As the kids were packing up for the last day of school, Diane Henning won’t be far behind.
The Wilson Elementary School principal is retiring from a 42-year career in the Anoka-Hennepin School District at the end of this month.
“How lucky am I,” said Henning while looking around Wilson and looking back at her career in education.
She has been the principal at Anoka’s Wilson for the last six years, but has taught in many elementary school classrooms throughout the district during her tenure spanning more than four decades.
“I love the work and I love the kids, but the other part of my life is beckoning and I need to hear that call,” said Henning as the school year and her career were wrapping up.
Henning was hired by the same district where she went to school. Raised in Anoka, she first attended Franklin Elementary School and graduated from Anoka High School. Henning said at the time most professional careers for women were limited to either the education or nursing and medical fields. She went on to the University of Minnesota to become a teacher and now hold’s a master’s degree and is a certified administrator.
This fall will be the first time since Henning was in kindergarten herself that she won’t be starting a new school year in September.
But it is the community’s youngest learners that have had her attention through her entire career, teaching reading, first and fifth grades.
“I am more of a curriculum generalist, so you get to teach most of the subjects,” said Henning on the appeal of teaching at the elementary school level. “It’s really appealing to work with the younger children and it’s exciting to watch that progress. You really feel like you are laying the foundation and they are so excited about learning.”
Reading is the subject closest to Henning’s heart as a teacher.
“When I was teaching first grade at Johnsville I really got hooked on that literacy piece,” said Henning. “If you teach a child to read it changes their life forever.”
Along with Johnsville, Henning also taught at University Avenue Elementary, Dayton Elementary, Andover Elementary and the Bell Center.
Around 2000 Henning made the shift from the classroom to administration.
She didn’t want to leave the classroom, but wasn’t sure she still had the energy those six-year-olds needed.
At the same time, her experience had made her a sounding board and a go-to for other teachers looking for direction. After being encouraged by others that she would make a good leader, Henning made the switch from the classroom to the principal’s office.
“I’ve had the opportunity to work with some really dedicated staff that have made it possible to do what we do for children,” said Henning.
A notable part of her career was being part of the team involved with starting Rum River Elementary in Andover, in early 2000s where she spent one year as a teacher on special assignment working with Judy McKay, the school’s first principal, and a second as an assistant principal.
“It was really an exciting opportunity from the standpoint of building a school community for the staff and the families and establishing new traditions for the children,” said Henning.
She spent two years at Rum River Elementary, went back to Andover Elementary and then eventually moved on as an assistant principal at the Peter Enich Kindergarten Center where she stayed three years before transferring to Wilson Elementary.
Wilson has been particularly special because of the diversity that can be found at the Anoka school. It served as an ESL center for several years, filling the classrooms with a broad range of cultures and ethnicities.
“I really feel like the cross section of our school is going to be the world these children are going to be living in,” said Henning.
At the same time, she said Wilson has a strong and supportive school community of parents and students.
“What a wonderful place this has been to work,” she said. “This has been an amazing school community with the children, the parents and the staff.”
That life of hers that is beckoning includes her husband Chuck, who has been retired for five years, two grown children, including a daughter who lives in Nashville, Tenn., and her aging parents.
In retirement Henning plans to do a lot of traveling and perhaps get more involved in community organizations and causes she supports.
Henning’s experience and enthusiasm will be missed in the Anoka-Hennepin School District.
Franklin Elementary School Principal Vickie Spindler has known Henning for years and the two have crossed career paths on occasion. Henning followed her as assistant principal at Peter Enich Kindergarten Center.
“Diane always has a clear focus on what’s best for the children,” said Spindler. “Every decision she makes is based on what’s best for all of the children in her care.”
She also said Henning has a been willing to tackle tough issues.
“The more challenging the situation or need, the more energized she seems to be,” said Spindler.
Henning will wrap up her professional career in education at the end of June, but as Spindler said, her hands-on work in the community won’t end.
“She might not be working at our schools anymore, but Diane will continue to impact the community in Anoka.”
Mandy Moran Froemming is at firstname.lastname@example.org