New school year breeds optimism at ISD 696

Tuesday marks a new beginning in Ely - a ceremonial turning of the page.
Summer vacation comes to an end and a new school year begins as for the first time since 2006, more than 600 kids are expected to walk through the doors at either Washington Elementary or Memorial HIgh School.
While enrollment remains a far cry of what it was even 20 years ago, student population totals are going in the right direction and that alone is a reason to celebrate.
Much more needs to be done to grow the local economy, bring more well-paying job and make the community a more viable place to support a family, but the uptick in enrollment is a good sign.
The campus has a new look this year with the installation of a brand-new playground for the elementary school.
The playground was badly needed, and the community support in construction earlier this week was fitting, as it was a true community effort to get this project to the finish line.
It took a coordinated fundraising effort, together with an appropriate $100,000 contribution from the school district, to make it happen, giving Washington Elementary students a place to play once the project is soon wrapped up.
Inside the school, one will find new flooring in the elementary school and those attending pep rallies or basketball games will no longer have to hear muffled sounds, thanks to the gymnasium’s brand-new sound system. That too was the result of community and school district cooperation. Brand-new hydration stations make it easier for students and visitors to get a drink of water.
The school, with facilities such as the gymnasium and Washington Auditorium, Veterans Memorial Field and the ice arena, truly serves as a hub of the community.
As such we all have an interest in a thriving school district, whether we are about to send our kids to preschool or whether our oldest graduated decades ago.
Add Vermilion Community College to that list as well, and the college campus is more modern and attractive as ever with the completion of the $6 million Timber Ridge student housing complex.
At a time when the majority of VCC students live on campus, new housing isn’t a luxury but a necessity, and the complex gives Vermilion an asset to maintain enrollment totals that climbed impressively this fall.
More remains to be done, particularly on the Ely school campus, where the future could include a new gymnasium, perhaps an addition to connect the two main school buildings and who knows, maybe even a recreation complex.
Those details will undoubtedly sort themselves out and will require more discussion and probably some debate in town and on our editorial pages.
But perhaps a corner has been turned in Ely. We’re no longer talking about closing schools and declining enrollments and instead the talk has turned to possible growth and new construction.
Healthy schools are signs of healthy communities and if the first day of school serves as an annual check-up of sorts, Ely is on the upswing.