FOREST LAKE — Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker visited Forest Lake Area High School (FLAHS) April 22 to tour the school's career and technical education programs and promote Gov. Tim Walz's proposed education budget.

The tour, led by FLAHS Principal Jim Caldwell and Superintendent Steve Massey, centered on the new science and agriculture wing, which was completed last year. In addition to the physical improvements to the school, Caldwell and Massey highlighted its technical education programs, such as its emergency medical technician (EMT) class, which allows students to attain the knowledge and skills necessary to achieve EMT certification upon meeting the 18-year age requirement. 

An informal roundtable discussion with school district leaders, teachers, students and local officials followed the tour. Massey opened by discussing the importance of ensuring that FLAHS graduates are prepared for a variety of post-secondary opportunities, not merely continued education.

“Forest Lake High School is obviously the only high school in our district. We don't get to be a specialized magnet. We have to be all things to all students,” he said. “A traditional high school like ours cannot and should not be all about four-year college or bust.” 

Massey cited a statistic that 70% of the current job market is career and technical work. “If that is true, then one- or two-year programs are not only a viable but (a) meaningful, well-paying career path for kids,” he said.

Ricker expressed admiration for FLAHS' comprehensive approach to student preparedness, particularly the fact that 85% of FLAHS graduates leave with having taken advantage of some sort of post-secondary opportunity, whether education- or career-related. 

“You're preparing students for what's next ... not making that assumption of what's next for them,” she said. “The national discussion—certainly Minnesota's, too—for a long time was just college …. It ended up overlooking all sorts of opportunities for students to get to explore what's next.”

Ricker's visit was also a promotion for the education budget proposed by Tim Walz (DFL), under which Forest Lake Area Schools would receive $4.4 million over the next two years. Ricker noted that amount represented a 2% increase for both years, while the Republican-controlled Senate's proposal would represent approximately a half percent increase for the same two-year period.

Elizabeth Callen is a staff writer and reporter for the St. Croix Valley and Forest Lake Lowdown. She can be reached at 651-407-1229 or lowdownnews@presspubs.com.

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