'The energy feeds me' says retiring ACGC superintendent
GROVE CITY — Sherri Broderius' desk is neat as a pin.
Maybe it's because she's rarely sitting there.
Much of the time, Broderius — who wears two hats as both superintendent and high school principal in the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District — is in the hallways talking to students about how they are doing in school and at home or she's in the classrooms conferring with teachers about test data and new curriculum and teaching methods.
Or she could be attending a meeting in one of the three communities in the sprawling ACGC district or in St. Paul to discuss education issues with commissioners and lawmakers.
Or she could be keeping time during a track meet hosted by the ACGC Falcons.
Broderius' quick step, confidence and seemingly endless supply of energy got ACGC out of statutory operating debt, moved the district to a four-day school week and earned the district state and national accolades for its academic achievements.
One has to walk fast to keep pace with Broderius — literally and figuratively.
"The energy feeds me. It feeds me right back," said Broderius, adding that her husband, Richard, refers to her schedule as "holding onto the tail of a tornado."
It's a pace Broderius has kept since she started teaching in the district 34 years ago when she was the third-grade teacher in Cosmos. She became the high school principal in 1996 and in 2009 added the job of superintendent on top of that.
Broderius, 58, will hand out her last set of diplomas Friday to the graduating seniors.
She is retiring at the end of June.
Nels Onstad, who has been hired as a full-time superintendent, will begin July 1. Kodi Goracke will continue as elementary principal and Robin Wall will expand her current middle school principal duties to also include the high school.
During an interview last week, Broderius beamed while talking about the students, staff and her time at ACGC.
The district "allowed me to carry on my passion of creating the conditions for, hopefully, great academics," she said.
ACGC School Board member Jeanne Lilleberg said Broderius brings an "enthusiasm and positive energy to education" and is "one of those persons that eats, sleeps and breathes education and 'how can we make it better?'"
Lilleberg said Broderius led the district through some challenging situations, including the closing of the school in Cosmos and difficult budget decisions to get out of debt. Those challenges were balanced by the district's academic successes and financial stability, Lilleberg said.
"When you're living in the turmoil of it, it isn't pleasant," Broderius said.
But she said the lessons learned helped shape a positive direction for the district and reinforced the value of continually seeking innovative ideas.
During the interview, where her chop-chop, no-nonsense, get-things-done narrative flowed with facts about the district, student achievement, curriculum and praise for the staff, students and community, Broderius had a rare falter.
"I love this place," she whispered, as her face screwed up with tears.
"How do you divorce yourself from this?" She paused. "You can't."
Respect from teachers
Broderius "hasn't forgot what it's like to be in the classroom," said Misti Johnson, who has taught senior high English for 20 years at ACGC. "She tries to think of what's in the best interest of students," Johnson said.
"She's pulled us through some really tough times," and was the cheerleader and guiding force behind the district's growth and success, Johnson said.
Broderius likes to ask "what if" when it comes to classroom activities and has consistently sought out new teaching methods, including the decision to make the district's math program "top notch" by dedicating common planning time every day for math teachers to collaborate and coordinate teaching methods that don't include using standard textbooks.
It's a system that caught Tanner Lilienthal off-guard when he got his first teaching job two years at ACGC. But he said it's a method that works for students and he's grown as a teacher because of it.
He said Broderius is a trailblazer when it comes to curriculum, teaching education standards to students and inspiring teachers to "test your hypothesis."
Lilienthal said Broderius helped fill his teacher "toolbox," and that without her inspiration, he likely would not have stayed in education.
"Thanks for setting me up for the rest of my life in education," Lilienthal said in a nod to Broderius.
The trickle-down of Broderius' influence has been felt by many students.
Jayme Koopmeiners, who is a graduating senior, said Broderius helped her during difficult personal times, including missing school because of illness and family issues.
"She's been there for me and helped me in every way that she could so I could graduate this year," Koopmeiners said.
"She was like a rock. Someone to lean on," she said. "If you don't have someone like that to lean on, you're not going to accomplish as much as you think you would."
Koopmeiners said her goal is to be a neonatal nurse. It's a goal she would not have without the education she got from the ACGC teachers "who want you to do good in life" and Broderius' consistent support.
"She is an amazing person," Koopmeiners said.
Anna Grimsgrad, who will be a senior at ACGC next year, agrees with that assessment of Broderius.
"She cares about the students on an individual level," Grimsgrad said, adding that she's glad Broderius brought advanced courses to the high school to help students get prepared for college.
"She brings a really positive, fun atmosphere to the school," Grimsgrad said. "We'll miss her a lot."
When asked why she's retiring now, Broderius responded: "Because there are so many things I want to do. So many stretches I want to make."
Retiring from ACGC does not mean Broderius is done working in education.
She said she is looking for something new to test her abilities and would consider stints as an interim superintendent, serving as a mentor to new administrators, or working with the Department of Education or Minnesota School Boards Association on statewide issues.
She also wants to have time to be with her family.
Johnson said she and other staff are wondering what ACGC will be like without Broderius but trust the school board made the right decision to hire Onstad.
"We'll be in good hands, but it'll be different," Johnson said.
Broderius is confident ACGC is on the right course for continued success. "We've got the momentum," she said. "It's a great institution. Our kids are fortunate to be here."