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home : schools : schools
January 18, 2021

12/28/2020 11:34:00 AM
CL School Board says goodbye to longtime member Jerry Vitalis, starts return plan into motion

Jerry Vitalis has seen it all at the school board level. The longest consecutive serving school board member in Minnesota participated in his final meeting on Thursday, December 17. He decided not to run for re-election for another term.

He was able to participate in-person, although many of his recent board meetings had been attended virtually.  That was one of the big reasons he decided not to run for another term. The technology needed for group meetings in a pandemic made him a bit uncomfortable.

Vitalis was first elected to the Taylors Falls School Board in 1977, and remained on the board when TF consolidated with Chisago Lakes in 1992. In his final meeting, he regaled the board with some of his famous stories from back in the day, and  some of his longtime fellow board members heaped praise on him.

Mark Leigh, who has served with Vitalis since the merger in 1992, said, “You have the greatest stories and are the best joke teller. I laugh so much about your stories. I don’t think you know how much you’ve helped me. Somewhere in the 90’s my heart wasn’t into the school board. You came and talked to me about it and you encouraged me to really put my nose to it and it really inspired me to continue. A year or so later, you continued to encourage me and put some positive words to me and I really appreciated it.

“It was a great honor and privilege for me when we were naming the wing at Taylors Falls school on your behalf. I was thankful someone asked me to say some words on your behalf. It was a privilege and my honor. It’s been a really great honor for me to be around you and have you serve on this board.

“There was a time I thought I could overtake you in longevity, and then you kept serving the community and I realized it wouldn’t happen. You’ve always contributed and I hate to see you leave.”

Lori Berg, who has served with Vitalis since 2008, said,  “Just so you know Jerry, as I was out getting some gift cards for a departing gift for you, people would ask who gift cards were for. Down to the one, I’d get into this conversation about you and they all said the same thing: we love Jerry. They have good company because we all love you, too. You have a good reputation, and you’ve been a great friend and it’s been such a privilege to work with you.”

Superintendent Dean Jennissen, who has worked with Vitalis for almost four years now, shared this thoughts. “What an amazing run Jerry. When you got on the board I was 10 years old. I’m very thankful to have served with you. I speak on behalf of the administration, staff and students that you’ve been the heart of the board,” he said. “We know we’ve been impacted in a positive way and we wish you very much the best and we’ll miss you dearly. We really have benefitted by being a part of your world, and thank you for your service. You left a great impression. Congratulations to you and Connie and we’re so thankful to spend the final meeting with you in person.”

Vitalis continued with  praise of everyone he’s worked with throughout the years. “People always ask me how I’ve been able to do it for 40 years,” he said. “ It’s because I had good board members and a good board hires a good superintendent and a good superintendent hires good support people. If it hadn’t been for those people, I never, ever would have been able to do this for 40 years.”

Vitalis couldn’t end his recognition without one of his patented quips, saying, “You know, through these later years, I always appreciated people wanting to drive me to conferences and meetings in the cities and I thought it was for my personality, but I now realize it was just for my handicap sticker.”

After honoring Vitalis with a plaque, the board also had another recognition, but this one was more of a surprise. Berg was one of five board members throughout the state of Minnesota to be honored with the Minnesota School Board Association All State Award.

MSBA Executive Director Kirk Schneidawind joined the meeting virtually and said, “This award is given to members who walk the walk and who demonstrate they know good governance. They know how to advocate and support their students. High performing board members work with other others to create a solid, high functioning board. You’ve set the bar high on ethics.

“Our association embeds these standards in all that we do. It’s my honor to be here tonight to show our appreciation to Lori Berg for living up to and beyond the high standards.”

MSBA President Deb Pauly said, “I’m so very happy for you, your board and your community. This are our top honor. There is over 2,140 board members in the state and this award was only given to five this year.”

Berg was surprised by the announcement, saying she thought the MSBA staff was on the meeting for Vitalis. “My goal tonight was not to cry saying good bye to Jerry, but I might now,” she said. “It’s truly my privilege to be here and to work for the kids and be involved in this school district. There are so many people who deserve this award, so I thank you for thinking of me.”

Leigh, who’s been on the board with Berg since she started, said, “You’re such a hard working person for the schools. It was a really good breath of fresh air when you were elected. The work that you did before even being on the board and now all the work you’ve done and training and advocating for our district. You are certainly the epitome of a great school board member. You really deserve it.”

After the award recognitions, the board dove into the serious topic of returning to hybrid and in-person learning models from their current distance learning model.

Jennissen said they are seeking support from their Incident Command Team and Regional Support Team  to be able to return pre-Kindergarten through first graders to hybrid on January 19 and second through 12th grade on January 26.  

Those possibilities will be examined over the holidays by the teams to see if they will be able to happen.

“We would consult with the teams to go back sooner than Governor Walz’ guidelines laid out, but it all would have to be brought through our teams,” Jennissen said. “Much depends on COVID numbers and our ability to implement all these changes.”

Jennissen pointed out that the county is still at 100 cases per 10,000, which is nearly half of what it was a month ago, but still quite a bit over the 30 threshold for hybrid learning. But, he said, they can petition based on local numbers and they’ll consult with the county to help them determine on how to safely bring students back. “We are following guidance and doing the best we can to get students back to school as soon as possible,” he said.

The board did vote to approve  small, in person group learning and activities to start on January 4 after the holiday break.

The group learning will be focused on special needs and highly in need students who would benefit from in-person instruction, according to Jennissen.

As far as activities go, the January 4 start date for practices coincides with what Activities Director Jodi Otte was planning for. There still isn’t a set date for competitions, but Otte said that every other school on the winer schedule is also planning on starting activity practices on January 4.

“I want to applaud my coaches. I’ve been in collaboration with the winter coaches and compiling thoughts,” she explained. “They were willing to do whatever is asked of them to give the students an opportunity to participate. It will be a daily challenge from now until the end of March, but I thank them for what they are doing and we will do our best.”

The board set Monday, January 4 as a special meeting date to discuss more about the return to hybrid learning, and athletic competitions. Leigh potentially thought they could combine the regular Thursday, January 7 meeting into that one as well, since the first meeting of the year is a procedural one in nature and they will expect newly elected board member Jeff Lindeman there anyway. They didn’t decide that detail yet, but did vote to set Monday, January 4 at 6 p.m. as a special meeting date

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