Three area superintendents work together to offer new class

Jessica Stölen-Jacobson
Granite Falls Advocate Tribune

Since the beginning of summer, Bruce Bergeson, along with Superintendent of Lakeview Schools Chris Fenske, Superintendent of Yellow Medicine East Schools Rich Schneider, and Montevideo Superintendent Wade McKittrick have been working together to bring the nationwide program, Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunity (or CEO) to the three schools. The program is operated through the Midland Institute, a national supporting organization based out of Illinois where the program started. It is designed to bring students interested in entrepreneurial opportunities out of the classroom and into the businesses for first-hand learning opportunities. 

The group making up the steering committee also includes EDA directors, city administrators, and others from the Cottonwood, Granite Falls, and Montevideo Communities. Bergeson says that in 2014, then Superintendent of Montevideo Luther Heller and some other area superintendents attempted to bring the program to the local area. At that time, Bergeson says, businesses were supportive of the idea as far as providing financial support, but the leadership needed for the program presented a challenge. “Rich Schneider, who is the Superintendent at YME talked last spring about interest to get that going. He thought that would be a good thing for the students in our area,” says Bergeson. The group of superintendents organized and attended some webinars, deciding to collaborate to get the program up and running, naming it the Minnesota River Valley CEO Program. “We received a $35,000 grant from the Lyft Pathways Project,” says Bergeson. “We have that grant for start-up costs and we are now in the process of putting together a CEO Board. The board is going to be the decision-makers of the program. They are representatives from each of the school districts.” Currently, the steering committee is looking to gather representatives from businesses in all of the communities involved. “I’ve been out speaking to the EDAs, business groups, and organizations in all of the communities. We’re getting pretty close. We are trying to get anywhere from nine to 11 people on the board. Right now we have seven yes’s and two who are leaning towards being involved. We’re close to having a full board,” he says.

Once the board is in place, there will be two primary objectives to accomplish right away. The first topic of order is to recruit investors and the investing businesses. “The ask will be to commit a thousand dollars a year supporting the CEO program for three years,” Bergeson says. “The goal is to get anywhere from 35 to 50 businesses within all the communities to support the program. That amount is the budget for running the program every year.” Most of that financial support will be invested in the second task the board must accomplish, hiring a part-time facilitator to coordinate the program. “What we’ve been told is that the key to the program is to get a facilitator who can really reach out and connect the business community but also really attracts students to the program. So the board will be looking for that person in the near future,” Bergeson says. Board members would be looking at a lot of time upfront while recruiting businesses, but Bergeson says that once the program is going, the time commitment should be one meeting a month and some other activities that may happen throughout the year. “I like to tell people that I don’t think it’s going to be a huge time commitment, but I think it’s going to be a very satisfying time commitment because you’re building something for the future of Cottonwood, Granite Falls, and Montevideo,” he says.

The target starting date for the new CEO class is in the fall of 2022, for the ’22-’23 school year. “The goal is to have 15 to 20 students participating. The hope is that we have a good mix from all three of the school districts that are participating,” he says. The program is based around the idea that the students aren’t learning through the class in the school, rather they are going out into the businesses. “Our business people out there that successfully run their own businesses successfully started up their own businesses and successfully employ people in their businesses will teach our students the skills that it takes to be the entrepreneurs of the future. What we’re trying to do over the next 10 years is to get 150-200 students who have gone through the program who are now going to start businesses, work in businesses and manage the businesses of the future. We’re basically trying to grow our own,” Bergeson says.

Bergeson says the group is working to build a network of businesses that are forward-thinking and looking to the future for the surrounding communities. “I’ve told this to the EDAs, it’s a Chinese Proverb and I’ve used this often in my career. The proverb says that the best time to plant a tree is 25 years ago and the second best time to plant a tree is today. That’s the attitude that we’re taking. This would have been great to do 25 years ago, but the opportunity is today. If we metaphorically want trees that are going to give shade 25 years from now, we need to plant them today. That’s what we’re doing,” he says.

“Our small businesses and larger companies employ a lot of people around here. All of them need employees and not just that but really good employees. This is designed to connect to our students and help them be really good business owners, business managers, or business employees for whatever pathway they happen to take.”

While the program is still in the early stages, Bergeson says that those he has spoken with about serving on the board are excited about the potential for connecting students to businesses in the communities. “There are many people out there who have listened and are excited and will probably be investors,” he says.