Leave it up to Laine
The new superintendent of Brainerd Public Schools has a simple mission for her first year on the job: to listen and learn about the district.
Laine Larson took over as superintendent on July 1. She comes to the district from Thief River Falls Public Schools, where she had served as superintendent since 2009.
Larson plans to spend her first year making connections in the community, she said, and by asking people what they think the district's strengths and opportunities are. She emphasized a collaborative effort between the community and the school district will be how things are accomplished.
"The most important thing for me right now is just to learn the district," Larson said. "To have a real listening ear, to get a good idea of where all the strengths of the district are."
Already, Larson has been hearing loud and clear about the history of excellence and pride in the district, she said. The students and staff are excellent, she said, and the community support is phenomenal. The programming in athletics, the arts and activities is also exemplary, she said.
"Every time I come out of one of these I get more and more excited," Larson said. "There is excellence here and we get to build on it."
People in the community have been very welcoming to Larson in her first days in the district, she said. She credited outgoing interim Superintendent Bob Gross, Director of Schools Willie Severson and assistant to the superintendent Janet Horn for easing her transition into Brainerd. She said she was excited to work with the school board, which she described as strong and committed to excellence.
It's vital for Larson to start building relationships early with community stakeholders like Central Lakes College, she said. Partners in the business community, along with parents and families, are all invested in the success of the district, she said. Building trust pays off when difficult decisions have to be made in the future.
"We're all in this together, to make a difference for the Brainerd School District, and for each of the kids in our school," Larson said.
Career and technical education is "near and dear to my heart," Larson said, and requires collaboration with CLC and partners in the local business community. Business partnerships can provide opportunities for students to gain valuable experience through service learning or job shadowing, she said.
Coming to the district in July, Larson said she's "really waiting for the kids to get here." It's a nice transition to come into the district during the summer, though, she said, and get a chance to get organized and meet community stakeholders.
"It's kind of fun because there's a little bit more time to do that," Larson said. "Once the school year starts, then you just keep going."
Larson's mother was a paraprofessional for 38 years and always wanted to be a teacher, she said. She has two brothers and her parents were very supportive of their children getting a quality education, she said, and one of her brothers is also an educator.
"They always put a great deal of emphasis on the high value and importance of a high-quality education," Larson said.
Larson is the first female superintendent in the school district's history, which she called an honor. There are not enough female superintendents in Minnesota, she said, and she credited mentors for recognizing her potential and pushing her to take on leadership roles.
"They saw those skills in me and really encouraged me and believed in my ability to lead a district," Larson said.
Larson was an assistant elementary school principal in the Bagley School District from 1999-2006. She was assistant superintendent/elementary principal in Bagley from 2006-2007, then superintendent from 2007-2009. She earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from Bemidji State University and her superintendent's license from Minnesota State University Moorhead.
Larson started her career as a teacher and has now spent a little more than half of her career in an administrative capacity. Still, she said it was difficult to move into administration because it removed a lot of one-on-one student interaction.
"As a superintendent, that's one of the areas that I really focus on is getting into the classrooms, attending school events," Larson said. "Because I really want to make the connection with our students."
It was hard for Larson to move into administration because she loved being in the classroom, she said. But she realized as an administrator, she could impact all the students in the district, not just the ones who came through her classroom.
"Through policy and decision-making, we can do that," Larson said.
In August, the district's long-term facilities planning committee is expected to present a recommendation to the school board which will outline a plan for the district's facilities for the future. Larson said she's excited to see the committee's plan. She cited her efforts in Thief River Falls to help pass a $54 million bond referendum in 2011 as one of the highlights of her superintendent career, and is looking forward to working with the facilities process in Brainerd.
"I'm not nervous about it at all, I'm just really excited to see what information they've come up with and what the recommendation of the board is," Larson said.
Brainerd is already a major leader in public education in Minnesota, Larson said, and she'd like to keep moving the district forward. She wants Brainerd to be seen as the most effective school district in the state, which she said happens by training students to go on after high school and succeed.
"We're providing the opportunities that they need to be successful in whatever their hopes and dreams are," Larson said.