For 26 years, Tom Larson has led the St. Francis Independent School District 15’s community education programs and overseen the maintenance of the district’s buildings and grounds.
But this was last school year for Larson, who officially retired July 27.
“This has been a great run. I have had a great career from beginning to end,” said the 62-year-old Oak Grove resident.
As the director of Community Education and Maintenance Services, Larson oversaw the buildings, grounds, adult education, Early Childhood Education, community education and the Sandhill Center for the Arts.
His team of supervisors do a heck of a job, Larson said.
When he came to the district in December 1986, the community education programs were pretty modest, Larson said.
There were coordinators in each building, but there were few after-school programs, he said.
In his first year with the district, he created adult and student enrichment programs that did not exist, he said.
It was something he thought he was done with after leaving Anoka-Hennepin School District’s community education program, Larson said.
As families began wanting their children to be involved in recreational activities in the 1990s, Larson added a recreation department.
There are now 2,500 students a year in football, baseball, T-ball and other intramural programs, Larson said.
Larson also helped spearhead the creation of the Kids Connection.
The before- and after-school childcare program is now in every building, Larson said.
Larson has also added a communications team.
After a local paper stopped publishing in the late 1980s, the district did not communicate a lot with the community, Larson said.
His team started a monthly district publication, which later became The Courier.
Larson also served on the state and national community education associations as a board member as well as a president for a couple of terms.
As programs outgrew buildings and elementary schools closed, Larson became creative in using the empty buildings.
After Bethel Elementary School closed in 1980-1981, Larson moved the Early Childhood Education program into the building’s five classrooms.
In 2003, Cedar Elementary School, located in Oak Grove, closed.
The building had 19 classrooms and it was a great opportunity to move the Early Childhood Education program into a larger space, Larson said.
“I saw the building as an upgrade for the (programs) as well as the special education and preschool programs were busting at the seams and needed a bigger site,” he said.
The school now houses the Adult Basic Education and Kids Connection, while Head Start has leased space.
As the district’s point man on at least 20 levy and building referendums, Larson had the task for educating the community on the levies and the consequences for not passing them.
Every time a levy or building referendum failed in the 1980s and 1990s, it taught him what things to do differently, Larson said.
“I learned a lot from my failures, having to face angry crowds and programs that did not work,” he said.
“Levies were always a hard sell especially in this hard working community, which holds onto its dollars.”
One of Larson’s biggest challenges came after the discovery of mold in the portable classrooms at St. Francis Elementary (SFE) and Cedar Creek Community schools in 2007.
That October, the area had received 10 inches of water and the some of the classroom carpets were wet, Larson said.
During the investigation on where the leaks were coming from, staff found mold on the floorboards.
Within five minutes of knowing there was mold, the decision was made to shut down the portable classrooms.
It was hard for him because the district had gone with the number one portable provider in the country and did not expect this kind of problem, Larson said.
Larson led plans to move SFE students to Sandhill Center for the Arts and redesign space at CCCS for students in a short time period.
There was a lot of criticism over the situation but “attacks come with the territory and you have to have a thick skin,” Larson said.
Hearing the criticisms just made him more conscious of the decisions and how the district promotes things to the community, he said.
“I have always been a hunting and fishing fool,” Larson said.
Larson plans on taking time to go duck and pheasant hunting, he said.
“The sad part is I really don’t have a plan for retirement and my biggest fear is not having a place to go a 7:30 am every day,” said Larson.
He might get a part-time job related to hunting and fishing and possibly volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, he said.
Tammy Sakry is at firstname.lastname@example.org