Thursday’s unanimous votes by the Eveleth-Gilbert and Virginia school boards to send a joint high school and new elementary option to the voters set a historic path for Iron Range education.

This push toward an academies-model high school and new elementary learning space is more than just new buildings. The academies represent a new opportunity for students to gain a better hands-on education that will more prepare them for the workforce, while also providing an opportunity to test drive potential careers before heading to college, trade schools or the job market.

It also presents the communities a chance to reap the benefits. By constructing the academies with a local focus and with the help of local employers, the Iron Range and their students are rebuilding the rural workforce from ground zero. If the results mirror what Alexandria, Minn. saw with its academies high school, the Range can expect to see fewer young people streaming out for the area for a desired life, and staying right here.

But just as important in steps taken by E-G and Virginia is that the cultural and parochial walls of the Iron Range are being torn down quicker than they have in the past. The academies and joint high school model show immediate bigger thinking and collaboration, which down the road, could be a model for communities and their governmental entities to follow the same path.

While it’s unfortunate the city of Gilbert will be losing its school, the sacrifice is all in the name of progress. The school boards have to make the best decision for the education of the students, not necessarily the operations and budgets of a city.

As Sen. Tom Bakk told school officials at the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board meeting in February, “this is their best shot. There may be less money next time.” Or there could be no money at all.

What the school districts and boards accomplished over the last two years of meetings, and with two votes on Thursday, is nothing short of progressive thinking for a region in need of an exciting project that will attract and entice working families to move to the region.

The groundwork is there, and in a little more than 70 days, voters will get their turn to have a say on the path this historic decision continues on.

And continuing to make history is something they should do.

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