Supt. News

Recent thoughts from Superintendent Jerry Ness. Click here for an archive of previous newsletters.

Week of June 10, 2019

For me, everything starts and ends with family. I was blessed to be born into a loving and supportive family. My father Ernie was a grain elevator manager for 42 years. He was a humble man, but once told me he never lost a dime in the 20 years at Lawndale and the 22 years at Argyle. I learned to love numbers from Dad. My mother, Mavis, a 1949 Hillcrest graduate, gave me the love of reading and a feisty personality. She was a wonderful homemaker! There was never a question that my three sisters, my brother and I would be attending college. It was an expectation and they helped us realize that education was important in our lives.

My path to education also came from my teachers – Mr. and Mrs. Henne, Mr. Keller, Mr. Schmidt, Mrs. Olson, Mr. Larson, and two Mrs. Andersons - who all played a role in me becoming a teacher and coach. I dreaded P-T Conferences, as my parents often heard, “If he would just slow down and check his work…” Just so you know, I have never really slowed down.

Two teachers truly stand out in my life, Mr. Henne and Coach Keller. I became a business education teacher because I enjoyed Mr. Henne’s accounting class. We worked hard and had a lot of fun learning. Coach Keller was hard driving and demanded excellence. One of my greatest honors was being selected by him to give his induction speech into the Minnesota Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.

I was a business education teacher and coach for 11 years; a principal for 11 years; and a superintendent for 18 years, with the first five at WCA and the last 13 at Fergus Falls. I was also the executive director of Minnesota Rural Education Association for two years.

Being the superintendent of Fergus Falls Public Schools has been both the most rewarding and challenging position of my forty-year career. I would like to thank the community, school board and staff for their passion and support in making the Fergus Falls Public Schools an excellent place to work and learn. Two board members have been with me my entire tenure in Fergus Falls – Matt Lemke and Melanie Cole. They, along with all of the other board members have been wonderful to work with through the years.

The biggest change, in the past 40 years, is the mental health issues that now plague our students and families. My brother, Randy, died by suicide in 2014. His death, and working with struggling students and families, gave me insight to the pain and suffering that mental illness can cause. We are at a crisis state and need to continue battling and understanding this horrible disease.

There are so many to thank – our staff is very skilled at what they do! They know how to teach and balance that with a caring and nurturing environment for our students. The district office staff, our principals, LCSC superintendent group, Mark Masten, Gary Schuler, and of course a special thank you to my assistant for the past 13 years, Elaine Jahnke. She is the most amazing person and co-worker I have ever had the pleasure to work with!! When you combine work ethic, excellence and being a wonderful Christian woman – I was blessed to have her on my side.

As I retire and reflect on the past 13 years, I feel good that we were able to work together to change the perception of Fergus Falls Public Schools from negative to positive. I think people feel good about our successes in the classroom, in our activities, fine arts, facilities and fund balance.

When you go into education, at the end of the day – you want to make a difference in people’s lives. I hope my time in education made a difference. To sum up my 40 years in education, like in Mr. Henne’s class, I worked hard and had fun! I continue to be passionate about education and truly enjoyed coming to work each day!!

As I stated earlier, everything starts and ends with family. My immediate family includes my wife, Karen, and sons, Andy and Jake. It’s been almost 20 years since Andy passed away in a car accident at the age of 16. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Andy and dream about what he would be like and what he would have accomplished. The most important teaching I have ever done was as a principal following the accident. They needed to know I could grieve in a healthy way and still be strong for the students and staff.

Karen and I are very proud of the man our son, Jake, has become. He is an outstanding certified financial planner in New Haven, CT – too far away for his parents! He is so interesting because he loves music, sports, broadway plays and hiking!! We can’t wait for Monica and Jake to visit over the 4th of July!

The most nervous person in my retirement is my wife. I have been out of the house coaching or supervising events for 40 years and now I will be invading her space. Karen and I will be married 39 years on June 21. Karen is humble and kind, caring and a loving caregiver to many. She is a survivor and continues her fight against cancer with a brave and courageous attitude. She has helped shape me into the man I am today. Thank goodness I am not the man I was at 22. I still don’t think she realizes how important her love and support has been to my career – in a word, “everything” – thank you!

Thank you Fergus Falls, it has been an honor to serve as your superintendent!

Week of June 3, 2019

Retirement Advice from Students

The McKinley and Adams students in grades K-2 had some great advice for my upcoming retirement - please enjoy their many thoughts!!


When you retire, you should…”read books, relax at home, go to Disney World with your wife, go outside and have fun, work at Walmart, go to a restaurant, go to Florida and enjoy the beach, go to the store and get pop, watch TV and eat food, go bowling, eat a whole semi of Hersheys, go on a walk, go play video games, get a puppy, ride a horse, play Pokemon, eat 100 donuts, eat a Titanic full of gold Hersheys, climb a tree, relax in bed, eat 100 cupcakes, get a red panda, go on a cruise, join the Army, go to the zoo, get a lantern, go fishing - hope you get a big one, go camping, get a new job, be a hockey player, make your own business, eat 50 corn dogs, rest your brain, go to the candy store, go to Space Aliens and have fun, go on an adventure, write books for kids, work at McDonalds or get a slushie or hang out, learn to fix cars, watch a Nascar race, get cotton candy, go on a lot of trips with your family, eat pizza, celebrate with your family, and thank you for your hard work.”


Week of May 27, 2019

Senior Recognition Ceremony

The Class of 2019 Senior Recognition Ceremony was held on Monday, May 6, in the Kennedy Secondary School Auditorium. Craig Olson and Derek Abrahams were the Masters of Ceremonies. The evening started with the National Anthem sung by Julia Swanson, followed by the parade of high school seniors entering the auditorium.

Congratulations to the Fergus Falls High School seniors with a 3.9 or above GPA – Morgan Ackerson, Emmanuel Chamoun, Caleb Danielson, Samuel Eggen, Emily Frigaard, Riley Halena, Seth Hexum, Amy Johnson, Matthew Johnson, Julia Kunz, Lily Pearson, Sophie Rausch, Anna Reard, JB Sandahl, and Chase Strube. Also, congratulations to all the award winners (see below)!


Week of May 20, 2019

Congratulations Graduates...a message from Principal Dean Monke

“Congratulations to our 2019 graduating seniors. We greatly appreciate your hard work and dedication over these last 13 years and now you will soon be able to consider yourselves alumni of the Fergus Falls Public School.

We invite everyone to be a part of our graduation ceremony on Friday, May 24th, starting at 7 pm in the Kennedy Secondary School Gold Gymnasium. It will be a great celebration with musical selections from our band, choir and orchestra, and a few short speeches will be shared. We have graduating seniors from our Fergus Falls High School at Kennedy Secondary School, the Area Learning Center, and our online IQ Academy – all planning to join us for a wonderful evening – doors will open at 5 pm.

A very special congratulations goes out to our 2019 Top High School Seniors who are graduating with a 3.9 GPA or higher! This year we have 15 students from our Fergus Falls High School and three students from IQ Academy that have qualified for this prestigious award. Congratulations to Morgan Ackerson, Emmanuel Chamoun, Caleb Danielson, Sam Eggen, Emily Frigaard, Riley Halena, Seth Hexum, Amy Johnson, Matthew Johnson, Julia Kunz, Lily Pearson, Sophie Rausch, Anna Reard, JB Sandahl, Chase Strube, Kate Blomberg, Kylie Haines, and Cascade Oppitz.


Week of May 13, 2019

Dollars for Scholars

The Fergus Falls Dollars for Scholars (FFDFS) held their annual luncheon on Wednesday, May 1, 2019 at the Bigwood Convention Center. Nancy Eldredge Hess, FFDFS Executive Director eintroduced and thanked the Board of Directors followed by welcoming remarks by Brad Hoganson, Hillcrest Lutheran Academy President. Nancy Eldredge Hess and Sean Sullivan, FFDFS President, awarded 64 scholarships totaling $61,000 to the Class of 2019. In the last 27 years, Dollars for Scholars has given scholarships to 1,151 students totaling $913,000. Thank you!!!

Scholarship Levels: Renewable: Donors who give renewable scholarships provide their students with a scholarship each year of their college education providing they meet set criteria. Legacy: Legacy donors have contributed $25,000 or more to create a named scholarship that is awarded annually. Heritage: Heritage donors have contributed at least $15,000 to create a named scholarship that is awarded annually. Scholar: Scholar donors have contributed at least $10,000 to create a named scholarship that is awarded annually.


Week of May 6, 2019

National Teacher Appreciation Week

Each year during the first week in May, the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) sponsors Teacher Appreciation Week! This year’s celebration is May 5-11. PTA’s website shares that teachers change the lives of millions of children every day, and their work and impact extends far beyond the boundaries of the classroom. Teachers play a pivotal role in our children’s lives, inspiring a lifelong love of learning and discovery and making a difference in their well being and long-term success. Please join me in thanking our wonderful teachers.

State History Day Results

Advisor Danielle Buckmeier reported that for the first time in several years the Fergus Falls Public Schools had three separate projects advance to the final round at the State History Day competition, with all receiving honorable mentions. Congratulations to Ray Cheshire, Junior Individual Website Project: From Tragedy to Art – The Triumph and Tragedy of Japanese Internment; Karah Gullickson, Junior Individual Exhibit Project: Orphan Train – Riding the Rails from Tragedy to Triumph; and Amelia Buckmeier, Senior Individual Exhibit Project: Paparazzi's Tragic Pursuit of Diana – How One Death Triumphantly Improved Privacy Laws.


Week of 4/29/19

Early Childhood Facility

On Tuesday, April 30, the School Board approved a Letter of Intent to purchase the Target building for $1.55 million. The Board also approved a motion to authorize administration to conduct business related to the Target store acquisition including financing, architectural design, permits, zoning, inspections, sub-lease documents, legal services, and any other needed business related to the Target store acquisition in preparation for school board approval.

The District has been working on remodeling 30,000 square feet in the Heritage building for our early childhood programming. Recently, the School Board decided it would be best to look at “lease to buy” options, rather that just lease. Our efforts turned to the Target building, where we can purchase the facility at a significant savings. The Target building is a 21-year old facility and has 89,300 square feet. As a comparison, Cleveland School is 52,000 square feet. The extra space could be used for future expansion and community partnerships. This will be determined in a future strategic planning process.


Week of April 22

Makeup Days

Students will not make up the most recent snow days on April 11 and April 12. Both the 3-hour student early out on May 24 and the 7 pm graduation in the KSS Gold Gym remains as scheduled. Students in grades K-11 will continue to have school on May 28, 29 and 30. May 30th will be the last full day of school for our students.

Special Olympics

Jesse Thorstad shared that the Fergus Falls Public Schools will host (for the fifth year) the Area 4 Special Olympics basketball tournament. The event will begin at 9 am on Thursday, April 25 in the KSS Gold Gym. This is the first basketball tournament of the year for the Special Olympians in our area. Results from this tournament help determine matchups for the regional tournaments in May, which in turn helps place teams for the giant state tournament in June.

Thursday will be a super fun day, with teams from seven west-central Minnesota communities participating. All athletes will be scored in individual skills (shooting, dribbling, etc.). Many will also then compete in either 3-on-3 half-court games or full-court games.

This is the first year the full-court Unified teams will play at the area tournament. In Unified competition, Special Olympics athletes team up with Unified Partners (volunteers) to compete together. Our Unified sports include basketball, softball, golf, and flag football. It's a great way to compete at a high level, and be involved in Special Olympics! Come and cheer on the competitors!


Week of April 15

Congratulations to Cheryl Bormann

iQ Minnesota Academy counselor, Cheryl Bormann, has been selected as the recipient of the 2019 MSCA (Minnesota School Counselors Association) Multi-Level School Counselor of the Year award! Assistant Principal Ryan Johnson nominated Cheryl for the award and will introduce her at the MSCA Awards Luncheon on Monday, April 29.

Mr. Johnson shared that it was a pleasure to write a letter of recommendation for Cheryl Bormann for Counselor of the Year. He has had the opportunity and privilege to work with Mrs. Bormann for the past two years with iQ Academy as their assistant principal.

“Students are number one for Mrs. Bormann. The time, thought, and effort that Mrs. Bormann puts into supporting students is evident when watching her work. Being a school counselor for an online school has many unique challenges. Mrs. Bormann works tirelessly to build individual relationships with the students. Every day she is meeting one on one with students online or by phone to support the students academically, socially, and personally. With an online school, we are continually getting enrollments from all over the state. Mrs. Bormann is on top of student credit requirements and placing students into the proper classes in order to meet the graduation requirements. Mrs. Bormann meets weekly with students that are struggling in their classes to provide support and encouragement as well as host weekly sessions for new students to assist students with the transition to online learning. Mrs. Bormann also does classroom lessons with our students, building relationships with all of our students.


Week of April 1

As a member of Noon Kiwanis, my favorite meeting of the year is when the 4th grade report winners are announced. Each year the topic of the report is, “If I had $100, what charity would I give it to and why.” The winners share their story at a Noon Kiwanis meeting and they get to give $100 to their charity’s representative. They also get a $50 check for their classroom. Noon Kiwanis meets every Tuesday at the YMCA. Their mission focuses on helping youth.

This year’s winner were – Benett Thielke, Mr. Swenson’s class at Cleveland School; Marshall Fellbaum, Mr. McAllister/Ms. Rengel’s class at Cleveland School; along with Ali and Bella from Ms. Pawlowski’s class at Our Lady of Victory School.

Benett’s charity was the Food Shelf. He wanted to make sure each family had enough food – as no one deserves to go hungry. Bella gave her $100 to Someplace Safe so they can make sure the residents have clothes and food. Ali gave $100 to Lake Region Pediatrics because its hard when a child gets ill and she’d like to help the doctors have things they need to cure the children. Marshall’s charity was the Honor Flight, a non-profit organization created to honor America’s veterans for all they have done. He was inspired to choose this charity because of Minnesota Vikings player, Adam Thielen’s support. Marshall also has veterans in his family that he wanted to honor. The Honor Flight also uses their funds to help veterans visit memorials.

Thanks to all the students, their teachers and Noon Kiwanis for sponsoring the program. This is one way to remind our young students to share with others in need, thank you!

World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD)

WAAD was celebrated on April 2. This day was adopted by the United Nations in 2007 to shine a bright light on autism as a growing global health priority. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a group of developmental disabilities that affects brain development. Autism is not a disease or illness that can be caught like a cold. An individual is typically diagnosed with autism before the age of three. It often make it hard to communicate with, and relate to, others. Autism is one fastest growing disabilities. Currently, the Fergus Falls Public Schools has 58 students diagnosed with ASD.

Band Contest Winners

Congratulations to our outstanding band members and directors in their recent section contest. Overall, Fergus brought 37 entries to the contest. Twenty-one of the entries received the highest rating of superior. The remaining 16 all received a rating of excellent. Two students, Caleb Danielson and Mary Grotberg, earned a perfect score of 40 points and Freshman, Anna Erickson scored 39!

Superior soloists were- Izzy Kremeier, Andrew Danielson, Sara Danielson, Elizabeth Grotberg, Thomas Grotberg, Greta Christensen, Ava Weber, Helania Kremeier, and Chloe Schindler. Many students received superiors for their small ensembles, too.

Of special note included: Wind Ensemble Low Brass (Tuba, Juba, Duba) – JB Sandahl, Caleb Neubauer, Tyson Back, Sawyer Votava and Shane Wahlund; Wind Ensemble Saxophones (When I'm 64) – Mady Trosvig, Jeremiah Nord, Andrew Danielson, Berit Skogen, Sara Danielson, and Chloe Schindler; and Flute Duet – Amy Johnson and Greta Christensen

Sub-Section Speech

Advisor Mike Donoho shared congratulations to the following for qualifying for the section speech meet next week: Takaira Wynn-Sheldon/5th in Drama; Norah Foreman/6th in Extemp Reading; Izzy Nehk/1st in Poetry; Angelique Lindgren/4th in Prose; and Kendal Nygaard/6th in Prose. Good luck!

Week of March 25, 2019

Speech Results

The Central Lakes Conference Speech Championship was held last week at Willmar. Congratulations to Izzy Nehk, conference champion in poetry; Angelique Lindgren 2nd place and all-conference in Prose; Takaira Wynn-Sheldon 3rd place and all-conference in drama. Advisor Mike Donoho shared that it was a good day for the Otters!!

Activities Director Comments

Activities Director Derek Abrahams shared the following with District staff based on a recent article written by Jack Blatherwick, Let's Play Hockey columnist titled, “If I had to do it over, I’d find more praise.” As we head into state testing time, I thought this article was perfect. Like coaches heading into the postseason, they feel, often unjustly, that the only thing that matters are those test scores that get printed in the paper. While the article is focused on coaching hockey, it does talk about teaching as well.

“As I work with coaches and teachers in my job, I quickly realized there is very little, if any difference between the two. Successful schools have student athletes and teacher coaches. We are all doing the same thing, we just have different topics or subjects that we are teaching our students.


Week of March 18, 2019

All-School Band Program

Band instructors – Scott Kummrow, Josh McGowan, and Denise Wiese – directed the all-school band concert in the Gold Gym on Monday night. The concert featured the world premier of “Echoes” by Dr. Erika Svanoe. The band commissioned Dr. Svanoe to write a piece based on the Kirkbride building and the resulting work was incredible! Each band performed one piece followed by all 415 band students playing “Echoes” together!

OtterBot Results

OtterBot Advisor Bill Swanson reported that the Fergus Falls FIRST FRC Team 3293 had a fantastic regional tournament over the weekend at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks. The team finished in 8th place out of 52 teams and ended up the #6 Alliance Captain!

The results were some of the tightest margins ever seen; and at one point on Friday, the OtterBots were ranked first overall. Just like every year, the three days of competition included challenges, failures, successes and roller coaster emotions that come from high-level competition. There were teams from five states, and as far away as California, as well as two countries, Canada and China.


Week of 3/11/19

Congratulation to the Girls Basketball Team!

The Otter Girls basketball team won a nail-biter last Thursday night in the section championship!! They beat a very good Alexandria team 43-42 to return to the state tournament. The Otters are seeded #5 and will play #4 seed Holy Angels at noon on Wednesday, March 13. Go Otters!!!

Minnesota State High School League announced that they are excited to LIVE stream ALL Girls State Basketball Quarterfinals on PrepSpotlight.TV/MSHSL! Be sure to spread the word to friends, family and out of town fans who can't make it to the game. Are you on Twitter? Be sure to follow @MNPrepSpotlight for game updates!

On Tuesday, the girls basketball team was sent out in style as they paraded through Adams, McKinley and Cleveland as part of their send off to the state tournament. Our young Otters, lined the hallways to cheer on the team. They completed a walk through Middle School classrooms and finally to the Gold Gym for introductions and the words from Coach Strand.


March 4, 2019

Music In Our Schools Month

For more than 30 years, March has been officially designated by the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) for the observance of Music In Our Schools Month® (MIOSM™), the time of year when music education becomes the focus of schools across the nation.

The purpose of MIOSM is to raise awareness of the importance of music education for all children – and to remind citizens that school is where all children should have access to music. MIOSM is an opportunity for music teachers to bring their music programs to the attention of the school and the community, and to display the benefits that school music brings to students of all ages.

MIOSM and the events surrounding it are the ideal opportunities for increasing awareness of the benefits of high quality music education programs in our nation’s schools. The National Association for Music Education hopes that teachers, students, and music supporters alike will find ways to join in on the celebration through creative activities and advocacy.


February 25, 2019

Paraprofessional Recognition Week – March 4-8, 2019

Paraprofessional Recognition Week will be held March 4-8, 2019. There are over 20,000 paraprofessionals in Minnesota working hard every day to make sure every child has the education they need to succeed in school and life. The Fergus Falls Public Schools employ hard working and valued paraprofessionals who do amazing work everyday for our students and staff. Thank You!!

Congratulations to All-State Music Students

Fergus Falls band and choir students Caleb Danielson, Andrew Danielson, Mary Grotberg, Isabella Nehk, and Elias Torkelson participated in the final performance of the Minnesota All State Ensembles on February 16.


February 20, 2019


Our girls’ hockey team earned a hard fought victory in the section final over Alexandria, 3-1, to return to state for the first time since 2009. Coach Lill and the team have had an excellent season – hard work and dedication has paid off for the Otters - Congratulations!! The team is scheduled to play Breck at 11 am on Wednesday, February 20.

The Otter Girls Hockey Team is also to be congratulated on their work in the classroom. They won the 6A Section All-Academic Award with a combined GPA of 3.85!!

The Otter Gymnastics team competed in sections this past Saturday. They were announced at the Section All-Academic Gold Award with a 3.97 GPA – Congratulations!!