Finding their way on the first day: Perham students, teachers settle into their new digs

That gigantic undertaking called "the first day of school" took flight in Perham Tuesday morning even though a few odds and ends still had to be finished.

Perham Senior High students gathered in the commons area Monday morning as they awaited an orientation meeting in the gymnasium. Brian Hansel/FOCUS

That gigantic undertaking called "the first day of school" took flight in Perham Tuesday morning even though a few odds and ends still had to be finished.

Perham-Dent District Superintendent Mitch Anderson was still getting used to his corner office in the new $30 million high school as the 2018-2019 school year officially got underway. It is not quite as big as his old office, but it has a great view. Getting settled will take some time.

Anderson has the two things he really needs to put on school - students and teachers. He has enough facilities, too.

"We have the spaces we need for the first day, and we are ready to go," Anderson said. "To be frank the first couple of days here are just going to be teachers, students and all individuals in the building trying to figure out where everything is. It's a lot different than the old high school."

In addition to seeing a tight 15-month construction schedule undertaken on the high school, projects were carried out over the summer at the Prairie Wind Middle School and Heart of the Lakes Elementary.


Prairie Wind is connected to the new senior high. Heart of the Lakes is a separate building just a parking lot away from the middle school.

"They've had a lot of work done over there (Prairie Wind) this summer, so they are kind of in the same mindset as the high school 'we're off and running, but we've got a few days or a week of finishing up some spaces,'" Anderson said. "Elementary had an HVAC project where they replaced all the heat pumps, but that was minor to where we were with the high school and the middle school."

Now the settling-in process begins.

"We feel good, and after a couple of weeks people will forget all the inconveniences of the first few days," Anderson said.

The first day of school saw 1,529 students enrolled in grades K-12, an increase of 96 students over the final tally of the 2017-2018 school year.

While Anderson expects the first-day enrollment to fluctuate in the next few weeks, he said the administration is pleased with the direction it is heading.

"The last three years we've seen some growth," Anderson said.

Foreign exchange student Aina Pineda, who attends school in a smaller school near Barcelona, Spain, stood in the commons area of the Perham High School with friends on the first morning and tried to adjust herself.


"I think it's a very big high school," she laughed.

One of her friends, Leah Honer, shared a common apprehension.

"I feel like I'm going to get lost," Honer said. "It's nerve-wracking, and it's exciting."

In the academic wing of the senior high Katie Byer, a secondary math instructor, was putting some finishing touches on her new classroom. When asked for her thoughts on her new digs building, the fourth-year teacher grinned.

"I like it, I'm excited, it'll be good," Byer said. As part of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) group, Byer is comfortable with where her profession is going despite the multitude of changes.

"I think technology is good because kids don't lose their assignments and don't have the excuse my dog ate my homework," Byer said.

Facilities Director Russ Winkels addressed the senior high student body in a Tuesday morning orientation. He pointed out that the senior high, like the other two schools on campus, is a "smart school" that will diagnose problems "before they become problems."

The security features of the campus are to par. Lockdown stations are present in different sections and announcements of potential problems will replace alarms.


"Our police department, our fire department and our hospital are all working with us," Winkels said.

Like many others, Zach Peterson signed up for prizes at a big table near the high school's main entrance Tuesday morning just after arriving for classes.

Asked for his impression he flashed a smile.

"It's all right," he said.

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