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(Submitted photo)

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Peck named SE Minn. Assistant High School Principal of the Year

Faribault High School Assistant Principal Shawn Peck isn’t one to use the pronoun “I” very often. He prefers the word “we.”

That’s one of many reasons why FHS Principal Jamie Bente says he nominated Peck for the Assistant High School Principal of the Year award. Earlier this week, Peck learned the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals (MASSP) selected him for the award in the Southeast Minnesota division.

“It was certainly unexpected,” said Peck. “I did not see it coming at all. Once I had a chance to reflect, it really is a great honor because it speaks to the tremendous work being done at the high school … I think it’s a representation of the work people are doing, and I think people are taking note of some of the things that are happening.”

Bente said the district is fortunate to have Peck on its team, as he delivers beyond what his job requires of him. In particular, Bente noted Peck’s vision for equity in the FHS building and his vision for restorative practices have both transformed the way students’ needs are handled at the high school.

“As a person, as a friend of his, they don’t come much better than Shawn Peck,” said Bente. “His caring and passion for the education of students is second to none. He’s an amazing guy who cares about students and their learning.”

If you ask Peck, it’s the teachers and supporting staff that deserve the accolades. He considers the high school and the district’s success a team effort and said he loves going to work with people who share the common vision of creating a positive school experience for students.

He’s proud of the student voices club, which gives teenagers a say in what happens in the district, and parent groups that also accept new viewpoints and perspectives.

Peck also commends the district for changing its climate to a more positive one in a short time. He believes it’s contributed to a drop in administrative referrals and suspensions.

“Faribault Public Schools is not afraid to be bold and do some bold things if we feel like it’s going to support students,” said Peck. “Moving from a six-period to a seven-period day was a bold move, but the community supported it. Some schools may want to maintain the status quo, but Faribault Public Schools is not one of them.”

Peck started out his career as a social studies teacher in Wisconsin, then coached college baseball at the University of Minnesota Duluth before he accepted another social studies teaching job at Henry Sibley High School in Mendota Heights. Faribault High School offered Peck the assistant principal job in 2017.

“Right when I showed up [at FHS], I was made to feel extremely welcome,” said Peck. “I still am amazed by the kindness and support we get from our community. It really is a special place.”

Peck feared he would lose his connection with students in the transition from teaching to administration. But Peck said he’s been intentional about going “where the buzz is happening” — the cafeteria and the hallways in particular — so he can get to know students and have a positive impact on their lives.

Reflecting on his own high school experience in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, Peck said he had a lot of influential teachers. His social studies teacher, Mr. Ekern, had a unique impact on him that put him on the path to becoming a social studies teacher himself.

“ … When I think about why I liked him and his class so much, it had less to do with the curriculum but the fact that he liked me and saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” said Peck.

Believing each student who walks through the doors of FHS has greatness inside of them, Peck said he follows his former social studies teacher’s example of pointing out skills students may not recognize in themselves.

“For me, it’s always just been about being around young people and helping them figure out who they are, figure out what their strengths are, helping them find their way, helping them find their purpose,” said Peck. “That’s never really changed … I’ve always been focused on the people we serve. I just find a lot of purpose in that and I’ve really enjoyed that.”

130 Minn. inmates test positive for COVID-19, none so far at Faribault prison

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to worsen, public health officials are raising particular concern about the virus’s potential to spread in correctional facilities.

Already, thousands of prison and jail inmates across the country have tested positive for the virus. A report released last month by the American Civil Liberties Union found that if significant steps are not taken to reduce the virus’s spread in prisons, an additional 100,000 Americans could die.

In Minnesota, two state correctional facilities have seen major outbreaks of the virus. As of Thursday, 36 staff and 35 inmates had tested positive for the virus at MCF-Moose Lake, while 55 inmates and four staff tested positive at MCF-Willow River. In all, 455 inmates in Minnesota’s prisons have been tested as of Thursday, 92 were positive, 38 were presumed positive. Sixteen are pending results.

At MCF-Faribault, the largest of 11 state-run correctional facilities throughout Minnesota, no cases have been reported. Fourteen inmates have been tested, with 13 of those confirmed negative and one still awaiting results. That doesn’t mean the facility is sitting on its laurels. Nicholas Kimball, communications director for the Minnesota Department of Corrections, said that officials from MCF-Faribault are in daily and sometimes hourly contact with the state and other facilities.

Working with Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell and other top officials from the state DOC, as well as local health officials, each facility has come up with its own set of guidelines to limit spread of the virus.

Kimball said that the process has proven quite complex and challenging for the Department of Corrections, because each facility varies greatly. Some of the state’s correctional facilities are 100 years old, while others were construction a couple of decades ago.

“It’s challenging, because these facilities weren’t built with pandemic management in mind,” Kimball said. “We’ve had to change procedures and schedules to reduce the opportunities for the virus to spread.”

Within MCF-Faribault and other facilities throughout the state, a “Stay in Unit” plan has been implemented. Like Gov. Tim Walz’s order, the “Stay in Unit” plan is designed to limit the spread of the virus should an inmate contract it, giving authorities time to respond.

Schnell has pushed hard for additional recreational and educational opportunities for prisoners. Among the state’s correctional facilities, Faribault has traditionally led the way, but that push has been deeply affected by the pandemic. Inmates have continued to work in essential occupations such as food service, laundry and cleaning, though they’ve been asked to adhere to strict social distancing policies. Classes have also continued, but only after the development of distance learning plans.

Inmates are still allowed to meet with their tutors individually or in small groups, so long as social distancing protocol is followed. Treatment groups are continuing similarly, with large groups eschewed in favor of small groups or electronic communication.

To help inmates cope with stress, outdoor recreational activities have actually increased. Inmates are expected to follow strict distancing procedures while outdoors, and each unit is kept separate in accordance with the Stay in Unit policy.

Recently, staff and inmates alike have begun wearing cloth masks, per the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Staff have their temperature taken every day before entering the facility, to limit the risk of spreading the disease.

Additional hand washing stations have been installed to encourage proper sanitation, and like staff at health care facilities, correctional facility staff are encouraged to take precautions at home to limit the risk of spreading the virus to their families.

However, access to N95 masks, which provide the strongest and most reliable protection from the virus, is limited to use by medical staff or corrections officers interacting with a known symptomatic patient.

Kimball said that initially, amid a shortage of testing, the state limited tests to prisoners who had symptoms unique to COVID, rather than the flu or other viruses. Now, testing has expanded to cover even asymptomatic people.

As the state continues to expand its testing capacity and more timely tests are developed, Kimball said that it’s possible that facilities like MCF-Faribault could adjust their policies. He said the DOC is paying close attention to the guidance of local and state health authorities to determine whether changes are needed.

High school seniors and their parents can submit their photos and information to be included in our 2020 graduation section. There is no cost to participate. (Daily News file photo)

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The Cheese Cave announces it's closing

The novel coronavirus has claimed another victim: Faribault’s iconic The Cheese Cave.

The shop/eatery on downtown’s Central Avenue is the retail outlet for The Caves of Faribault and Swiss Valley Farms.

The shop made the announcement Friday morning on Facebook, posting a sad announcement that its doors will permanently close May 16.

“We have thought long and hard about this and did not make the decision lightly. We were already walking a fine line prior to COVID-19, and given that no one knows how long the impacts of this pandemic will last or what the normal will be, we do not see a viable path forward.”

The Cheese Cave, primarily a cheese shop, it included a small full-service menu, local wines and Minnesota craft beers, moved to downtown Faribault in 2009. Prior to that, a cheese shop was located near the factory for a number of years.

According to Nort Johnson, president of the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, the closure will only impact the retail location and not the historic Caves of Faribault.

“The Caves product is still very strong and they will continue to be a strong asset in the economy and the community of Faribault,” he said. “The retail store has been a very nice asset for us to have in the downtown area because of the hallmark products they carried in a boutique style way, but not being the core business of the organizations it unfortunately did not make it through the pandemic.”

Johnson said that his family is among those mourning the loss of the store, adding that the community will hopefully be able to take comfort in knowing that the products will still be available at local grocery stores.

Within hours of the announcement, the Facebook post solicited 400 reactions, 260 shares, and 150 comments as community members expressed their heartbreak over the closure and shared memories of times spent at the eatery.

“I attended their amazing grand opening party on June 12, 2009 and was a very frequent visitor over the years,” said Deni Buendorf. “I loved bringing out-of-town friends there for dinner and when Jacob would make my favorite smoked mushroom soup. And the fresh curds! This news is absolutely devastating.”

Other community members mourned the direct loss that the closing of The Cheese Cave would have on Faribault’s downtown.

“So sad for Faribault, for all who loved and appreciated the uniqueness of this business that served such wonderful historic cheeses, made right here in Faribault,” said Kathleen Bauer Cap. “The building is historic and as you pass through the door, step over the same stoop our ancestors stepped (did), it lets you walk somewhat into the past, the ambience inside that housed so many other businesses of the past, finally the delicious taste of the cheese and other interesting foods served by people who cared you chose this spot to dine.”

Johnson also shared in the heartache for a loss in the downtown district, but said that he is confident that the beautiful space will be filled quickly.

“As we emerge from the pandemic and retail begins to have a little better outlook, the creativity of our entrepreneurs will hopefully fill that space and some of the others with new community assets,” Johnson said. “We will miss having The Cheese Cave downtown, but we’re also certainly happy that the organization as a whole will continue to make and age cheese right here in Faribault.”

A representative from Swiss Valley Farms confirmed that the retail location is the only operation closing Friday afternoon, but declined further comment.

County office building renovation project comes in under budget

Even before breaking ground, architects hired to oversee the expansion of Rice County’s Government Services Building told county leaders that the project would be under budget.

With the project nearing the finish line, that prediction is still on target.

Wold Architects’ Jake Wollensak reviewed some last-minute details with the Rice County Board of Commissioners Tuesday, telling the board that if it agreed to replace some existing duct work, construction costs would run slightly more than $7.6 million. But commissioners declined to make the change, saving taxpayers about $50,000.

Commissioner Steve Underdahl, who owns a construction company, felt the work was unnecessary given the routine maintenance county building and grounds staff complete. That was enough to convince his colleagues on the board.

That puts the total cost for the work at about $8.45 million, far less than the $10 million ceiling the county had set.

While the county has already issued $10 million in capital bonds to finance the work, it’s put about $1.5 million not used for the Government Services Building toward a second project: additions to the county Highway Shop located just north of the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault.

Any additional funds set aside for the Government Services Building but not needed will also be applied to the Highway project, said County Finance Director Paula O’Connell. As of May 1, that figure was about $86,000.

Work has already begun on the Highway Shop expansion, which will add garage space for heavy machinery at the 1974 building. Also included is a new break room, updated men’s restrooms and a women’s restroom.

Contractor Met-Con Cos., Wollensak said, suggested a pitched roof as opposed to the flat roof included in the plans, which could save the county about $100,000.

The Government Services Building, which houses offices for the county’s Social Services, Public Health, Assessor, Recorder, Veterans Services and Housing, will have about 19,000 more square feet when finished. That includes two two-story additions that expanded the Social Services and Public Health departments and created private conference areas for staff to speak with clients and make better use of existing space.

A new 2,800-square-foot conference room will be also be included. It can be utilized for large groups, community gatherings or subdivided into small sections to accommodate a number of smaller meetings.

New committee

After a sometimes heated discussion last week about the process for approving a firm to conduct a new jail study, commissioners tentatively agreed to appoint a formal committee to assist with the study.

The study will look at the county’s existing jail facilities, its needs, and whether it meets Minnesota Department of Correction standards and how deficiencies might be corrected.

In July 2019, the state notified the county that its main jail on Third Street NW was out of compliance and could no longer hold inmates longer than 90 days. That, Sheriff Troy Dunn said, would force the county to house some inmates in jails in counties at the cost of about $500,000 annually.

That was enough for commissioners to ask Dunn to move forward with a jail study, the first step in what could mean a new or upgraded jail for Rice County.

The main jail downtown holds high-security prisoners, while the annex on Hwy. 60 is a minimum-security facility that isn’t set up to meet the needs of a high-security population.

The committee, which will be formally appointed Tuesday, is expected to include County Administrator Sara Folsted, Dunn, Chief Deputy Jesse Thomas, Jail Administrator Jake Marinenko, Commissioners Underdahl and Dave Miller, and representatives from the County Attorney’s Office and county Buildings and Ground Department.