As the new school year gets under way, for some students it will signal fresh starts, new beginnings, and equal shares of anxiety and excitement. It won't be just the kindergartners, freshman and new students who are experiencing this roller coaster of emotions, however. A healthy influx of new administrators will be seated in their respective districts throughout the county as well.
Roberta "Robbie" Mondati is the new assistant principal of Cloquet High School and principal of the Cloquet Area Alternative Education Programs. Originally from Ely, Mondati graduated from Ely Memorial High School before going on to get her bachelor's degree from Gustavus Adolphus College. At Gustavus, she majored in social studies teaching and minored in history and coaching. She was a competitive swimmer from early elementary through college and went on to coach swimming at Gustavus and then high school and club swimming in the Twin Cities' metro area. Three years after graduating from Gustavus, Mondati earned her master's degree in education from St. Mary's University. Two years after that she earned her Education Specialist degree in education administration and her K-12 administrator's license from Minnesota State Mankato.
"I used to tell my students that I had a really expensive brain!" she said with a grin.
As an educator, Mondati worked exclusively for Shakopee Public Schools for her first eight years. She taught social studies for five years in a middle school configuration, junior high and high school. From teaching, she went on to be the dean of students and instructional coordinator at Shakopee Junior High for two years.
Last year she became one of two assistant principals at Shakopee High School - a grade 10-12 high school with 1,500 students.
"I have loved every position I've had," she remarked, "and moved [to Cloquet] based on a desire to raise our kids in a smaller town closer to family."
Mondati is forthright in outlining what her hopes are for the future of Cloquet High School.
"My vision is to be a support to/for the many great opportunities we have for our students," she said, "and at the same time to help lead us through uncharted territory with the goal of getting even better and changing to adapt to our changing world. That sounds cheesy but is at the root of my personal
Mondati's husband, Jason, is a project engineer for Barko Hydraulics in Superior, and they are parents to Adriana, two-and-a-half, and Dominic, five months. They have extended family living in Hermantown, but mostly Ely.
"When we aren't working or unpacking, we love to be outdoors," said Mondati, " - on the lake, out at the cabin, hunting, fishing, snowmobiling.... playing! We are looking forward to adjusting into a new 'normal' here in the Northland so that we can spend more time enjoying life with family and friends in the area we LOVE! Other things I love that I'm hoping to work back into life would be swimming, gardening, and mowing the lawn."
Moose Lake School District will have a familiar face at the helm this year. Former Moose Lake High School Principal Bob Indihar accepted the interim superintendent position for the 2012-13 school year at the Moose Lake Community Schools.
Indihar was high school principal at Moose Lake for the past 14 years and was a teacher for 12 years before that in Detroit Lakes, teaching both physical science and mathematics. He earned his undergraduate degrees in physical science and mathematics. He then attended the University of Minnesota Duluth where he earned his master's degree and then went on for his specialist degree at Moorhead State. He obtained his superintendent's license through St. Mary's University.
Indihar's three boys all graduated from Moose Lake High School, and he said he is honored to be given the opportunity to be the superintendent at Moose Lake.
"I look forward to the challenges that lie ahead," he stated. "The flood damage at the school was extensive, but due to the efforts of many of our staff and volunteers, the damage was less than it could have been. We are aggressively restoring the building and fully expect to start school on Sept. 4."
Indihar said another issue the district will be discussing as it moves on into the future is a building bond.
"Right now a community task force is looking at giving recommendations for the future of Moose Lake Community Schools," Indihar explained. "If you are interested in being part of the process, give me a call."
He went on to point out that technology is continually affecting how education is delivered, adding that the district has a plan in place to implement technology into the classrooms. This year, he said, the district will train staff on how to implement iPads into the classroom.
South Terrace Elementary School in Carlton will have a new interim principal this year as Jen Larva takes over for departing principal BJ Berg. Larva graduated magna cum laude with her Bachelor of Science degree from St. Cloud State University, earning a double major in elementary education and reading instruction. She also has her Master's of Education degree and a certificate of educational computing and technology from the University of Minnesota Duluth. She earned her advanced graduate certificate in educational administration from St. Mary's University.
Larva taught in the Cloquet school system for 12 years, 10 of them as a second-grade teacher, before moving on to fourth and fifth grade for a year each. She then became director of school improvement in Cloquet, responsible for state-level school improvement plans and activities, curriculum review and development, staff development activities, overseeing the ESEA federal programs and coordinating the mentorship/ teacher in education program.
Regarding her vision for South Terrace Elementary, Larva pointed out that South Terrace is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and is "Building on the Tradition of Excellence."
"My vision is to continue to provide the best educational experience for children in a small school environment that allows all students to achieve their potential!" she remarked. "We are already making a few changes at South Terrace that I hope will make a difference for the students. For instance, due to the volume of research on the benefits, we are moving our recess time to before lunch. This should have an impact on the rest of the day for the students that we hope will lead to a conducive environment for afternoon learning."
In her free time - though Larva said she doesn't have much of it - she enjoys biking, knitting, spending time outdoors and at the lake with her family, and supporting her kids in their athletic events.
Her family consists of her husband of 19 years, Kevin, and three children - Madison, a freshman at the University of Wisconsin Superior; Maijaliisa, a freshman at Cloquet High School; and McKade, a seventh-grader at Cloquet Middle School. Larva grew up in Proctor, so her grandparents, parents and brothers' families are all living in surrounding communities.
"We spend a lot of time as an extended family up at my parent's house on Island Lake. My children love spending time with their cousins," she said.
Replacing long-time Cloquet Queen of Peace Principal Therese Gutting this fall is Sister Janet Siepker. She received her Bachelor of Education degree at Viterbo College in Lacrosse, Wis., and began her teaching career at Queen of Peace Catholic School in Salem, Ore. Following her time there, she taught at a parish Catholic school in Vancouver, British Columbia, and returned to Oregon to teach in Astoria and Portland. It was there she was first introduced to Dr. Maria Montessori's method of education, receiving certification at the Children's House and Elementary level. She spent over 25 years at The Franciscan Montessori Earth School in Portland.
After taking a year on sabbatical in Connecticut at her Motherhouse, she spent four more years in Montessori education.
"I am now ready to integrate all those years in the classroom as I fulfill my work here as principal of Queen of Peace School," said Siepker. "I look forward to working with the parish, staff, and the Diocese of Duluth.
She said her educational philosophy is centered on "the whole child - the mind as well as the heart."
"The physical aspects of a well-balanced diet, sufficient sleep, and exercise influence the ability of the child to stay on task and to be alert in the learning environment," she explained. "The emotional stability of feeling and being loved, no matter what, influences the psychological development of security and trust. It enables the child to be challenged according to his/her ability and potential. Only in working with the whole child can the academic program meet the needs of the child in truth, beauty, and sincerity."
Siepker went on to say that at Queen of Peace, teachers and administrators also meet the religious potential of each child, "centered in the heart, developing along with the parents a high moral code built on the two greatest commandments to love God and neighbor," she stated. "The truths of the Catholic Church are taught and upheld providing experiences in prayer, Sacraments, classroom lessons, and family/parish/community service projects."
Siepker added the thing she loves most of all about her new post at Queen of Peace in Cloquet is being with her community, The Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist.
"There are four of us here in Minnesota," she explained. "After experiencing the four seasons and beauty of Minnesota, I think even St. Francis himself would consider living here!"
Wrenshall School District hired a new interim superintendent at a special meeting of the board of education on Friday, June 29. Kimberly Belcastro was endorsed by a unanimous vote of the board for the district's top administrative post. The term for Belcastro's appointment will run from July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013.
Belcastro comes to Wrenshall from her position as superintendent of the Ely Public School District, where she has served in that capacity for the past year. Prior to that time, she served as interim superintendent with that district for five months and high school principal and director of operations for two years prior to that. She has also been middle school principal at Proctor from 2004-2009 and principal at AlBrook from 2000-2004, holding teaching positions earlier at Hermantown, Esko and the Lake Superior School
Belcastro grew up in Esko and earned her undergraduate teaching degree at the University of Minnesota Duluth, her master's degree at the University of Wisconsin Superior and her doctorate degree in educational administration from Bethel University in St. Paul.
"I moved to Ely to get superintendent experience," said Belcastro. "I loved it there, but it was always my hope that I could move closer to home."