Completed $122M project brings unique schooling opportunity to Iron Range this fall

Completed $122M project brings unique schooling opportunity to Iron Range this fall
Published: Feb. 20, 2023 at 9:17 PM CST
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VIRGINIA, MN. -- After 30 months of construction and planning, the new Rock Ridge Career Academy High School is ready to welcome around 1,200 students come this fall.

“What we’re trying to do here is very different,” said Dr. Noel Schmidt, the Rock Ridge District Superintendent. “This is not a normal high school that we built.”

The high school is the only wall-to-wall career academy north of the Twin Cities.

“We’ll still have those traditional subjects,” said Dr. Schmidt. “However, we will gear them towards the academy so it’s more relevant. It makes more sense for the kids who are going out in the workforce.”

It’s a new model of teaching to help students, 7th to 12th grade, explore different career paths with hands-on instruction.

The career tracks include areas like business management, health and human services, agriculture, arts, and more.

“Part of what we are doing is talking heavily with business and industry,” Dr. Schmidt said. “We touch on what skills you really need to be as successful as a lawyer, accountant, nurse, or an HVAC individual.”

And it’s not just the curriculum that’s unique at Rock Ridge, it’s also the building.

“Overall, it’s a three-story building, about 285,000 sq. ft.,” said Max Vergeldt, the Kraus-Anderson project manager. “Included in this project as well is a brand-new football stadium and track area, as well as a baseball and softball complex.”

Each section of the building is structured to fit the variety of careers offered.

From the fully functional auditorium to a student-run coffee shop and CTE rooms, its open areas allow for traditional classrooms, double classrooms, and special workspaces.

“Almost every space within here you can see to the outside, you can see into the various classrooms and the various learning spaces,” said Vergeldt.

It’s a different structure of education that prepares students for the real world.

“We want our kids to be able to figure out problems for themselves and have the initiative and entrepreneur skills so they can go out and be successful on their own in whatever field they want to go into,” said Dr. Schmidt.

Rock Ridge Career Academy is a public school open to welcoming more students thanks to the flexible structure of the classrooms.

An open house will be in early May for parents interested in seeing the completed building.