By Kristen Miller
COKATO, DASSEL, MN When choosing a community to raise children, a quality school district is on the top of the list for parents.
Dassel-Cokato’s award-winning schools is one of the reasons Bloomberg Businessweek chose Cokato and Dassel as the best places in Minnesota to raise kids.
“I’m not surprised,” said DC Superintendent Jeff Powers about the recognition. “It’s a caring place to be, with wonderful families that support the school and raise high quality kids.”
Above-average test scores, fine facilities, high staff retention rate, and successful fine arts and athletic programs are just some of the qualities that attract people to the school district.
“The school itself has a wide range of programs that support all learners,” Powers said, noting the Area Learning Center, the FOCUS program, and the gifted and talented programs within the district.
District test scores have also been consistently above the state and national average in math, science, reading, and writing.
For example, the 2009-10 MCA test results in the category of math showed the district scored more than nine points above the state average. In reading, the district was more than eight points above the state average.
“We are typically the top two schools in the area,” said DC High School Principal Dean Jennissen.
Unique to Dassel-Cokato Schools are such things as the character pillars a set of acceptable character traits that are taught within the schools (respect, responsibility, resiliency, integrity, compassion, and understanding diversity).
Another program at DC Schools is the OLWEUS Bullying Prevention Program, a whole-school program that works to prevent or reduce bullying throughout the school setting.
Jennissen noted the number of students who open enroll from outside the district “because people believe in our school.” On average, the district will gain 160 students through open enrollment.
The district has been fortunate when it comes to the quality of its staff. Having a good reputation as a school district, there is typically a healthy pool of applicants to choose from when it comes to open positions in the district.
The district is also successful in keeping its staff. “Typically, the teachers that come here, like it here and want to raise their kids here,” Powers said.
The Performing Arts Center (PAC) is an added attraction that was also noted by Bloomberg Businessweek.
“The community has supported the school system and the fine facilities we have here,” Powers said.
When it comes to extracurricular activities such as fine arts and athletics, Dassel-Cokato has had much success.
For example, DC’s speech team has consistently been conference champions, 35 years in a row, according to Perry Thinesen, district activities director.
The FFA program has also had many successes, both on the state and national levels.
Drama and music have not fallen short either in their accomplishments, with drumline being among the top five in its class at state, and one-act casts heading to state several times, Thinesen commented.
Choir and band have also had a lot of success at the state level along with marching band which received first in class at the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City, MI this past summer.
Sports continue to improve, Thinesen said, with several individuals competing at the state level in cross country, girls’ and boys’ swimming, and track.
“There are lots of different programs to offer kids for the size of our district and the community,” he said, noting the variety of community education programs also offered to the community.
The DC community recognizes the importance of extra-curricular activities in the overall education of young people, Thinesen said.
Middle School Principal Gary Johnson complimented the families within the district for making education important to the kids.
He also has heard that the DC School District has fewer behavior issues with its students than other districts in the area. This he also attributes to the strong families in Cokato and Dassel.
One thing Cokato Elementary Principal Lorene Force has noticed in her 10 years as principal is the fact that more and more DC graduates are coming back to the community to raise their kids.
Dave Camp, a Cokato, native and his wife, Cathy are prime examples of people who choose to move back to the Dassel-Cokato area to raise a family.
They met in the Twin Cities metro area. When they married, the couple moved to Cokato where their kids could have the same quality education and lifestyle that Dave had growing up.
“There is something about a small-town feel that is hard to beat,” Cathy said.
The couple have two sons, Henry, who is a sixth grader at the middle school; and Walter, who is a third grader at Cokato Elementary.
“Both boys have had excellent teachers,” Cathy said. She also noted how easy it is for parents to be able to get involved in their child’s education. “You don’t feel like just a number.”
Jamie Eggert of Dassel and her family have been involved with Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE). She currently has one child in preschool, and two at Dassel Elementary.
“The parenting classes were so helpful to me,” Eggert said. “They were a good guide to shape our kids’ behavior.”
She also has found the preschool teachers to be very personable and easily approachable with questions and concerns parents may have.
She also had nothing but good things to say about the teachers and staff at Dassel Elementary.
“From Charlie, the custodian, who truly cares for each one of the kids in the building; to Mrs. Morris, the principal, who I have heard nothing but praise from kids and staff,” Eggert said, adding that the values of the staff are greatly reflected on how they treat the kids.
Form more information about the Dassel-Cokato School District click here.