Laine Larson bids farewell to Brainerd Public Schools
"ISD 181 is in great hands, and it will always have a special place in my heart — a place called home. Once a Warrior, always a Warrior.”
BRAINERD — Would a $205 million referendum have passed without the guidance of Laine Larson? Maybe, maybe not.
Would thousands of students be where they are today, paving their own paths in the world, if not for Laine Larson’s attentiveness and dedication? No one can say for sure.
But what is known is how she will be remembered for her tenure in Brainerd.
A “passionate, enthusiastic, strategic, determined, emotionally intelligent, inspirational leader,” to ICS Principal Dave Bergeron.
A positive, strong, personable guiding force to Harrison Elementary teacher Becky Meyer.
A mentor with endless amounts of grit to soon-to-be-Superintendent Heidi Hahn.A constant teacher with a perpetual smile on her face who bleeds bluer than anyone to others who work with her.
Guests expressed all those sentiments and more during Larson’s retirement party Wednesday, June 15, celebrating the six years she spent as superintendent of Brainerd Public Schools.
Even the venue was a testament to Larson’s mark on Brainerd, as she fittingly gave her farewell address in the Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts, a facility resulting from the successful 2018 referendum, approved by voters under her leadership.
Speakers showered her with not only praise but also confetti, as they celebrated her accomplishments and expressed their gratitude for her work.
To start off each school year, Larson always chose a theme, which School Board members used to model their farewell speeches.
Happy New Year
The theme for her first year in Brainerd was Happy New Year, to celebrate a new beginning for the district. School Board Chair Ruth Nelson highlighted that theme through a poem written by her husband, after giving Larson the appropriate attire of a blue lei and blue plastic party crown.
“We are all here to say goodbye, but this is not a time to cry / Laine is leaving us, she’s stepping down, but that’s no reason for a frown / Think instead of all she’s done, I know you won’t remember every one / The bond referendum is No. 1, its impact will be felt for years to come / Elementary schools all updated, a new school ambassador long-awaited / School security is now the best, and the high school remodel has impressed.
“The Gichi-ziibi center is beyond compare, great events will happen there / And of course, there’s a new pool that everyone has said is very cool/ With 1:1 technology, our students now all hold the key, / To unlocking doors of their education. Brainerd Warriors of the new generation / Laine led through the challenges of COVID-19, facing obstacles no one has ever seen / She engaged with staff and community, to make the Brainerd Schools the best they can be / So this is a time to celebrate, things accomplished, all so great / Travel and adventure is on the way, a new year for Laine in every way.
“So now we should all stand and cheer, and wish Laine Larson a happy new year.”
Board members Jana Shogren and Tom Haglin showered Larson with confetti at the end of the poem.
Larson’s second year was all about bleeding that Warrior blue.
“I don’t think there’s really anyone that bleeds more blue than Laine,” Haglin said, “perhaps with the exception of our incoming Superintendent Heidi Hahn.”
The theme was about bringing the community together to pass the referendum.
“There’s no way we could have accomplished what we did without your dedication,” Haglin said to Larson. “I know there were some tough days, tough weeks, tough months. I think the pandemic is kind of minor to what you’ve accomplished overall. You can handle anything.”
Thank you notes
After the referendum passed in spring 2018, Larson used Thank You Notes as her theme for the 2018-19 school year, recognizing the community for their part in the accomplishment.
“For anyone who knows Laine, you know she’s just outstanding with thank you notes,” said Shogren, who proceeded to thank Larson for the many attributes she brought to Brainerd — for always being a teacher first, for cheering on each and every student, for immersing herself in the community, for her leadership and her legacy and for making it easy to miss her.
“Mostly though, thank you for being you and always having a smile on your face,” Shogren said. “Everybody’s talked about the challenges, and those have been plenty, but you always smile through it all, and that speaks volumes.”
As building projects progressed in the 2019-20 school year, Larson chose Under Kid-struction as her theme, as students and staff worked through disruptions to their daily routines.
Hahn stepped in for board member Charles Black Lance, who couldn’t be there Wednesday, highlighting Larson’s strong work ethic.
“She prepared us on the very next day after we knew the referendum had been passed because she kept saying, ‘The work begins now,’” Hahn said.
When life gives you lemons
Hahn also spoke on behalf of board member Sarah Speer, reading the remarks Speer prepared on Larson’s When Life Gives You Lemons theme for the roller coaster of a school year in 2020-21.
“Thank you, Laine, for the 3 million gallons of equal parts of optimism and granulated sugar it took to drive the energy and faith needed for some challenging depths,” Hahn read from Speer’s speech. “You poured your heart and belief into this community and district. You pulled us all in to work together as a team. Your leadership set the tone for believing we could do hard things and achieve beautiful outcomes if we embraced our challenges instead as opportunities.”
As Larson entered her last year with the district during the 2021-22 school year, the final of her six themes was Remembering, which Brainerd High School Principal Andrea Rusk paid tribute to in place of board member Kevin Boyles, who was traveling during the party.
Larson always encouraged her staff to remember why they became educators and that everything they do should be for the benefit of their students, Rusk said.
“She always wanted us to work on behalf of the lives of our children,” Rusk said. “And all of us who have worked with Laine know that. That is always the message.”
After also hearing from her daughters and other community members, a choked up Larson took to the mic, thanking her family for helping her through the toughest days and not passing up the moment to impart some last nuggets of wisdom on the Brainerd community.
Among her last lessons: “Never forget the power of a teacher.”
And what has become her signature quote: With “the right team at the right time,” Brainerd has built futures.
Larson took guests on a short trip through her nearly 40-year career in education, from her time as a family and consumer science teacher to her superintendent jobs in Bagley and Thief River Falls and the original plan to retire in 2016. But she came to Brainerd instead and left her mark.
“After 40 years, I can honestly say I am proud to have spent my career as a public school teacher,” Larson said, recalling the decades of teaching, learning, watching student activities and celebrating the joys of education.
“As I look back tonight, it’s really bittersweet. After just under 40 years in Greater Minnesota’s public education system, I am actually retiring,” she said. “Laine Larson is hanging up her pantsuit and her construction suit, and I am actually going to try on a jogging suit, a travel suit and maybe even a swimming suit for a little bit of relaxation and stress-free healthy living.”
Larson, who plans to stay in Brainerd after her retirement at the end of the month, received a standing ovation from the guests in attendance after her final words of goodbye.
“As your superintendent of schools, I believe the greatest legacy that we can leave our children is to provide them with happy memories and to help build a belief in their future personal success,” she said. “Thank you, Brainerd Public Schools. I am honored, and I am humbled to have been serving as your superintendent of schools. ISD 181 is in great hands, and it will always have a special place in my heart — a place called home. Once a Warrior, always a Warrior.”
THERESA BOURKE may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.