohort of 47 principals in the state of Minnesota for the Minnesota Principals Academy and led by the University of Minnesota. The academy will meet monthly over the next two years.

Jonah Paulson organizes his desk in Susan VanKekerix's fifth-grade classroom at the Minnehaha Elementary Open House on Wednesday, Aug. 28. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)
Jonah Paulson organizes his desk in Susan VanKekerix's fifth-grade classroom at the Minnehaha Elementary Open House on Wednesday, Aug. 28. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)

Minnehaha Elementary

Over at the Minnehaha Elementary, Principal Brett Archer shares Belcastro's enthusiasm for the incoming school year.

"I'm excited to continue to learn and grow together, " Archer said. "It'll be a really fun year."

Archer was excited to share that the school has been continuing to improve with 3-4 year initiatives in math, reading and attendance.

"Our test scores are better this year. We took on a four-year math initiative and our scores went up from 54 percentile, proficient in math, to 71%," Archer said.

School enrollment is holding steady, with 396 students registered, a handful of students less than last year. The incoming kindergarten class is estimated to be 65 students.

As for school staff, there aren't any permanent changes, but a lot of substitutions.

"We’re in a unique situation, we don’t have any new teachers, but we have a lot of subs right now," Archer said. "We have a music sub for half the year, we have a fourth-grade long-term sub for the full year. We have two teachers out on maternity leave, so they’ll be back in about 11 weeks or so. Then we have a phys ed teacher out for about a month or so."