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(BP Girls Basketball) Bobbie Bruns 3.JPG

Senior guard Bobbie Bruns added onto her already great year with the Blossoms by dropping 20 points and 10 assists against Southland. (Stephen McDaniel/

New Community Pathways executive director feels at home after first week
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Just over a week ago, Dom Korbel began his transition as the new executive director for Community Pathways of Steele County as co-executive directors Nancy Ness and Maureen Schlobohm are set to officially retire Tuesday of next week.

“These two, the humility they have and how humble they are with what they have put in motion for me to take forward … they won’t get enough credit and they deserve so much more,” Korbel said of his predecessors. “They set me up for success in ways that I can’t even imagine. My first job is don’t screw up what has been started, because what they’ve done is remarkable.”

Because Schlobohm and Ness were ready to move on and leave the organization they helped transform into what it is today, Korbel is able to focus on what he envisions for the next steps in regards to partnerships with other local organizations, programs and finishing the capital campaign.

In eight days, Korbel said he’s already experienced first hand what Community Pathways has brought to the community.

“I’ve already met with so many people and heard their stories and it’s real,” Korbel said. “It’s so real. If you don’t get in here and see it you’ll never understand it. And you need to see it.”

Korbel said his vision involves going from being transactional to transformational. A three-step process is something he picked up at his previous position as the vice president of Dom Korbel Administration and Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio (CLUES). The three steps are to first create stability in the lives of the people served through Community Pathways by taking the worry of food, clothing and shelter off their plate. The second step is to create mobility. For Korbel, this means to break the cycle of addiction, poverty, or whatever it is that may keep individuals from moving forward. Lastly, is to create prosperity for all those served by breaking the cycle of poverty.

“There will always be someone that needs us to move them to that next step,” Korbel said. “But the goal is to keep the doors revolving and working people through these three steps to keep the vision we have going.”

Korbel said this position is both important and personal to him. Having grown up in poverty, he is the first in his family to graduate from college and break that cycle. His parents often had to utilize services similar to those provided by Community Pathways. Korbel attributes his ability to break the cycle within his own family to the support of his parents and his own drive to make a difference. He said he is one of the lucky ones in that respect, and part of his vision for the future of Community Pathways is to be the bridge to that gap.

Right now, the nonprofit is in the home stretch of the capital campaign, having raised $2.4 million of their $2.6 million goal. The groundbreaking for the facility expansion took place in October, which will double the size of the facility and include space for two other local nonprofits: Let’s Smile, Inc. and Transitional Housing of Steele County.

“We’re still a couple hundred thousand away from that goal, so that is one of the first things on my list to accomplish,” Korbel said. “Another thing I’m ready to do is get the new building open and occupied, and to explore new possibilities for partnerships to make us the go-to for a nonprofit in Owatonna and Steele County.”

Korbel has been a resident of Owatonna for the last 25 years. He has volunteered for a number of organizations throughout the community, including sitting as Board Chair for Let’s Smile, Inc. for nine years and was previously a member of the Community Pathways Board of Directors.

Additionally, Korbel has served on the United Way of Steele County Board, has volunteered with the Owatonna Basketball Association and has been actively involved in the confirmation program at Trinity Lutheran Church in Owatonna.

“The groundwork has been laid for me and the bar has been set so high for the success and next steps of this organization,” Korbel said. “This is the role I feel like I was meant to have and I was just meant to be here. I loved working for CLUES, but something in my heart was telling me that I belonged here, in the palace where I call home in Steele County, and that’s exactly what happened.”

OMS teacher 'leads the way' for students in unique learning model
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For many students, their middle school years are a time for exploration, discovering passions and gaining an idea of what they may aspire to be when they grow up.

A program by the name of “Project Lead the Way” has been helping students gain their confidence, increase hands-on learning and greatly enhance their critical thinking skills. Modeled similarly to STEM or STEAM, many teachers throughout the country have earned their certifications for this method of teaching, including one of Owatonna’s middle school teacher.

Industrial Tech teacher at the Owatonna Middle School Shaun Robbins said he originally studied to be a chemical engineer, but found his way to teaching by being a coach for a football team.

He has a colorful resume with experience in several different fields, from bartending to installing low voltage televisions and electronics. According to him, bouncing around in careers before finally settling into teaching nearly a decade ago has made him a better educator.

“I got really interested in Project Lead the Way because the basis behind the teaching stays away from hard deadlines like traditional learning,” Robbins said. “To gain the certification to teach the curriculum, teachers go through the same struggles as the students and we also get the same reward.”

Training to gain certification for Project Lead the Way involved a two week training session, working eight to 10 hours. Robbins utilizes the Project Lead the Way curriculum with each of his classes and has had to go through the certification program for each individual class.

“You start blind pretty much. Going through the training, we are given very vague instructions on the project and then we just have to figure it out,” Robbins said. “And that’s exactly what I do with my students.”

According to the Project Lead the Way website, their curriculum is designed to center around activities, projects and problem-based instructional design centers that allows students a hands-on approach in working together, identifying and solving problems, and driving their own learning experience.

There are various programs within the Project Lead the Way curriculum that are catered to all school aged children in Pre K-12. There are also different pathways within the age groups that are geared towards computer science, engineering, biomedical science and more.

Robbins said for one of his classes, a project he does involves having students build a functioning windmill. All of the materials necessary are provided, but instead of step-by-step instructions to complete the project, they are given vague parameters on what the windmill must accomplish and a few components that are required.

There are no hard deadlines in the class, and students learn and complete their projects at their own pace. The idea is to give the students an introduction into real work problem solving scenarios.

“There’s no answer key or worksheet, and the experience can be pretty intense for some of the kids,” Robbins said. “Sometimes they fail, but I always talk about failing forward which is an important part of Lead the Way. It does teach them not to fail but how to succeed.”

Robbins said the most rewarding part of being a Project Lead the Way instructor has been getting students to buy into the idea that challenges are a good thing and seeing their progression from frustration and confusion, to success in their projects throughout the class.

“They start to ask intelligent questions and I can just see in their faces when they’re processing and how they light up when they find the right answer on their own,” Robbins said. “That right there is more valuable than any letter grade will ever be”

City passes 9.5% levy increase; councilors stress community input

For the first time in a handful of years, the city of Owatonna will be raising the tax levy above the tax capacity increase.

During the City Council meeting Tuesday night, the councilors unanimously passed a 9.5% tax levy increase, down slightly from the preliminary 9.75% levy increase passed by the council in September. The increase surpasses the tax capacity, which is expected to grow by 6.29% in 2022.

According to Rhonda Moen, the finance director for the city, the city has kept taxes below the capacity growth for the past three consecutive years. The councilors approved the levy, along with the $37 million budget for 2022.

While the levy and budget passed unanimously, councilors were less than enthused about approving such a large number. Councilor Nate Dotson stated, while he understands “significant increase” is largely due to recent investments made in the city, he is still concerned.

“No one would be surprised that [the levy] is bigger than I would prefer,” Dotson said. “In the coming years, this is going to be hopefully our high point, but we do have inflation coming, which I have significant concerns about.”

A quiet community

While Dotson is worried about the final number, as well as what is yet to come in terms of inflation, he stressed how important it is for Owatonna residents to engage in the city during the budget process to ensure that their priorities are being heard.

“We had some significant growth, which was positive, though it doesn’t mean the burden doesn’t fall on existing homeowners,” Dotson said. “The fact remains, we’ve gotten very minimal input on this … Input is key, so if you have any real issues with this, you have to show up and tell us about it.”

Dotson was not alone in recognizing the lack of comments from the public regarding the levy and budget. Councilor Brent Svenby, who was one of two councilors to vote against the proposed tax levy increase in September, said he only heard from one person over the last four months.

“In order for us to keep our [strategic priorities] in mind, we have certain things that need to occur next year and public input is key,” Svenby said. “I will support the proposed budget, as it is recommended to us, based on the limited conversations I’ve had with the public on it.”

In September, Svenby had asked for a 7% preliminary tax levy increase instead. Councilor Dave Burbank was the other opposing vote to the preliminary tax levy, though he had pushed for a 10% preliminary increase to leave both wiggle room and so they don’t appear like they are trying to “fool” the voters.

Councilor and Board Chair Greg Schultz said he had received “virtually no comment” from anyone in the public about the levy or the budget. While he said public input and comments are crucial, he is overall happy about the numbers they have landed on.

“I’m a big planner, so we have a plan in place for the city, and we’ve been following it very well I believe,” Schultz said. “You have to look at the overall plan … We’ve been very steady with the levy, and businesses like that; they don’t like the roller coaster of different amounts every year. We strive hard to maintain that.”

Tax impact

The city relies on property taxes for approximately 50% of the total general fund revenue, supporting such functions as general government, public safety, public works and culture and recreation. By keeping the levy increase beneath the tax base increase, which has been achieved the previous three years, the city has been able to keep property tax hikes to a minimum.

With the 9.5% increase, the average $200,000 property in Owatonna, if unchanged in value, will see an increase of about $45 in its city property taxes. Though the tax levy increase is well above the estimated tax capacity growth, cumulatively from 2020 to 2022 the tax capacity growth will be 21%, while the levy will have only increased by roughly 18%. Moen said because of the minimal tax levy increase in 2021 compared to the tax capacity growth, the average $200,000 property saw a decrease in city property taxes by $53 a year.

With inflation still in mind, as well as the ongoing investments in the community, including a variety of projects in the downtown district, Dotson reiterated the residents of Owatonna need to get involved if they feel their tax dollars should be spent differently.

“We have to pay for everything we want, and we are doing that with that budget, with this levy,” Dotson said. “If we have different priorities, we have to hear from the citizens, and there has been fairly minimal input.”