Smooth transition for new principal at Spring Lake Park High School

by Elyse Kaner
Staff Writer

Jane Stevenson, assistant principal at Spring Lake Park High School, is now the school’s principal.

Jane Stevenson (dressed in Spirit Day attire) is the new principal at Spring Lake Park High School. She has stepped in for Bill Sommers who recently announced his plans to retire at the end of the school year. Photo by Elyse Kaner

In a fairly quiet and smooth transition, Jane Stevenson’s reassignment is going “very well,” she said in an interview with the Life.

Stevenson took over as principal after Bill Sommers announced at the end of January that he will be retiring.

Sommers, meanwhile, is staying on in a support role to Stevenson at the high school and as head of the district’s Learning Alternatives Community School until the end of the school year.

“I always find it difficult to follow Bill Sommers,” Stevenson said in an interview with the Life. “He has very big shoes to fill.”

SLPHS’s administrative team now consists of Stevenson, assistant principal Angela VanHee and two deans, John Franke and Steve Brady.

Highly respected

Stevenson has a highly respected reputation at Spring Lake Park and throughout the metro area for her work in education, Superintendent Jeff Ronneberg said.

“The reason Jane was selected is that she has done an outstanding job leading at the high school since she’s been there,” Ronneberg said. “She has a broad depth of knowledge and understanding around curriculum, professional needs and meeting the needs of struggling learners.”

Also, she focuses on accelerating learning for all levels of learners, he said.

Stevenson joined the district in 2010 as assistant principal at SLPHS.

For the remainder of the school year, she retains her AP duties as well as those of the principalship, leading a staff of about 90.

As principal, Stevenson’s primary responsibilities are to ensure the education of students and to manage human and nonhuman resources.

“The most important thing is being a lead learner,” Stevenson said. “Making sure as a community we are always looking at what else is out there, always improving,” she said.

The first woman principal ever to head the high school, Stevenson said she will lead the school on a continuing path to focus on student literacy skills and to work toward actively engaging students in their learning.

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She especially likes the size of SLP High School (1,300 students), which allows her to get to know students and staff on a more personal level and to create community. The student numbers are a far cry from a school she worked at in Eden Prairie with an enrollment of 3,330.

Rural to urban settings

Stevenson has worked in various education settings ranging from rural to urban, from affluent to economically challenged.

But she’s not seen a group so committed to building an education system that works for kids as that of Spring Lake Park’s. Nor has she seen the level of commitment to learning that is so cohesive from the district’s top leaders to those throughout the system, she said.

“It’s huge,” she said. “You don’t see that every place and it makes this district incredibly special.”

Stevenson said in the future she foresees a continuous quest for improvement and achievement at the high school “in preparing kids for a world that we can’t imagine.”

Prior to coming to SLP, Stevenson served as principal at Inver Grove Heights Middle School. She was an associate principal at Eden Prairie High School and administrative intern at Edison High School and Green Central, K-8 School in Minneapolis.

Early in her career, she was a special education teacher at South High School in Minneapolis and at Buffalo Public Schools in Buffalo.

She has served as a special education lead teacher in the Minneapolis Public Schools.

Also, she has served as an educational consultant since 1989, providing educational development to such districts as Metro ECSU, Minneapolis Public Schools, Hasting Public Schools.

Value on education

Stevenson grew up with a family who placed a high value on education and lifelong learning. Her mother was a kindergarten teacher and her father owned an auto parts business in St. Cloud.

As young as a preschooler, Stevenson and her older siblings played school. Sometimes she was the teacher, other times a student.

“We always played school,” she said. “We had the antique desks in the basement.”

A graduate of St. Cloud Technical High School, Stevenson received her first sampling of a nontraditional education model when she attended a laboratory elementary school located on the campus of St. Cloud State University.

Stevenson holds a bachelors’ degree in special education from St. Cloud State University and a master’s degree in education and principal licensure from the University of Minnesota.

So why did Stevenson go into education?

“Because I really believe, down to the core of who I am, that education will save our society and world. Bottom line,” she said.

Stevenson entered teaching with a plan to stay for only five years. Perhaps, later she would pursue a medical career.

“I hit about my fourth year of teaching and was in love with it,” she said.

Being a special education teacher, she realized the importance of an efficient education system and how it serves the child, she said.

Her master’s degree in teacher leadership set her on an administrator path working with systems and “making sure we’re cohesively serving kids,” she said.

Her mentors

For professional mentors, the first name that rolls from Stevenson’s tongue is Bill Sommers.

“He truly has been one of the most important key mentors for me over the course of my career,” she said.

Sommers was principal at South High School when she worked there. They also worked together at Eden Prairie High School. He was the principal, she an assistant principal.

Sommers said there’s nobody he’d prefer to work with more than Stevenson.

“She has high integrity. She’s intelligent,” he said. “She has high skills in content and the process of leading and managing education in schools.

“Her focus is always about what is going to help kids learn in life, not just in school,” Sommers said.

Stevenson also names education consultant Barb Vallejo, a retired teacher from Minneapolis Public Schools, and Donald Deshler, director of Center for Research on Learning, University of Kansas, as professional mentors. Jennifer York-Barr, her advisor at the University of Minnesota, is also on her mentor list. Their foci are on improving education for kids and always striving for improvement.

Stevenson’s parents Bob and Lois Stevenson are her personal role models. Particularly, her late mother, who struggled with cancer the last years of her life.

“She did it with such grace and dignity,” Stevenson said.

Ask Stevenson about hobbies and she readily admits that education is her top priority. She spends a majority of her downtime reading about it, learning new technology skills, researching better ways to help kids.

“Truly my passion is education,” she said.

As for her being the first woman in the high school’s lead position, Stevenson notices nothing out of the ordinary. “I just look at it as bringing me and the best I can be to the job – I just happen to be a woman,” she said.

Elyse Kaner is at elyse.kaner@ecm-inc.com


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