Schools welcome nearly 40 new staff

WILLMAR -- Willmar Public Schools started the school year with a total of 39 new teachers and a handful of new administrators. Add in new employees in support positions, and schools in the district have a lot of fresh faces this fall. The number ...

Lori Lockhart
New Roosevelt Elementary Principal Lori Lockhart stands in front of posters drawn by the school staff as they envisioned their “dream” school. (Tribune photo by Linda Vanderwerf)

WILLMAR - Willmar Public Schools started the school year with a total of 39 new teachers and a handful of new administrators.
Add in new employees in support positions, and schools in the district have a lot of fresh faces this fall.
The number is a little larger than normal because some former employees of the West Central Integration Collaborative were hired by the school district after the collaborative office closed.
The district added some employees this year to expand its small-group math instruction. Some support staff positions were added or expanded in a restructuring of special education and English Language Learner programs.
The retirements of baby boomers have contributed to the staff turnover, too.
Liz Fischer, director of human resources for the district, said the district has more than 350 teachers and about the same number of other employees, so some turnover can be expected.
“All the reasons are different” for people who left their jobs with the district, Fischer said.
Willmar has a new principal at Roosevelt Elementary and new assistant principals at both Roosevelt and Kennedy elementary schools and also at the Middle School this fall.
Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said it’s not uncommon for an assistant principal to move on to another job fairly quickly, especially if there’s a chance to be a principal.
“I wish it wouldn’t happen, but they find jobs,” he said.
Other superintendents have told him that they would seriously consider an applicant from Willmar, as they know the staff is well-trained.
“In a way, it makes me feel good we’ve hired quality people other schools want,” he said.
Fischer looked at a list of employees who left in the last year and listed the reasons they had for leaving: moving away; finding jobs closer to family or hometown; or following a spouse who got a job elsewhere.

Some employees left Willmar for jobs that would be considered a step up, Fischer said, and “I see people taking on new roles, new positions in our district.”
One employee left to be a curriculum director in another district. One assistant principal left for a principal position, and another left for another assistant principal job that gave her a shorter commute.
“I don’t think we can fault people for wanting to move closer to home or closer to their families,” Fischer said.
Replacing the employees can be a problem, though, as many districts have seen the number of teaching applicants dwindle in recent years.
Kjergaard said the district used to get a couple hundred applicants for an open teaching position and now gets fewer than 50.
Part of the problem for schools is a reduction in the number of people graduating from college with education degrees.
Teachers have been a convenient target for politicians in recent years, he said, and young people may be less interested in the profession as a result.

New principal off to a smooth start

WILLMAR - After serving as a school administrator at elementary, middle and high school levels, Lori Lockhart has returned to her elementary roots as the new principal of Roosevelt Elementary School in Willmar.
“After doing every level, I decided I liked elementary best,” she said, and that led her to apply for the job at Roosevelt. Lockhart started her career as an elementary teacher 20 years ago in West Fargo, N.D.
“It’s wonderful work,” she said. “I love the vocation.”
After her first week of school, Lockhart said she felt the year started smoothly, considering both she and assistant principal Hillary Hornor are new to the school. Dean of Students Jamie Thompson joined the school in the middle of last year.
Lockhart said the school staff deserved credit for the good start to the year. “They are good hardworking people who really care about these kids,” she said. They’ve also been patient and welcoming with the new administrators, she added. “All of us have experience, just not here.”
Lockhart said she has been impressed with the district’s efforts to close achievement gaps and help all kids be successful. She had worked with director of Teaching and Learning Cheryl Nash before and is glad to be doing it again.
The district’s use of assessment data to meet the needs of each child is impressive, she said. “It’s really an honor to be part of that.”
Returning to an elementary school is a good fit for her, she said, because she feels that’s where the foundational work to close the achievement gap takes place.
Lockhart was the principal of an elementary building in St. Cloud with demographics similar to Roosevelt. “I gravitate to that diversity,” she said. “We can learn a lot from each other.”
Parents, families and schools all want what’s best for children, she said.
“If you can find that common ground, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what language you speak,” she added. “A smile is a smile in any language.”
Other new assistant principals are Amy Sack at Willmar Middle School and Kristin Dresler at Kennedy Elementary School.

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: or phone 320-214-4340
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