It seems many educators have children who grow up to become educators also, but Pine River-Backus Superintendent Jonathan Clark's father didn't necessarily want his children to follow in his footsteps.
Clark grew up in Sauk Rapids where his father was the middle school principal and his mother sold real estate. He had two sisters, one of whom also went into education.
"Oftentimes people would ask, 'Did your dad have anything to do with that?'" Clark said. "My dad really kind of pushed his kids away from the area of education. There were some tough times with education years ago and he just said, 'You guys do what you want, but education is a tough field.'"
Teachers who grew up without parents in education often have a teacher who inspired them, and that's the case with Clark.
"I had a teacher that had a big influence on me," Clark said. "I've had a chance to visit with this teacher since then. She happened to be my seventh and eighth grade English teacher. I'll say she wasn't my favorite teacher at the time. I didn't want to be in the class. I think it was through growing and maturing that I realized I learned so much from this individual. She pushed me. She made me the best student I could be."
Clark didn't realize immediately that education would be his field of choice. When he graduated from Sauk Rapids he initially went to Concordia College in Moorhead in the criminal justice field.
"I was looking at some law enforcement things," Clark said. "At about my junior year I think I went into the (teaching) program. It was a little later than most people did. I didn't go to college thinking I would be a teacher. Afterwards I was like, 'This is what I think I was meant to do.'"
After receiving his elementary teaching degree at Concordia, Clark got his master's in special education at St. Cloud State University. Later he earned a principal licensure from St. Mary's University.
"I took my first principal position in Kimball, Minnesota," Clark said. "Kimball is not too different from Pine River-Backus. They are similar in size and scope and I learned a lot there. You wear many hats and it's not just a superintendent hat or principal hat."
Kimball was the stepping stone Clark needed to move on to bigger positions. After eight years at the district, he became the principal at Garfield Elementary School in Brainerd. Then, after five more years he moved to Riverside Elementary School in Brainerd as principal.
"I loved my time in Brainerd and I learned a lot," Clark said. "It was a very different system from Kimball. I got my superintendent's license while working in Brainerd. It was something that was in the back of my mind and I was never really sure being a superintendent was a path I wanted to go down, but the more you get involved in leadership the more you kind of want to help guide and shape things."
He applied to be a superintendent in Maple Lake earlier in the year.
"I didn't get the position," Clark said. "I was told I was a runner-up for the position. I felt so right at the time I was kind of bummed about it for a little while, but that disappointment only lasted a short time because Pine River-Backus opened up and I immediately looked at my wife and said it was meant to be this way."
Many of those who wind up working or living in the lakes area in adulthood were first introduced to the area through a family cabin or vacation property. For Clark, his parents had owned property on a small pond just north of Pequot Lakes since Clark was 4 years old. When his father retired, he moved to the vacation property.
Clark said he had always wanted to eventually settle down in the lakes area, and in Pine River-Backus his career as a superintendent suddenly aligned with his goal of living up north.
Clark was officially hired in May. Much like his predecessor, Dave Endicott, who inherited a solar school project and building improvement aspirations, Clark immediately had a full plate upon coming to the district.
"It has been an extremely busy summer," Clark said. "Not just for myself, but the Tiger leadership team here as well. COVID-19 put a whole new twist on things."
Since becoming superintendent, the district has hired a transportation director and activities director. They have turned classes inside out and brainstormed complex scenarios to plan for a fall opening. In addition, building improvements have been underway during the summer, including media center renovations and improvements to the high school gymnasium.
"Everything with our schedules and schools and the way we present things had to be redone," Clark said.
Though he hit the ground running, Clark said he feels that the district and its staff have worked hard to prepare for the upcoming school year and he is confident in the results.
Going forward Clark said he plans to work with the rest of the school leadership to assess the district's needs. Among them are possible building needs, but Clark is also preparing to work with staff to improve test scores.
"Some things are not where we want them to be," Clark said. "Those are going to be some of our biggest areas to address as we go into the future."
Clark has been married for 30 years, and his wife is a paraprofessional at Eagle View Elementary School in Breezy Point. Together they have two grown children. He says growing up they enjoyed the outdoors, hunting and fishing together. He and his wife are still getting used to being empty-nesters, but his sons still spend time with them doing outdoor activities.
Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Travis.