Published on March 16, 2022

Essentia Health, Rock Ridge School District enter historic partnership

Essentia Health and the newly formed Rock Ridge School District are entering into a historic partnership that will significantly enhance educational opportunities on the Iron Range. The school board unanimously accepted a $400,000 proposal from Essentia to provide education-to-employment student scholarships, as well as a sponsorship opportunity. 

Through the Education to Employment program, $300,000 will be earmarked for scholarships. Tuition disbursements of up to $30,000 will be awarded annually for up to 10 years to students who wish to complete post-secondary education in areas of high need for Essentia. Those roles currently include:

  • Radiology technician
  • Ultrasound technician
  • Medical lab technician
  • Respiratory therapist
  • Echo technician
  • Surgical technician
  • CMA/CA/pharmacy technician programs
  • Other needed roles as identified by Essentia

This is part of Essentia’s commitment to growing and sustaining high-quality rural health care access and keeping good-paying jobs local to support a vibrant regional economy. The partnership will allow talented new graduates to work in their home community; address critical shortages in health care staffing; and provide students with a direct pathway to one of the largest employers in the area.

“We are extremely excited to formally enter into this partnership with the school,” said Sam Stone, administrator at Essentia Health-Virginia. “This innovative alliance will benefit everyone. It’s good for Rock Ridge because it enables the creation of a Health Science and Human Services academy and brings this vision to life. It’s good for Essentia to help address critical staffing needs. It’s good for students to help increase awareness of the many career options available in health care and it offers avenues to help offset education costs.

“Most importantly, it’s good for the broader community to ensure high-quality health care continues to be delivered locally. A mutual willingness to think innovatively and transform for the betterment of those we serve is what made this relationship possible.”

Essentia will also collaborate with Rock Ridge Public Schools on curriculum related to health sciences. That includes capstone project mentoring, health care career guidance, advising on curriculum that prepares students to enter post-secondary training programs and more.

"Having Essentia as a partner in our Career Academies is a great bonus to our students,” said Dr. Noel Schmidt, superintendent of Rock Ridge Public Schools. “With this partnership, we can provide fantastic educational and career opportunities that will help our students make better decisions in the career areas that are right for them."

"Rock Ridge Public Schools is very fortunate and grateful to have Essentia Health on board with our great plans for the future of education at Rock Ridge High School,” said Willie Spelts, director of school and business engagement and fundraising coordinator for the district. “This is an incredible opportunity for our students, staff and communities."

As part of this agreement, Essentia will also contribute $100,000, as a lump sum, to Rock Ridge Public Schools in exchange for naming rights of the third-floor wing of the high school. This agreement is in place for 20 years, with the option to extend it in the future.