Minnesota Revenue offers two valuable tax benefits for parents who purchase school supplies for their K-12 students, the K-12 Education Credit and Subtraction. These benefits can reduce parents’ taxes to increase their refund, but is only available for those who keep their receipts. Purchases for most school supplies, field trips, and musical instruments for school band are eligible.

Most Minnesota parents qualify for the K-12 subtraction, which reduces their taxable income. Parents under certain income limits may also qualify for the K-12 credit, which can refund up to 75% of their costs – even for parents who don’t owe any taxes. Visit the Minnesota Revenue website for details.

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    Posted by Brenda Williams
  • Diamond in the Rough There are no mincing words; this has been a very difficult school year. Students have faced significant challenges, and grades and mental health have suffered as a result. Teachers have ...
    Posted Mar 22, 2021, 7:37 PM by Brenda Williams
  • Middle School Fun - Sibley Lake Style After experiencing last weekend’s “spring ahead” of daylight savings and the return of balmy temperatures, we are all thinking about Spring. Even though all this seasonal change has many ...
    Posted Mar 15, 2021, 2:39 PM by Brenda Williams
  • Activities Jottings With the many constant changes in this year's activities, I thought I would share information as it stands currently. All of the dates can be found on the www ...
    Posted Mar 15, 2021, 2:34 PM by Brenda Williams
  • The Kids Need Us; We Need the Kids For anyone who works with kids, you know the aura of energy that surrounds them. With that said, Monday, February 8, was truly “A Great Day to be a Patriot ...
    Posted Feb 14, 2021, 7:45 PM by Brenda Williams
Showing posts 1 - 5 of 136. View more »


posted Apr 9, 2021, 12:13 PM by Brenda Williams   [ updated ]

Diamond in the Rough

posted Mar 22, 2021, 7:37 PM by Brenda Williams

There are no mincing words; this has been a very difficult school year. Students have faced significant challenges, and grades and mental health have suffered as a result. Teachers have been pushed to the breaking point with trying to teach in many different modes at once. Parents have tried to balance work responsibilities while trying to monitor their children’s school progress and support as they are able. What could possibly be said about this school year that went well?

Let’s start with flexibility. This past fall, we made efforts at PLHS to create a means of providing education to our students by increasing the flexibility for how and when that education happened. It was not flawless and has developed considerably over the course of this school year. However, we discovered ways to make school more flexible for students and families by creating systems that allow students to access their classroom and coursework without the restrictions of having to be seated in the classroom or be online live with the teacher. Students are using that flexibility to take advantage of opportunities to schedule school around family commitments, illness, or even apprenticeship opportunities that would not have been available even one year ago due to how school was conducted.

Then there is online learning. While full-time distance learning has created its fair share of problems, online learning has changed how students learn. Forty years ago, learning happened in school and homework at home. Now students are able to access their teachers, learning materials, support, and curriculum at any time of the day. This has allowed us to redesign what happens in the classroom with a teacher. Classroom time has become a space for discussions, collaboration, activities, and projects that were never possible when every day was needed to provide content.

Kids these days … you can probably finish that sentence, but would it surprise you that one of the celebrations we share at PLHS is the manners and respect shown by our students? Teachers started noticing it last spring and it has become a regular occurrence: students would sign off their online classes by thanking the teacher and wishing them a good day. Not just a few students either. It has become commonplace and teachers have noticed the appreciation they feel from students, especially when they returned to in-person learning.

We are looking forward to school after COVID. There are some things we miss: pep fests, fans at games, plays, concerts, and crowded hallways. But, it has not been all bad. School will not look the same as it did in 2019, and that is not a bad thing. Being able to take school with you as you take a family vacation or recover from a surgery and still keep up in classes is now a possibility. Making it possible to attend school and work around other commitments is a good development. No more snow days? Well, maybe it's not ALL good.

-- Aaron Nelson, High School Principal

Middle School Fun - Sibley Lake Style

posted Mar 15, 2021, 2:39 PM by Brenda Williams

After experiencing last weekend’s “spring ahead” of daylight savings and the return of balmy temperatures, we are all thinking about Spring. Even though all this seasonal change has many of us kicking our cabin fever in preparation for the excitement of April, May, and June in the Brainerd Lakes Area, it's important that we also reflect upon this unfortunate fact:

Children today spend less time outdoors than any generation in human history, devoting just four to seven minutes a day on average in unstructured outdoor play while spending an average of seven and a half hours every day in front of electronic media. (No Child Left Inside)

Certainly, the pandemic, distance learning, and a Schoology platform have unfortunately only added to the demands of screen time and a distancing from the outdoor world. Last week, PLMS made a move to invert that statistic. What started with a couple of middle school Social Studies teachers hanging out, talking about fun and engaging opportunities for kids turned into an amazing series of days on Sibley Lake.

From celebrating indigenous snow snake games to chasing the elusive Sibley Lake crappie, our kids found an abundance of fun and engaging activities out on the lake. Through a little “northwoods engineering” we also were able to compete in wood cookie curling, human dogsledding, and “smooshing” (you may have to Google that one). The kids had a blast, as evidenced by their smiles in the photos, but more importantly, they had an authentic learning experience, with a lot less structure, and a lot more freedom.

Gratitude should be extended to the volunteers who helped serve hot cocoa and set up the S’mores station. It was rewarding to watch the smiles on the faces of the moms, dads, and other special guests, who arguably had as much fun as the kids while helping to facilitate the fun. In addition to our volunteers, we also want to extend appreciation to the PLMS staff who rallied around the idea, helping to pull off back-to-back days of fun on the lake.

Without the planning of Mr. Bengtson (6th grade Social Studies) and the ideas of Mr. Fischer (5th grade Social Studies), this day would not have come together. Thank you to both of them, for advocating for our kids and for recognizing that quality learning experiences can happen outside the walls of the classroom. From the little things (like ordering porta-potties) to the logistical coordination of volunteers and resources, we say “thanks”. In addition, we’d like to thank Robert Engholm from the MN Darkhouse and Spearing Association, and Eric Sullivan from the MN DNR for sharing about their passions in the outdoors. And to John Janousek, Rapala, 13 Fishing, and Jason Barr from Tutt’s Bait for helping to provide the rods and tackle to help kids to have an amazing experience. Lastly, thank you to the Sibley Lake Association members who granted us the green light to utilize this great local resource.

As the weather warms, we’re excited about the prospects of getting our kids outside exploring and continuing to try to find balance in time on tech and time outdoors.

-- Mike O'Neil, Middle School Principal


Activities Jottings

posted Mar 15, 2021, 2:34 PM by Brenda Williams

With the many constant changes in this year's activities, I thought I would share information as it stands currently. All of the dates can be found on the www.mshsl.org website and on the Pequot Lakes www.isd186.org website. For our coop sports like gymnastics and skiing, dates can be found on the Brainerd school website at www.isd181.org. With limited tickets going to families and students, events can be viewed on the isd186sports YouTube channel. Hockey events are viewed on Livebarn.com.

Speech and Knowledge Bowl have held their meets virtually this year. The teams are smaller in numbers but have experienced great success. Speech will compete for sections and the state tournament this spring; however, the dates have not yet been released. Band and choir will have their spring contest competitions with dates and locations yet to be determined.

Wrestling will start team sections on March 11 with Pequot Lakes chosen to host section finals as well as the state quarterfinal round on March 13. Individual sections will also be hosted at Pequot Lakes on March 16. The top four individuals will advance to Foley for a supersectional event.

Section hockey dates are set for March 16, 18, 20, and 25. As teams are seeded, all the events will be held at the high seed. Fans are limited to 90 for the home team and 60 for the visiting team. There will be a state tournament with limited seating of 250 fans. The games will be live-streamed or televised on Channel 45.

Basketball section dates have also been set and the high seeds will host through the section finals. Girls basketball dates are March 18, 20, 24, and 26. Boys basketball dates are March 17, 19, 23, and 26. Pequot Lakes has been asked to host a state quarterfinal round of the basketball tournament on March 30 and 31. No details have been released as to which class we will host.

Spring sports will start on March 29, with middle level programs starting their practices on April 6. Registrations for these activities will start up after March 15, once the MSHSL releases how the seasons will run. No information has been given for length of season, contests per activity, or when section play will start. This information will be out soon so please check the mshsl.org website for up-to-date information on these events.

As we finish our seasons for winter activities, let’s celebrate all the hard work from our students, athletes, and coaches, and congratulate them for an outstanding job.

Go Patriots!

-- Byron Westrich, Activities Director

The Kids Need Us; We Need the Kids

posted Feb 14, 2021, 7:45 PM by Brenda Williams

For anyone who works with kids, you know the aura of energy that surrounds them. With that said, Monday, February 8, was truly “A Great Day to be a Patriot!” Earlier this week, Pequot Lakes Middle School opened the doors to usher in a full in-person learning experience for students in grades 5-8. It’s been close to a year since we’ve had a complete student body, and for our staff, it’s been a long time coming!

Pequot Lakes Middle School feels a whole lot more “Middle Schoolish” than it has in a long time. Kids in hallways, cafeterias being used, and close to 500 students filling our classrooms. With all the kids comes the joys of working in this place. Hormones, awkwardness, laughter, and smiling faces were still present during distance learning, but it certainly is more powerful when we’re in person! This might catch some off guard, but even the logistical nightmare of getting all of our students picked up in the infamous “parent pickup line” is a welcomed reprieve from empty desks and quiet locker bays!

With these recent moves to in-person learning on our 5-8 campus, I am in debt to the PLMS school leadership team, teachers, support staff, and school board who has confidence in our ability to expand our learning opportunities to 4-5 days a week for everyone on campus, all while maintaining integrity to a plan designed to keep our kids and staff safe. Yes, there will likely be bumps in the road ahead. (We kicked off our return with a Monday morning that wasn’t exempt from some close contact quarantining and other limitations.) But again, all was worth the effort as we strive to provide a quality educational experience for our students and a work environment for our staff that is filled with the ambient enthusiasm, laughter, and energy that comes with working in a middle school setting.

We appreciate our families who have endured hardships and personal/professional sacrifice to help us to get to this point. Though social distancing, masks, and restricted movement are all factors that continue to influence our decision making, we also have our goals set on a spring that might resemble even more normalcy.

Monday was truly a great day (not only because Patty and the kitchen team served the fan-favorite Mandarin Chicken) but also because of the genuine excitement we saw throughout campus. This year’s hardships have us reflecting upon the little things that make being a middle school educator so great. Smiles peeking out from behind masks, voices, and laughter filling our downtime, and kids and staff sharing an authentic enthusiasm for life, learning, and social interaction with one another. It was clear; the kids need us, and we need the kids!
Go Patriots!

-- Mike O'Neil, Middle School Principal

Thank you to CRMC and Crow Wing County Public Health

posted Feb 1, 2021, 6:59 AM by Brenda Williams

One of the most poignant lessons I’ve learned or become even more aware of as superintendent of a rural school district in the 2020-21 school year is the pivotal role that a school district plays in the economic heart of a local community. I’ve certainly always known that decisions to close school are a big deal - just ask any superintendent about how well-liked they are when making weather closure decisions - but never have I had to shut down schools for weeks at a time. Not in 20+ years. As I drove to and from work in December and January, I saw what looked like a ghost town in downtown Pequot Lakes, Breezy Point, and Crosslake. It was heartbreaking - and yet I clearly understood we had to intervene with hospitals over capacity and no room to deal with regular life health tragedies and struggles. It is definitely true that we must find a way for schools to operate to keep the economy and community life rolling even if it has to look different - and that is humbling and a challenging charge, but it is what we must work towards together.

The week of January 18th, our school district staff was blessed with an enormous gift from Cuyuna Regional Medical Clinic (CRMC) and Crow Wing County Public Health. We learned on Tuesday the 19th that CRMC had enough COVID-19 vaccine available to vaccinate our staff, and the race was on. We quickly established a clinic schedule and the CRMC team vaccinated 110+ staff on that Thursday afternoon, increasing our chances of staying open to teach students onsite at school. It was a 36-hour turnaround with execution modeling discipline the US Marines would be proud of. We in Pequot Lakes Public Schools cannot thank our partners at CRMC and CWC enough for making this happen so quickly to help us do our important work and to help us navigate the months ahead helping our families get to work. Thank you CRMC and CWC Public Health for going above and beyond for the public you serve!!

Patriot families, we are not through this yet. Quarantine rules, mask and distancing rules, crowd size limits, and all that we’ve been doing this year still apply and will likely continue through the end of the school year. We must all remain vigilant to keep schools open and not be forced to close due to a lack of staffing with quarantine and isolation requirements (which the vaccination doesn’t change as of yet, per MDH). That said, our partners have helped us lead the pack in MN with the earliest vaccinations for our educators and that calls for a BIG kudos and thank you. THANK YOU friends at CRMC and well done serving your local communities. We couldn’t be prouder and more grateful!! Go Patriots!!

-- Chris Lindholm, Superintendent of Schools  


posted Jan 14, 2021, 6:47 AM by Brenda Williams

It’s been a ride. Semester 1 of this school year was like none the school community has ever experienced. It rivaled and, we dare say, was more difficult than last spring. Through it all, we are in awe of the Patriot community. Our caregivers, students, and school staff have shown a resilience we all should be proud of. That’s not to say there weren’t plenty of bumps in the road, but we also believe celebrations are numerous. An important part of a Safe, Supportive and Collaborative culture is to celebrate successes. So let’s take a moment to celebrate all who are making the 2020-2021 school year possible.

Caregivers - You didn’t sign up for this. You didn’t anticipate having your regular routines upended and your kids learning from home each day. We applaud you. Families have had to make numerous sacrifices, endure challenges that are unique to their own family situations, and figure out how to operate in this new normal. Parenting is hard - parenting with our current circumstances is even harder. In addition to families, thank you to emergency childcare and daycares for doing all you can to support our students. We appreciate you!

Students - We know how challenging this has been. Some of you are loving distance learning and some of you are finding this to be the most challenging school has ever been. Whoever you are, we see you. We are here for you. And most of all we are celebrating that we have you as our students. Whether distance or in person, we are so grateful for the laughs and challenges each day brings. We are so proud of you!

School Staff - We are proud every day to be a Patriot. The teamwork and level of collaboration that goes into the work you all do is honorable. Food Service, maintenance, office staff, leadership, teachers, paras, support staff, and administrators have shown incredible dedication and flexibility. It has been hard; it has pushed us to our limits, but it has helped us grow in a way that has only made us stronger.

In December, our district was honored for the work we have done in HRS level 1 (Safe, Supportive, and Collaborative Culture). As a district, all three sites have achieved certification in HRS level 1. In order to be certified, each building collected data from staff, students, and families that show our school environments are safe and supportive places to be. Due to Covid, our work this school year has continued to focus on HRS Level 1. Without a strong foundation, the rest will crumble, hence making this a priority in our current situation. We look forward to a continued partnership with all involved to provide a positive school experience.

-- Alison Falenschek and Megan Zierden, High Reliability School Coaches

Activities have such a positive impact on high school students

posted Dec 30, 2020, 5:01 PM by Brenda Williams

For more than a century, the Minnesota State High School League has sponsored one of the most comprehensive programs of interscholastic activities in the United States. More than 500 member schools with 23,000 coaches and over 9,000 officials and judges help students to reach their goals in and out of the classroom. Students who participate in activities are known to have higher grade point averages, have better school attendance, create lifelong friendships, and simply find school more enjoyable. Being a part of the team, learning self-discipline, creating a strong work ethic, and building character traits can all be benefits of participating in MSHSL sponsored activities.

Pequot Lakes activities are also an extension of the classroom. Lessons that can be learned while participating in the many activities our school offers just can’t be replicated in the classroom. Activities this winter offered for Patriots are speech, robotics, debate, one-act play, hockey, basketball, dance, knowledge bowl, wrestling, alpine and nordic skiing, gymnastics, band, and choir. Students, please consider being a part of as many activities as you possibly can during your short time in school.

Parents can make a positive impact on their children while they participate in activities. Allow your child to guide their path in the arts or athletics. Most parents have the best interest of their child in mind; however, some develop a mission or goal that is not what the student really wants. Parents need to listen to the wants and needs of the student. The best thing a parent can do for a competitor or performer is to be there for emotional support. After a great win or an emotional loss, a friendly face is the best tonic. Parents need to be at their best when the student experiences failure. A friendly hug from a parent often is the best elixir. Parents also need to be the guiding hand to help the students cope with and learn from success with humility. Students feel the pressure from practices and their competitions or performances; coaches, directors, and teammates are their toughest critics. When the competition or performance is over, the student needs to escape from the pressure for a short while. The drive home or the conversation after an event is not the time for families to break down the good or bad that occurred. The best conversations to have are simply how enjoyable it is for us to watch our children play and perform. Simply saying, “I loved watching you play/perform tonight,” can be the best words for our students to hear. A recent survey in Michigan revealed that what students hated the most about being in activities was the ride home with parents after an event. What students enjoyed the most was the fun that activities give them.

Students go out for activities for fun, love of the event, and friendships. We all need to remind ourselves of why they play. An alarming rate of students is dropping out of activities after the age of thirteen. We need to encourage them to be a part of the team and contribute in any way they are capable. Society can get too caught up in winning, being the best, being champions, or the leading scorer. While competition can be a critical life skill learned by participating in activities, the process … learning how to compete or perform, and learning how to deal with winning or losing ... is far more important than the result of the experience.

Pequot Lakes students, please consider getting involved in as many activities as you can. There is an activity for everyone. The benefits of participating in MSHSL sponsored events can make the educational process more enjoyable. GO PATRIOTS!

-- Byron Westrich, Activities Director

Ring the Bells

posted Dec 30, 2020, 4:57 PM by Brenda Williams

As we step through a challenging winter holiday season dealing with the many difficult impacts of the pandemic, I’m reminded of these lyrics written by Leonard Cohen in the song Anthem:

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

Cohen’s lyrics offer us some much-needed encouragement as we push on through this particular winter. First, it tells us that it’s ok to have cracks. “There is a crack, a crack in everything.” The first step towards feeling better is owning it followed by making an action plan to do something about it. For me it’s helpful to start with knowing that we all have cracks, we all have wrinkles, and we all make mistakes. “Forget your perfect offering.”

Cohen’s lyrics also highlight that it’s through our cracks that the light gets in. It’s in times of hardship that we witness incredible displays of generosity, courage, and compassion by great folks all around us. I’m amazed by the heroic work of our healthcare workers and the ways local communities have rallied around them. I also appreciate the compassion I get to witness most days as our Patriot employees work incredibly hard to teach students, to feed them, and to show love and grace in a time when it’s needed most. These are hard times, so let’s keep working together to shine a light into the cracks around us and be intentional peacemakers in our community.

Finally, the first line in these lyrics tells us to ring whatever bells that we can! Bells are generally cheerful sounding, especially around the holidays, and what better way to take some deliberate action towards a positive mental mindset than to start ringing bells - both literally and metaphorically. When we are intentional about focusing on gratefulness and celebrating the people around us, our mental and emotional state improves significantly. Let’s all find ways in the weeks ahead to let the light in and ring bells of celebration for loved ones and those who need some help keeping a smile. Here’s to turning the page to a New Year!! Go Patriots!

 -- Chris Lindholm, Superintendent of Schools

The Keys to Audit Success

posted Dec 9, 2020, 9:35 PM by Brenda Williams

The district’s annual audit ensures frameworks, regulations, and policies and procedures that define the path for operational effectiveness are demonstrated in the work of the district office. By following the guidelines and managing risk effectively, the likelihood of success increases.

Recently, the district completed the fiscal year 2020 audit and the results are in. A successful audit! So, what about our success? Every year a budget is created with the expectation that at the end of the year the actual outcome is within 1-2% of the budget and the fund balance remains stable at 15-17%. The FY20 variance comparing final budget to actual was ($13,416); under budget. Considering a total budget in the general fund of almost $19M, ending the year within $13K is remarkable. Another positive was the FY20 audit produced only one finding, segregation of duties, which is a finding that is most common in smaller school districts. This finding will be ever-present in a school district our size.

There are several key components that go into a successful audit which increase the likelihood of ongoing success.

1. Confidence.

There is greatness within each team member and to not let anyone say otherwise is imperative. Some things may come easily, while other skills and competencies may take longer to learn and master and present an opportunity to invest more effort in them; to identify and use strengths while working to grow in areas of weaknesses. Making mistakes is a part of life. Remembering to get back up and learn from them so as not to repeat the same mistakes is critical. Courses, seminars, webinars, and attending conferences to acquire the skills needed while learning about important topics impacting the industry and organization is essential. A lifetime of learning and improving is important, and having confidence and a positive attitude is a good place to start.

2. Aim High.

Great things are accomplished by setting high and sometimes seemingly impossible goals. How? Think big and work diligently towards them. It may take some time, but goals are achieved through discipline, focus, and commitment to doing a little every day to continue moving towards the objectives. Remember that others have done similar things like this before, so aim high and remember that limits are set by one’s mind.

3. First Who, Then What.

Jim Collins’ quote, “I don’t really know where we should take this bus. But I know this much: If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great,” comes to mind. A team full of optimism, confidence, forward-thinking and open-minded individuals who will support and encourage each other is what brings the level up from “good-to-great.” No one needs negativity in their lives. By being in the company of those who believe in lifelong learning, whose conversations are uplifting, and who live a healthy and balanced lifestyle, this becomes the norm. Peer pressure doesn’t have to be negative. Let positive peer pressure be the motivating factor.

4. Work Diligently.

Discipline is essential for success in the school finance profession. Staying focused and determined when setting goals is important. These might include large life-changing initiatives, but also the smaller day-to-day activities required to get things done around the office and home. Organization and time-management support consistency and transparency, doing everything with care and in a way that reflects the high standards that support the vision, mission, and values of the district.

5. Zig Zag.

Everyone is looking for an open door to walk through. But what if the door is closed and it can’t be opened? Look for a back door. What if the back door is also closed? Look for an open window. We may need to zig. We may need to zag. But that is just course correcting. Keep sights on the goal and be persistent. Use, adapt, and revisit the plans and if needed, go back to the drawing board. There is a way; it just needs to be uncovered.

6. Inner Voice.

Steve Jobs was onto something when he said “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.” Naysayers will want to discourage and belittle good work. Take time to reflect, know yourself to lead yourself, and listen to intuition. Pay attention to the inner voice, make sure to listen for that “gut instinct” and take notice. Balancing the rational mind, which is fact-based, with our heart, which is more instinctive and passionate, builds trust and rapport.

7. Balance.

Technical skills are essential for what we do every day at work. We need to know about accounting, finance, process improvement, information technology and cybersecurity, risk management, and fraud schemes. But soft skills are also essential because they will help us make better and quicker decisions, solve problems more easily, and organize the many little snippets of work-life that make up our day. We also focus more on understanding organizational culture, ethics, and the role of management. Many of our stakeholders don’t understand what we do, how we do it, and why it matters to them. Inefficiencies and errors limit the success of our work. What we do matters tremendously, and we need to use our soft-skills to communicate the importance of what we do with every audit, every meeting we hold, every presentation we make, and every report we write.

Together we must possess or obtain the knowledge, skills, and other competencies needed to perform the established responsibilities. When each of us sets high goals and works diligently towards their achievement, we elevate the quality and results of our work. The results will not only include a satisfying list of achievements now, including an almost perfect audit in FY20, but in the future too. We will continue to appreciate the satisfaction that success brings when it is the result of hard work. Great results don’t happen by accident! 

-- Heidi Hagen, Business Manager

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