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Waubun students bid farewell to principal

Waubun School Principal Helen Kennedy cried as she hugged student council president Brooke Klemetsrud Thursday. (Riham Feshir / Tribune)

On the last day of school, Waubun students gathered around their principal Helen Kennedy to hug her goodbye, tell her she'll be missed and wish her good luck.

As she tried to keep herself from crying, Kennedy told the students Thursday that she took a job as Bagley High School principal.

"Life isn't fair," she said, her voice shaking. "But when life isn't fair to us, we have to pick up and do something to make it better."

Kennedy has been the Waubun School principal for nine years, and because of federal government mandates to transform the school, she will lose her job.

Under the federal School Improvement Grant, Waubun will get a new principal in the fall and undergo major changes over the next three years.

The school was named one of the worst performing schools in the state based on assessment test scores and graduation data, but Kennedy said that label is unfair and inaccurate.

She told the students how hard they work and how kind they are to each other cannot be measured by test data.

"You are the best kids in the world and I'm sorry I have to leave you," Kennedy said.

A consulting firm visited the school last month to evaluate its instructional practices, safety, discipline and engagement.

Waubun School received a "poor" overall evaluation out of four ratings -- acceptable, fair, poor and unacceptable.

Kennedy said the school cannot be judged and evaluated in just two days especially during Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment test days.

"I don't think it was enough to come (for just two days to get an understanding for) what's really happening at the school," she said.

Additionally, there is not enough research focused on rural schools to recommend an improvement model, she added, explaining that it's mostly based on urban, big city schools like Chicago public schools.

The recommendation to replace Kennedy comes from the federal government -- something that never crossed her mind.

"I never thought Washington D.C. would basically fire me from my job," she said. "I'm sad to leave, but excited to start a new phase in my career."