St. Francis High School students and teachers have started their fall classes with a new administrator, Principal Rick Toso.
Bringing 40 years of classroom and other leadership experience to the role, he has accepted a one-year interim position as SFHS principal in place of Paul Neubauer, who took an interim role as the district’s director of curriculum and development this summer.
Teaching first in the small town of Renville, southwest of Willmar, Toso has spent most of his career in the Buffalo School District, which is part of St. Francis’ new Mississippi 8 Conference for athletics and other activities.
He knew of the St. Francis schools through contacts with Neubauer (via the Central Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals) and with Superintendent Ed Saxton, with whom he attended “principals’ school” in 1995, Toso told the Anoka County Union.
Neubauer left the principal’s position for the other administrative role in August, and the district was on a tight timeline to find a successor in the high school before classes began.
Toso said he learned of the position and that his interest was piqued for an interview through word of mouth.
He said that he was pleased by his first, full week in the building. “The first week was exceptionally smooth with a lot of changes that had taken place,” Toso said. “We owe that to a lot of teaching veterans and student leaders who have established great traditions. The rest of us just needed to make sure we followed their lead.”
Toso attended several school events before classes opened, including a varsity football win Aug. 29 over visiting Duluth East. “It is very obvious that here is a lot of student camaraderie, a lot of pride in being a Fighting Saint,” Toso said.
arts and sports
Toso will back arts and athletic programs equally, as he has had a well-rounded education since his own youth in Pelican Rapids. He sang in school choirs and played the trombone in bands. He acted in plays and musicals, and fondly remembers a role in a production of “Brigadoon.”
He played school basketball in the winter and ran track in the spring. He filled his teenage summers by playing baseball and started at tight end for his varsity football team in the fall.
Toso continued with playing tight end for Concordia College–Moorhead, which he prefers to call “Harvard of the Midwest,” where he also completed a degree in health and physical education and earned certificates in coaching and driver’s training.
He taught in a building for students in kindergarten through 10th grade at Renville, where he became the head football coach.
Moving his career to Buffalo in 1978, Toso kept coaching football and introduced girls’ softball along with co-ed programs in soccer and downhill skiing.
Early in his administrative career, after finishing his training at St. Cloud State University, Toso served concurrently as a middle school activities director and high school assistant principal in Buffalo.
He retired from a full-time role as high school principal there in 2009, but stayed working in that district with interim positions, including one year as a special education coordinator.
Toso decided to consider a new position in St. Francis because the district has built a strong reputation, he said. “Everything I had heard about St. Francis was positive,” Toso said. “Now I’m finding out that what I heard was true.
“I knew this district was in good hands. I truly believe that I was hired not as a ‘change agent’ – there isn’t a need for big changes here – but to be a good facilitator.”
Toso said that he has encouraged all staff and students in each of his schools to pursue three common goals, to make good decisions, to work hard and to be kind.
“I will be pressing for continuous improvement (at St. Francis),” he said. “I think that’s what makes a good school a great school. I can tell it’s going to be a great year.”
Apart from sports, the arts or a desire to support students in their education, some teachers and other community members may find they have something more in common with Toso.
Perhaps if they have not yet met him in St. Francis, they have seen him as far away as Sturgis.
Toso has driven his Harley-Davidson motorcycle to that South Dakota city for its annual rally in August, along with other motorcycle trips to Glacier and Yellowstone national parks. His favorite special ride on two wheels was on the famous Route 66, covering the length from Los Angeles to Chicago with a group.