The St. Michael-Albertville school district commemorates 50 years as a public K-12 school district this year, and the district has planned a few events to celebrate the milestone.
Festivities begin Friday, Oct. 5, at the homecoming football game. Students of the class of 1969, along with staff and school board members from that time, will be honored guests at the game. There will be pre-game and halftime presentations to commemorate the 50 year anniversary. The Knights will take on Anoka tomorrow night at 7 p.m. at the high school’s new all-purpose stadium.
The next event takes place the very next day, with an open house at the high school from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 6. Visitors can tour the high school and new all-purpose facility, view memorabilia, and purchase STMA and 50th anniversary items such as keychains, golf balls and t-shirts.
The final 50th anniversary event will be a “50 Years of Excellence” 5K race on Saturday, Oct. 13. The adult race begins at 9 a.m. and kids race at 10:00. A 5K walk will begin at 10:30. T-shirts are included with registration for the event, which begins and ends at Middle School West. Registration for the 5K run/walk events can be found here: https://www.stma.k12.mn.us/Page/5184
STMA had been recognized as a school district before the 1968-1969 school year, but this year marks the first that the district offered a full K-12 program after fending off forced annexation into a neighboring district.
Bob Zahler is a STMA High School teacher, and he is the author of the book Faith, Family and Farming, which details the history St. Michael. Zahler wrote an article on the creation of the STMA school district, where he explained that separate public schools in St. Michael and Albertville had been heavily intertwined with St. Albert’s and St. Michael’s parish schools. Neither town operated their own school building between 1940 and the mid 1960s; rather, they rented classroom space from their respective parochial schools. At that time, Zahler said a public school district in Minnesota needed to offer a minimum of two grades to maintain their district identity and receive state aid.
The Minnesota Department of Education began to push back against this type of arrangement in the early 1960s, when they began telling public school districts that renting space from parochial schools should not be a permanent arrangement. In 1963 the state legislature passed a statute that required all school districts to operate their own public school building. If they did not, they faced annexation by a neighboring district.
Zahler said there had been some opposition by Albertville residents who wanted to remain separate from St. Michael, but the alternative to merging was the dissolution of both districts. To avoid this fate, Albertville’s school district requested annexation into St. Michael’s in 1964, and the newly formed school district began planning the construction of a public school that would serve grades 1-9.
The state threw another wrench into the school district’s plans in 1967, when they mandated that public school districts must offer grades 1-12 or be forced into annexation. Construction on the new district’s grade 1-9 building was not yet complete. At the time, students in the two towns attended Catholic high school, and church and school leaders didn’t feel the small towns could pay to operate both a public and private high school.
“Running two complete programs, side by side, was not financially possible as the parishioners footing the bill for the Catholic school were largely the same people who were paying for the public school,” Zahler said.
However, a strong will for STMA to maintain their own identity persisted. A survey found that 87 percent of respondents wanted to remain independent over being annexed by Elk River or Monticello.
In March 1968, the school board voted to offer a complete K-12 program starting in the 1968-1969 school year to avoid annexation. Three weeks later, St. Michael’s parish board announced they would close the doors of their Catholic high school at the end of that school year.
Zahler said Father Henry Geisenkoetter explained the decision by saying the community could not allow “annihilation” of the district by forced annexation, and said it was financially impossible to run both a parochial and public high school.
The new public school student body voted in the nickname “Knights” in Oct. 1968, with other top contenders being the Marauders or the Golden Eagles.