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Published May 28 2010

Waubun principal lands job in Bagley

A Waubun, Minn., principal who faced losing her job in a federally funded school overhaul will take over Bagley High School, in northwestern Minnesota.

Helen Kennedy, the Waubun Secondary principal of nine years, accepted a job at the 970-student district 50 miles northeast of Waubun.

Earlier this spring, the Waubun high school, on the White Earth Reservation, landed on a state list of 34 schools whose students consistently score below state averages on standardized tests.

Minnesota will tap into a $34 million federal School Improvement Grant to make over these schools. The money comes with strict federal requirements for change, including replacing school principals.

On Thursday, a day after a consulting firm’s sharply critical reports of those schools came out, Kennedy paid an emotional farewell to her students and questioned the report’s labels.

“Waubun is not one of the worst schools in the state,” she said in an interview. “The kids have low test scores, but I don’t think you can use one test to measure a school. That test is as important to our kids as the New York Stock Exchange.”

The report, by Massachusetts-based Cambridge Consultants, rated the school overall as “poor” and blasted low expectations and fuzzy achievement goals – even as it praised the school’s climate, attendance and graduation rates.

Kennedy said she hadn’t read the report and didn’t believe outsiders could size up a school in less than two days. At a football-field gathering, Kennedy told students she won’t be back this fall. They gave her hugs and a quilt they made saying, “Good luck. We’ll miss you.”

“I told them that no matter what the newspaper said or anybody said, they are working really hard, and they are the best students in the world,” said a tearful Kennedy, adding, “Today was a sad day for me.”

Bagley School Board Chairwoman Paula Davis said the district selected Kennedy from among 30 candidates.

“She has an outstanding track record,” Davis said, citing an improvement in the Waubun school’s climate. “She’s made some real positive changes in Waubun.”

Kennedy starts in Bagley, where almost a quarter of students are American Indian, in July.

The Waubun board will meet at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Ogema elementary to review the Cambridge report and kick off the overhaul process. The board, which advertised Kennedy’s position this month, will likely start interviewing applicants for her job next week.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529