The Learning Alternatives Community School has a new director.
Jeff Theis, an education administrator with a business background, started at Spring Lake Park District 16 July 1.
He comes to the district from Carver-Scott Educational Cooperative (C-SEC), School District 930 based out of Chaska, where he was principal-deputy director of the learning alternatives school.
The cooperative provides customized education programs and services, from pre-schoolers to adults, to nine member school districts located in Minnesota’s Carver and Scott counties.
“I have liked every day I’ve been here so far,” Theis said in an interview last week about his new job.
Theis replaces Bill Sommers, a sought-after national speaker and author, who retired from the school but not from education, at the end of the school year. Sommers joined the district in 2009, where he worked as director of LACS and as principal at Spring Lake Park High School.
The district underwent an extensive search to fill the LACS director position.
Administrators reviewed nearly 40 applications. About a half-dozen candidates were considered in a standard three-round interview process, according to Ryan Stromberg, District 16’s director of human resources and organizational development. The superintendent makes the final recommendation to the school board to complete the hiring process.
“Jeff brings a wealth of experience working in the world of alternative education,” said Superintendent Jeff Ronneberg. “He has been (a) successful, student-centered leader and his approach to working with young people and adults aligns well with our philosophy of shared leadership in Spring Lake Park. I am excited to have the opportunity to work with him and to see the positive impacts he will make for our students as he works in collaboration with staff.”
Theis was hired at an annual salary of $103,000.
As the new LACS director, Theis will oversee a staff of about 25 and an estimated student enrollment of about 200.
The Learning Alternatives Day Program, Independent Study Program, Lighthouse Program for the gifted and talented and Transition Services Program for special education students from 18-21 years of age operate under the LACS umbrella.
The school serves students ages 12 to 22, who seek an education in an alternative setting.
So far, Theis has been busy acquainting himself with staff, learning their needs and learning the district layout, policies and procedures.
Under Theis’ leadership, the learning alternatives school this year will experience some change. The Lighthouse Program, with an enrollment that has increased to nearly 125 students, will gain more space this fall. It will add two more rooms bringing the total to six. (The K-12 program started in 2003 with eight students.)
One of the rooms was used for the former family and consumer sciences program, while the other housed the former LA Cafe, run by students.
In another change, Theis will work on drilling deeper into defining the school’s continuous learning plan. Increased data will be collected to better guide students in their education plans.
“A big component will be career planning and college planning,” Theis said.
A deciding factor
Theis was born in Shakopee and raised in Waconia. He graduated from Waconia High School and attended the University of Minnesota, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in education and another in sales and marketing.
He went on to earn a master’s degree and a specialist degree in education from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota.
It was the death of his father, Cyril Theis, that was a deciding factor in Theis’ career choice. Theis was 11 at the time. The loss of his father was the start of hard times, “a life stressor” for the young Theis. At times, he wondered whether he should stay in school.
“I, personally, didn’t want other kids to have to experience those difficulties as well,” he said.
“I think the kids we serve here in the learning alternatives or in youth at risk either experience that separation through divorce or through death and some type of family crisis happened to them as well. I just wanted to help kids move through some of those crises in life.”
Kids needed support
When he started college, Theis delved into business courses. But it was a college professor, Melissa O’Rourke, who said he’d make a good teacher. When he was a junior, he decided on a career in education. He had always liked working with youth.
“I went that (learning alternatives) direction because I knew there was a group of kids who needed those services to be successful, as well as adults,” he said.
Theis’ first job was teaching sales and marketing at Prairie Lake Vocational Cooperative Center in Worthington. Prior to coming to District 16, Theis had worked at C-SEC as the cooperative’s principal-deputy director since 1988.
Among his duties were supervising the area learning center, career and technical education, adult basic education, English as a second language, early childhood family education, youth enrichment and special education programs. He also supervised programs for adults with disabilities, chemical and mental health services.
Before that he worked as a human resource manager for The Instant Web Companies for three years and from 1985-1988, he was C-SEC’s support service manager.
From 1992-1995, he worked two jobs in a business-education partnership with the school and Instant Web, where he was the human resources manager.
But he soon found he missed working with students and returned full-time to C-SEC.
In all, Theis has 32 years of experience in education.
Among his accomplishments, Theis lists developing an alternatives program for youth at risk throughout Carver and Scott counties and an education program to support youth. He also created a partnership program with county services and businesses to support the educational needs of youth and adults in Carver and Scott Counties.
From 2008-2009 Theis served as executive director for Enriching Lives Foundation, a Carver-Scott educational organization, helping people to overcome barriers and to achieve a quality life through education.
Theis lives in Carver. He and his wife, Florene, have three children, Brian, 25; Kyle, 24; and Jenna, 20.
Away from work, Theis enjoys fishing, participating in outdoor activities, reading (education and fiction), gardening and maintaining a coy pond he built on his property.
For the future of LACS, Theis plans to work toward aligning the school’s services with the high school’s support system. He also plans to continue to grow the Transition Services Program and to establish more business education partnerships. He looks forward to involving Anoka County, he said.
Theis is enjoying his first month in his new job.
“I’ve found everybody here to be so welcoming, so student-focused,” he said. “Dedicated to kids. It’s just a very welcoming school district.”
Elyse Kaner is at [email protected]