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GRAVES: Mitchell proves it's on the move

It is rare in this semi-weekly column that I stray very far from educational topics. I work hard to 'stick to the knitting' because of the first really great leadership book I ever read, In Search of Excellence, by Peters and Waterman. Each chapt...

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It is rare in this semi-weekly column that I stray very far from educational topics. I work hard to 'stick to the knitting' because of the first really great leadership book I ever read, In Search of Excellence, by Peters and Waterman. Each chapter of that tome was a principle the authors felt good leaders needed to follow if they wanted their organizations to be excellent. One such chapter title was "Focus on the business the organization knows best," i.e. stick to your knitting.

What I learned from that, and have learned from any number of experiences since, is that schools which try to do everything will wind up doing nothing well. In the case of this column, it means that I stick to educational topics.

Except when I don't or except when a topic seemingly far afield from education is so tied to the success of schools that it is highly relevant even when it doesn't seem to be on its face. Thus, on at least two occasions in the past, I have discussed the Mitchell community and its progress. I've done so, in defense of my knitting, because when Mitchell succeeds, the Mitchell School District succeeds.

Thus, a number of years ago, I expressed real concern about our community because, well, we just seemed stuck in neutral. Community population was stagnant even though all kinds of jobs were unavailable. Other communities seemed to be doing all sorts of things - opening up new venues, adding highly valued new industries, erecting new structures, embracing the world and its challenges with a consistently optimistic approach, and growing, growing, growing. Meanwhile, Mitchell hung in there with 15,000 people and faced off against every new idea for community improvement the way my dog welcomes the powering up of the house vacuum. It wasn't enough that we didn't actually implement the new idea, it was also necessary that we wound each other in the process. And I don't mean a flesh wound.

Since that time, though, I am pleased to say that there are any number of signs that Mitchell is no longer content to watch as other communities eat our lunch. The city built a new outdoor swimming pool and followed that up a few years later with an indoor one to boot. Mitchell Technical Institute has gone from a building which was basically a small appendage to the high school - right across Capital Street - to a full-blown college campus and a postsecondary now ranked at least in the top-10. In the country. Enrollments at MTI have never been larger.

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When I first moved to Mitchell, Dakota Wesleyan University's campus was what the English sometimes call one 'pile of bricks' after another, most with very little in the way of redeeming architectural endearments. Today, it, for all intents and purposes, sports a new campus with modern residence halls (no dorms, these), stately instructional facilities, and a library which must be the envy of many universities and carrying the moniker of our own prairie statesman.

Less well recognized but arguably even more important for their immediate economic impacts on our community have been the growth of private industry. Whether we notice or not, Innovative Systems, Performance Pet, and Trail King, to name just a few, have all launched major expansions and spent millions or tens of millions in the process.

Mitchell, in other words, is on the move. And the city of Mitchell has been pushing forward with proactive new initiatives to inspire such progress, including the employ of a highly competent, community focused city administrator, a move which was not just a good one for the city as a governmental body but also one for the community it serves. In our last mayoral election, we were blessed with a slate of candidates that made it hard to choose because they all held such promise. The winner, Bob Everson, an engineer by trade, took on what is probably our largest community need, the clean-up of Lake Mitchell, with an engineer's eye and an engineer's attitude - see a problem, solve a problem. When the problem of our lake had become seemingly as tangled and as murky as its depths, the Engineer-in-Chief cut through the Gordian moss and found what looks very much like the solution.

Which is a long way of saying that things are looking bright in Mitchell just now and they seem to be getting even brighter. The city's recent employ of Future IQ, a firm particularly well-suited for a community like ours, to lead a community visioning process, frankly, holds out enormous promise.

Promise for our quality of life, for our community, for our economy, and, yes, for our schools as well.

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