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An educator who believes in his work

Circle of life school superintendent-principal Mitch Vogt is the 2010 Minnesota recipient of the Excellence in Education Award from AdvancED, the parent organization of the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. He is displaying a model of the new Circle of Life School, which is slated to begin construction this spring. The new K-12 school is expected to be ready for students in the fall of 2011.

Unlike many people who receive a state or national award, Mitch Vogt didn't know that he had been nominated for a Minnesota AdvancED Excellence in Education Award.

So when he received notification a couple of weeks ago that he had been named as the 2010 recipient of the award, Vogt said he was "very surprised."

The superintendent-principal of Circle of Life School in White Earth was honored "for his unparalleled leadership in promoting and advancing excellence in education."

Vogt will be formally recognized on April 17 at the 2010 AdvancED Conference in Atlanta, Ga.

AdvancED is the parent organization of the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (NCA CASI), the organization which provides accreditation for Circle of Life and thousands of other schools across the country.

While he is "very honored" to be recognized by AdvancED, Vogt is also quick to say he didn't earn this award without help.

"I believe that this honor speaks to the hard work and dedication of all the staff at this school," Vogt said.

"This school is committed to providing Indian students on the White Earth Reservation with a quality, culturally based education that emphasizes maximum academic, emotional, social, spiritual and physical development for all individuals, in a safe and productive environment."

The Circle of Life School, located in the village of White Earth, is a K-12 educational facility that includes a staff of about 35 teachers, administrators and support staff, and serves about 125 students.

It was established in the early 1980s by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, inside the old public school formerly operated by the Waubun school district.

But its foundation is actually a bit older than that, Vogt said.

"It began with a group of students at Waubun who wanted more culture in their education," he explained.

So they established their own school, with their parents' permission, in an old trailer house on the north side of White Earth.

The BIA then became involved, and funded a K-12 school at the old school building, which was subsequently expanded to include an elementary wing and some additional portable classrooms. The high school was established in the original school building.

But that building, constructed in the 1930s, soon proved to be inadequate to meet the school's needs, both because of size limitations and flooding issues.

It wasn't long after Vogt became the school's superintendent-principal 12 years ago that he began looking into the possibility of establishing a new school.

He and Erma Vizenor, the current tribal chairwoman of the White Earth Band of Chippewa, applied for funding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to construct a new school.

Ten years later, that dream is about to take shape. The tribe will break ground on a new Circle of Life School this spring; bids are scheduled to be let April 1.

"We're really excited," Vogt said. "It's been a long time coming."

The new K-12 facility will include 60,000 square feet of space, and will be located on the site of the former White Earth mission school, overlooking Mission Lake. Besides its proximity to the water, the new school will also be located next to many acres of pristine forest.

The new school forest will open up many opportunities for environmental education, while the adjacent lake will also have many cultural and environmental applications for the students.

The mission school site also has a historical aspect, as many of the faculty's parents and students' grandparents attended school there, Vogt added.

"We're chomping at the bit (to start work on the school)," he said. In fact, work on the school forest will most likely begin even before construction of the school itself, which is expected to take about 16 months.

They hope the new school will be ready for them to move in by the fall of 2011, Vogt said.

The new school will have room to accommodate 325-350 students; past history has shown that when a new BIA school is built, enrollment will double.

"We're expecting an (enrollment) increase, especially in the high school," Vogt added.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454