Introducing the new "Staff Spotlight", a section dedicated to featuring the unique and talented staff of District 742. If you know of someone that would be great to highlight, please contact the communications team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ayan Omar has had quite a journey to her language arts classroom at Tech High School. Omar, born in Somalia, came to the United States in 1993 as a refugee and started her public education in Georgia.
“My life started here in public education,” she says. “One of the reasons I became a teacher was to help other kids assimilate.”
Omar’s sixth-grade teacher recognized her capabilities to mentor other refugee students coming to the United States. At such a young age, she was able to help them learn the language and assist them with their reading.
After high school graduation, she moved to Minnesota to attend St. Cloud State University. It was an awakening for her, not only because of the cold Minnesota winters compared to the warm humid air of Georgia, but she also moved from a predominantly African-American culture where the majority of students were black.
“I had to relearn what I thought America was, moving to the Midwest,” explains Omar.
Omar joined an interfaith dialogue to understand people, and as part of her teaching role in college, she was a part of interfaith panels. She traveled to small towns around St. Cloud talking about Islam and the traumatic experience of immigrant students coming to the United States.
For a time, Omar worked with the St. Cloud Times to increase understanding about Ramadan, and she also wrote for the Washington Post about Islamophobia.
“Teaching goes beyond the textbook. I saw myself as a visual representation of what acceptance can look like,” says Omar. “I’m a Somali refugee and American.”
Omar has carried her life experience to the classroom.
“They [students] don’t remember what they read, but what and how it is taught,” Omar says.
As an advisor to the International Club at Tech, she was approached by the students about doing a culture show.
“The kids were hungry for it,” exclaims Omar. “The students took on the responsibility. They come up with a new theme every year. The best part is that it is a diverse group of students working together.”
Omar is enthusiastic about her kids. It shows in her classroom discussions as well as her work with her club students.
“This generation, they want to share who they are to anyone who will listen,” states Omar. “Never forget where you come from. It’s always about the kids. They just want to be heard.”
Through Tech’s Culture Show and her classroom, Omar is giving students the stage to share proudly who they are and where they come from.
Apollo football coach Justin Skaalerud recently received the 2017 Community Service Award by the Minnesota Football Coaches Association for his work with athletes and community involvement.
Skaalerud requires all of his football players (freshmen through seniors) to work a minimum of 25 hours in community volunteer service every year.
In addition to the satisfaction of knowing they are helping others, Skaalerud says, “There are two parts to why I want these kids active in the community,” he explains. “The first is to be seen. I want the community to know what great kids we have, the quality of students and athletes.”
“The second is the goal to get all of our students to go to college, and it helps on their applications to have 100 plus hours of volunteer work complete by the time they graduate,” he says.
Coach Skaalerud is right alongside his athletes when they are volunteering.
“My favorite volunteer event is the Read to Kids program,” he says. “I take a personal day to go with them.”
During “I Love to Read” month (February), Skaalerud brings his athletes to all of the north side elementary schools. The athletes are divided into classrooms at each of the schools, and the time is spent reading to kindergarten through second-grade students.
“I’m the most passionate about the kids at Apollo,” Skaalerud says with a wide smile.
His work with his athletes is year round. They spend a lot of their volunteer time during the off season as well. With over 100 athletes in the football program, there are always opportunities to offer their volunteer time.
When he isn’t coaching, teaching or volunteering, Skaalerud loves to spend time with his family.
But when it comes to football, says Skaalerud, “It’s a family thing. It’s our life.”
Looking for some hard-working, caring athletes to volunteer at an event? Look no further than the Apollo football team and coach Skaalerud.
We are #742Proud of Brian LaBuda, head engineer at Discovery Community School and Waite Park assistant chief firefighter.
St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis recently honored LaBuda as a first responder among other firefighters and police officers.
“In 2016,” Kleis remarked at the awards ceremony, “clearly the first responders are the heroes of the year.”
LaBuda has been with the Waite Park Fire Department for 19 years and loved every minute of it.
“I’ve always wanted to become a firefighter and help others,” says LaBuda.
And, it’s not an easy feat to become a firefighter and keep up with the time commitment. Schooling to become a firefighter is a three-month process in addition to training as a first responder. Just like many other professions, there is also continuing education and training that is required every year.
“Once a month I train to stay up on the changes,” explains LaBuda. “In the first responder world, everything changes so much. You have to stay on top of it.”
Last year the Waite Park Fire Department responded to 175 calls, not including all medical calls. With an average of nearly 15 calls a month, LaBuda stays busy.
And staying busy is just one reason why he loves his job at Discovery. Another is the variety.
“Not one day is ever the same,” says LaBuda, who has been with the District for 20 years.
“I do everything from snow removal to lawn care to fixing things and cleaning up messes,” laughs LaBuda. “It’s a unique challenge and a great experience . . . You never know what situation you’re going into.”
When LaBuda does have spare time, he enjoys hunting, fishing and being outdoors.
Whether he is tying shoes for elementary students at school or carrying a child out of the smoke of a burning building, LaBuda says, “We just do what we’ve got to do.”
Oak Hill is home to a physical education duo that loves their job, their students and athletics. Paul Bates and Mark Heysse are veterans in District 742. Heysse has been a physical education teacher for 29 years with the District and with Oak Hill since the school opened. Bates has taught in the District for 28 years. In fact, this is the second time the duo has worked together.
“My first year in the District I worked with Mark,” remembers Bates.
“I trained him in well,” laughs Heysse.
The pair, now back together at Oak Hill, has a great thing going. They have a certain comradery and passion for teaching kids about physical activity.
“My job is one of the best in St. Cloud,” explains Heysse. “I get to work with young children and teach them how to play and work together. The most rewarding part of my job is watching kids have fun while they sweat and help each other during any specific game.”
Bates agrees, “The first emphasis is on fun. Kids are interested when they have fun. The classroom is never the same.”
Bates and Heysse stay current on the newest data and trends in the field. Recent studies from California suggest that more activity equals more focus in the classroom and that there is a direct correlation showing longer amounts of physical education leading to higher test scores.
In fact, there are a lot of math concepts involved with physical education: measuring heart rate, games with math, timed rotations and more.
Their goal is to increase motor skills in students and improve their confidence in trying activities such as team sports or individual activities. Both feel that by doing so, it will build confidence in adulthood as well as promote a healthy lifestyle.
“It also is about keeping them connected in the community--to get them involved in community programs and athletics,” says Bates.
Both share a love of not only physical education, but of sports, and they knew it from an early age.
“From the time I was 5-years-old, I’d be in a park,” says Heysse. “I’d grab a glove and go play.”
“I played football, hockey and tennis growing up,” adds Bates.
Bates continued playing tennis at St. Cloud State University while Heysse received a football scholarship to North Dakota State University. Heysse transferred to Concordia College his second year where his team won the National Championship, and he was voted All-American and inducted into the Concordia Hall of Fame.
Athletics determined their life-long career paths.
“It was my sophomore year [in college] when I realized I loved working with kids,” reflects Bates.
He has been coaching for 30 years, including Tech hockey and currently the Tech boys and girls tennis teams.
“I wouldn’t trade all the sweat and aches [from sports] for anything,” says Heysse. “Athletics helped me get my first job. It introduced me to hardships and how to work through them.”
Heysse has coached basketball, football and soccer. He’s been on the Tech football sidelines as the defensive coordinator coach, but his favorite age to coach is elementary.
Bates agrees, “You connect with a lot of them in a lot of ways besides sports.”
Even better is when Bates and Heysse get to coach their former elementary students later in high school.
Bates reflects, “It’s great seeing kids come back after graduation and that connection is still there.”
Outside the teaching and coaching hours, Bates and Heysse are doing the same thing they’ve always loved--physical activity. Bates loves to play tennis, rollerblade, skate and cross-country ski. Heysse loves biking, fishing, hunting and working out.
Oak Hill Phy-ed students win big with this dynamic teaching duo on their side!
Many of you may recognize Kristi Scott. She is the first cook at McKinley-ALC. She’s been in the nutritional services department since 2007, and prior to McKinley she was at Tech.
Scott loves working in the school district and loves the interaction with students. However, her first priority is food safety and preparation -- and it shows.
Scott and her team have just been awarded the Health Safety Award from Stearns County. Each year, there is one school and one business recipient. The award is based off of a five-year performance review. Health inspection reports have to show no infractions, which means the kitchen is clean, the temperature logs are accurate and well-documented, and there are no complaints.
“I was very surprised [to win the award],” says Scott. “I didn’t even know it existed. It is a good morale booster for staff, and the school is extremely proud. The lunch ladies that go into this job, they’re really passionate about the kids and making sure they are fed. It’s a little more than just a job.”
A lot of work goes on behind the scenes. A typical day in Scott’s kitchen starts in the morning with a warm breakfast and a to-go breakfast. Once breakfast is complete, Scott and her team start working on the catering orders. McKinley is one of the few schools that cater to other schools for lunches. They provide lunches to the CO2 program, Roosevelt and Prince of Peace School. Once that is complete, the clean-up and prep starts all over again preparing for lunch at McKinley.
However, Scott does like to change things up a bit for the students. She has recently added infused water as an optional drink for the students.
“I don’t drink milk and I noticed a lot of other kids are the same way, and kids need to increase their water intake,” says Scott.
Scott has been trying many different fruit combinations for her infused water.
“I’ll give you a tip,” says Scott. “The lemon and strawberry has been the biggest hit so far. It was all gone that day.”
Scott aims to please.
“I love those kids. I absolutely love being with them. ALC can get a bad rap, but we have good kids and staff. The kids are caring and wonderful.”
A little tidbit about Scott: when she isn’t spending her time with students at McKinley, she loves to be in and around water. She loves swimming and everything summer and water related.
Congratulations to Kristi and her team!
Adrian Washington is giving back to the District that guided him in his education journey. An Apollo graduate in 1995, Washington moved to St. Cloud from Minneapolis where his family had been living in a gang neighborhood. He started at North Junior High School.
“Moving to St. Cloud saved my life,” says Washington.
Currently, Washington is a security officer at North where he prides himself on his strong connection to many of the students. His own children along with many other children of former classmates attend North.
Since his time with the District, Washington has learned a lot. It started with being a role model to students. He would speak to at-risk teens and share his story.
“I was the one person that didn’t graduate when I was supposed to, so I want to be an example and mentor to kids,” he explains.
On an average day, Washington checks in with about 30 students.
“I’m one of the first faces they see at school,” describes Washington, “so I greet them with a smile.”
Washington helps students calm down to de-escalate situations. Since he heads up all five lunch times at North, he creates incentives for good behavior with treats.
“I try to reward as many kids as possible,” says Washington. “I love it. I’ve really taken a liking to a lot of kids. I’ve received so many letters from kids thanking me for making a difference in their life, that it really helps me as a parent as well. This is the first job that has been so rewarding. Being someone that the kids look up to is priceless.”
When he isn’t making an impact on the lives of kids, his passion is comedy. Washington does stand-up comedy on the side and during the summer months traveling all over sharing his love of laughter. To see any of his upcoming shows visit his Facebook page.
If a student is having a bad day, that frown will turn upside down if he or she is riding on Jon-Scott Johnson’s bus. Between “Candy Fridays,” Bus Bucks and good conversation, there’s no room for anything but a smile.
“I’m the first person they see in the morning. I make sure they see a smile and greet them by name,” describes Johnson. “You can tell some kids don’t have a great start and I want to make sure that they see a smile when they get on the bus.”
This is Johnson’s third year as a bus driver for the District. He started driving after 40 years in city administration.
“After 40 years in a professional career, bus driving is the best job I’ve ever had,” says Johnson. “I just really enjoy the kids. They are so much fun.”
Johnson loves the diversity he has on his bus as well. He and his wife, Lucy, even took Somali language lessons last year to get to know his students better. He loves to greet the Somali families by name and say hello. However, he shares that they also get a chuckle at him speaking their language due to his accent.
Johnson believes that he is very fortunate to have high schools students as his last route of the day. They always have good and meaningful conversations. Of course, they love Bus Bucks and candy Fridays as much as the younger kids.
“Some high school girls gave me a card the other day to thank me for being such a good bus driver,” says Johnson.
It really means a lot to him to Johnson to give back to the community as much as he can, which is why he and his wife, in their spare time, fix-up and repair bikes to donate to Habitat for Humanity, Lutheran Social Services and give bikes to other needy families moving to the area.
“Every kid deserves a bike,” says Johnson.
Johnson is always willing to accept bike donations. He and his wife also fit helmets and bikes to kids as well.
If you don’t see him repairing bikes for kids, you’ll see him on a bike with Lucy on the trails, particularly in Northern Minnesota.
But, most of all Johnson says, “I just try to be a kind, caring Grandpa.”
Kristen Bauer, music teacher at Kennedy, and Kristen Mattick, choir teacher at South, are two members of the choral group 5 Good Reasons. Their passion for music extends beyond the music room.
Bauer has known since she was born, that she would be a music teacher. Her sister and mother are also music teachers.
“My mother was a music teacher and she always came home with a smile on her face,” says Bauer. “Even if she had a rough day, the music always made her smile. Our family was ‘that family’ that gathered around the piano. My grandmother would play and we’d all get together around the piano to sing. It was a scene right out of the movies. That’s how I grew up.”
Bauer has a degree in vocal performance and music education from the College of St. Benedict. She completed her Master of Arts in education in 2012 from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota.
The instant an opening was available with 5 Good Reasons, Bauer jumped at the chance to join the group.
“I had been bugging Kristen [Mattick] for a very long time to turn 5 Good Reasons into 6 Good Reasons so that I could sing with them,” explains Bauer.
Bauer has never looked back.
“We just love to sing,” smiles Bauer. “You hand us the music and we’ll sing it.”
The group performs a cappella.
Mattick adds that the group performs jazz, musical theater, renaissance, pop, spiritual, gospel and contemporary. They’ve also just recently included some Pentatonix music.
From an early age, Mattick too, knew she loved to sing.
“In third grade, my music teacher told me I had a beautiful voice and told me to sing louder,” says Mattick. “I did and have ever since.”
Through Mattick’s middle years and on to high school, she had the same music teacher and that’s when she got into musical theater and performing.
Mattick went on to earn her degree at the University of Minnesota Mankato. While attending, her professors encouraged her to go into music education.
“I’m glad I did,” says Mattick. “I love working with kids that want to learn and love to perform. Especially, when the light bulb goes off, when they get it.”
The duo share another love outside of musical performance.
“I love to Zumba!” exclaims Mattick. “I actually got Kristen [Bauer] into it.”
“I’m a workout queen,” says Bauer. “I love Zumba and just going to the gym in general.”
In case you don’t see them at the gym, catch an upcoming performance. The next is scheduled for Dec. 11 when they will be the guest performance at the Youth Choral of Central Minnesota.
Pictured above left to right:
Duane Andersen, Kristen Bauer, Jody Martinson, Kristen Mattick, Scott Wachtler
Matt Stockinger is not one to shy away from showing his love and passion for math and science. He is currently teaching coding, chemistry and ninth-grade science.
Some might wonder why coding is associated with a math and science teacher. Stockinger got hooked on computational chemistry while attending St. John’s University. Computational chemistry is a mix of math, chemistry and computers. Scientists in computation chemistry simulate chemistry on a computer by writing (coding) their own simulations.
Stockinger’s adoration of math and science started when he was in high school, which is why he double majored in chemistry and math in college.
"I flipped a coin to decide between chemistry and physics [for a major in college]," laughs Stockinger. "It’s no joke. It landed on chemistry."
Stockinger loves teaching his Apollo High School classes, and although he grooves on coding and science, his favorite part of teaching is the students.
"You’ve got to love students to teach," explains Stockinger.
When advising students considering math or science as a career, Stockinger says, "Take as much math and science as you can in high school. Take classes that challenge you. If you want to be in science, you have to go to college. If you take easy courses in high school, college will be a rude awakening."
Students in his class line up to ask questions. Stockinger is more than happy to answer, assist and direct them. He carries that over into his coaching as well.
Stockinger started the rock climbing club at Apollo last year to share his passion of rock climbing, and is excited to be coaching the club is in its second year. He is hoping to have the team in a competition this year.
Stockinger laughs that his hobby "sort of" counts as science.
Whether in the classroom or on a climb, Stockinger's students reap the benefit of his boundless enthusiasm and skill.