CELEBRATING 50 YEARS OF ROCORI
Earlier in the year and last week, I shared some information about the early years of the ROCORI School District. At the recent Community Showcase, the ROCORI School Board had a booth that included a “quiz” about the ROCORI Schools. The Showcase event encouraged me to return to some elements of ROCORI’s 50 year history!
ROCORI AREA SCHOOLS—EARLY HISTORY
Much of the early history of the district was captured by the first superintendent of schools, William J. Virant. He gathered a lot of information in a book called, ROCORI Area Schools: Early History. The book was published in December, 1997.
I find the book to contain some fascinating bits of history about the conditions in the 1960s and the events that led to the formation of the ROCORI Schools.
The first few pages of the book briefly review the history of education in the United States. A favorite quotation of mine, which provides much of the reason for public schools, is cited at the outset. Virant quoted Thomas Jefferson who said, “For a Democracy to survive, it requires an educated populace.”
In last week’s article, we reviewed the pressures and issues related to organizing the ROCORI School District. 23 different common school districts ultimately came together to form ROCORI. Some residents in the area had to choose the district with which they would affiliate and state guidelines encouraged connection with other existing schools rather than combination to form a new district.
In June, 1967, the State Department of Education authorized ROCORI to operate—but it had to be functional by September! Arrangements had to be made very quickly. The information from Bill Virant offers insight into the organizational efforts.
“The summer of 1967 was a hectic time for the new school district. School District 750 arrived at an agreement to rent the lower level of St. Boniface High School to accommodate grades 7-12. Bell Wood Products was awarded a contract to build six temporary classrooms behind St. Boniface High School, three adjacent to Richmond Elementary School and two at Rockville John Clark Elementary School.
“The school board members, Superintendent Virant, and Principals Hough, Martinson, and Demuth took on the tasks to: register students, recruit teachers during a teacher shortage, order furniture, order books and supplies, develop a curriculum, arrange student schedules, organize student transportation, coordinate schedules with St. Boniface High School—it was literally an ‘around the clock’ effort in meeting the September 5, 1967 opening school date.
It was accomplished. Commissioner Mattheis notified the School Board that the district was classified as a K-12 Independent School District in September, 1967.
OPENING OF SCHOOL
“The enrollment was 480 secondary students, grades 7-12, and 550 elementary students: K-6 at Richmond and grades 1-6 at the other schools, Rockville, St. Nicholas, and three one-room schools.
“Students in grade 11 and 12, by Board action, were permitted to complete their schooling in the surrounding independent school districts: St. Cloud, Kimball, Eden Valley, and Albany.
“The District purchased 60 acres of land for a school building site from Erwin and Veronica Schlangen for $33,000. Horan and Hustad Associated Architects were hired to develop plans for a high school; Robert Kuebelbeck, a native of Cold Spring and a graduate of St. Boniface High School, was the architect. General, mechanical, and electrical contracts were awarded in the amount of $2,348,319.
“A ‘Name the School Committee’ appointed by the Board submitted the following names: Fairview, Centennial, ROCORI, Granite Center, Granite Ridge, Sauk Valley, Kennedy, Alexander, Granite Quint.
“After lengthy deliberations and discussions, the Board selected the name submitted by Diane Brisse—ROCORI—the first two letters of the three communities titles Rockville, Cold Spring, and Richmond.
“In a sense, every action and activity of the School District became a ‘historical first.’ One of the most significant was the first high school Commencement assembled at the Richmond School gymnasium on May 29, 1968. There were ten seniors:
Dorothy Blonigen, James Conrad, Mary Daniels, Kenneth Frank, Robert Hansen, Marcia Kellly, Donna Meyer, David Molitor, Mark Monnens, Matthew Walz.
“Edmund Lee, State Department of Education Secondary School Consultant delivered the Commencement Address.
ST. BONIFACE CLOSES
“St. Boniface Pastor Father Matthew Kiess, in June 1968, asked the parishioners to vote on the fate of St. Boniface High School. The results were: to remain open 247, to close 825.
“Bishop Speltz, after being informed of the vote, ‘asked the St. Boniface High School Governing Board to continue the operation of the school for at least another year.’ The Diocesan Board notified St. Boniface Parish to re-open grades 7 and 8 in the St. Boniface grade school. (St. Boniface did not reopen grades 7 and 8; only 14 pupils registered.)
“The St. Boniface High School Governing Board met on August 5, 1668, to review the enrollment figures for St. Boniface High School for the 1968-69 school year and the renewal of the lease with School District No. 750…As School District 750 prepared for school opening that was scheduled for August 28, the Diocesan Board of Education voted on August 20, 1968, to approved the immediate closing of St. Boniface High School.”
With all of those efforts, the ROCORI School District was organized and became an official public school district in the state of Minnesota—over a very short time. There was a lot of hard work, lobbying, and political strategy exerted to develop the ROCORI Schools.
The first year of school proved to be very successful and ROCORI had 10 graduates. The following summer, St. Boniface concluded its run as a senior high school.
There is one more installment on ROCORI’s early history that I intend to cover. It is fun to review the history as well as reflect on how far the ROCORI School District has come in 50 years of time!