District adds new junior high activities post

Forest Lake High School teacher Aaron Forsythe is the school district’s choice to fill a new position approved by the school board on Feb. 28. The social studies teacher is now activities coordinator for the seventh and eighth grades.

Forsythe will teach part time through the remainder of this school year, and a full-time social studies teacher will be hired to replace him in the fall. Forsythe will continue his duties as the varsity boys hockey coach.

The former Ranger student began his new full-time role as activities coordinator Friday and is stationed at the high school.

“I’m excited,” Forsythe said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge of consolidating the entire secondary program. It’s just a passion to provide opportunities to kids.”

Until now, Century Junior High teacher Sherri Alm coordinated activities at Century and assisted Southwest Junior High Assistant Principal Scott Geary with activities director duties at his school. The roles Alm and Geary will now play in assisting with activities coordination are not yet determined, Olson said.

Forsythe was picked from a pool of 12 applicants by a selection team including Superintendent Linda Madsen, high school Principal Steve Massey, high school Activities Director Joel Olson, Southwest Junior High Principal Marc Peterson and Century Junior High Principal Ben Lewis.

Forsythe’s activities resume includes six years in his current hockey coaching position, two years as a junior varsity hockey coach and five years as a junior varsity golf coach.

Forsythe’s primary duties as coordinator involve the junior high level, but he will also assist Olson as needed with high school activities. Forsythe will remain on his teacher contract of $43,340, plus the additional activities coordinator salary of $6,365.

“I’ll help in any way, shape or form I can,” Forsythe said. “My focus is making sure I’m facilitating seven to eight activities, helping out coaches, scheduling, retaining athletes from year to year. But, there’s a lot on his (Joel Olson’s) plate, and anything else after that should be a seamless transition from the junior high experience to the high school, and also between the junior highs so that experience is the same.”

It was made clear that Forsythe’s position will not replace any of Olson’s primary duties.Olson said the need for the assistant position became apparent during this school year in part through a review he requested of the activities department. The review was conducted by a committee of 10 administrators and coaches: Madsen, Massey, Olson, Forsythe, Alm, Peterson, former varsity basketball coach Chuck Gunderson, FFA advisor Mike Miron, musical director Tim Newcomb and softball coach Angie Ryan.

The review committee was tasked with determining the goals of the activities department, from grades seven through 12.

“One conclusion we have come to is that we have amazing things going on in our activities and co-curriculum department, and our opportunities for kids has expanded, and our participation level for kids has expanded,” Massey said.

But in grades seven through nine, female participation at Southwest Junior High was the only category to grow from last school year to this one; it rose from 180 girls to 255. Male participation there decreased by 50 athletes, from 189 to 139. A similar trend occurred at Century, where numbers dropped from 294 boys to 269 and from 299 girls to 277.

Total junior high football participation decreased by 43.

Massey and Olson said assistance with junior high athletics and co-curricular activities is necessary to move forward with a new model.

Currently, the junior highs operate independently of each other with separate teams, coaches and schedules. Under the new system, Forsythe will work to combine some squads to have a more streamlined approach. In some sports, he will also coordinate an in-house league with several teams of equal skill level.

The intramural league would allow for a more stable schedule, considering that Chisago Lakes and North Branch are pulling out of Forest Lake’s junior high conference, the North Metro, Olson said. This will leave the two Forest Lake schools competing with only four other conference members: Columbia Heights, Centennial, Fridley and Westwood Middle School in Spring Lake Park.

“You try to get games and make it a meaningful experience for kids, so I’m trying to be proactive and make as many in-house, or intramural teams, so to speak, with the number of kids we’ve got, and then try to schedule games outside of our intramurals,” Olson said. “So instead of being reactive to schools leaving or schools coming, we’re solid with what we’ve got and we can still pull in games from other schools.”

Forsythe said they hope to keep the school schedule of seven games for each junior high football squad, then fill in the remaining schedule of eight to 10 total games with nonconference competition.

To accompany the new model, additional coaches will be needed for the middle school football program alone, although the number is not yet known. It is also not yet determined whether these would be paid or volunteer positions. Also unclear is what effect the changes, if any, will have on the 2013-14 budget, which is to be proposed in June. The grades seven through 12 activities budget was $1,417,702 in 2011-12 and $1,443,083 for this year.