The Minnesota Community Education Association will recognize Anoka-Hennepin School District Community Education Director Steve Kerr with the title of Minnesota Community Educator of the Year at its annual conference Oct. 30 at the Earle Brown Heritage Center, Minneapolis.
Kerr was selected based on his vast professional accomplishments and longtime involvement in the work of the association, serving on various committees as a board member, as president of the association, for his most recent involvement with the legislative efforts of the association and as a longtime advocate for adult basic education and early learning.
Kerr’s longtime commitment to education has made a difference for school districts, community members and community educators across the state, according to Charlie Blesener, director of community education for Elk River Area School District.
“Although Steve’s been affiliated with the very largest district in Minnesota, he has been looking out for statewide interests his entire career,” Blesener said. “He is true to his small-town roots.”
Originally from East Grand Forks, Kerr pursued a degree in the new and emerging field of community education at Mankato State University. After graduating, he began his career in the Anoka-Hennepin School District in 1977 as an assistant community school coordinator and community school coordinator. He remained there until 1980 when he was hired as the director of community education in that same small school district where he grew up.
“The career goal that I listed on my first resume was to become the community education director of a large suburban school district,” Kerr said.
In 1983, he was hired by the city of Blaine as the community school coordinator for five years until returning to Anoka-Hennepin to serve in numerous community education roles before being named the director in 2004.
“I believe that community education makes a school system stronger,” Kerr said.
Community education can play a significant role in the continuum of education, providing quality services for lifelong learners from birth to adulthood, he said.
“Our society cannot afford to waste a single mind,” Kerr said. “Education becomes the great equalizer and everyone in our community has something to contribute to the future. Education is the pathway that enables the individual to pursue their dreams.”
Evidence of his leadership and success are many, according to Anoka-Hennepin School District Superintendent Dennis Carlson, who has worked alongside Kerr in the community education department and in cabinet, tackling district decision-making.
“Steve has led an unprecedented early learning alignment with the K-12 system, school readiness proficiency results among four-year-old students living in poverty, work force collaboration with our counties in adult basic education and ongoing community schools support for the cities that the school district serves,” Carlson said.
Anoka-Hennepin Community Education began piloting intensive preschool programs in 2004 to provide targeted students with additional academic support before entering the K-12 education track, also before the Minnesota Department of Education required the services.
“We try to take in the whole view of how families come to us,” Kerr said. “I have seen the potential to help close the achievement gap through early learning interventions for years and I think we are moving in the right direction.”
Kerr’s unique perspective on this changing, diverse environment that now exists in public schools is essential to the district’s success, according to Carlson.
“His understanding of systems, the needs of our students and our families, his common sense approach to complicated issues, his political courage and sense of fairness and his sincere desire to improve the quality of life in our communities and state of Minnesota – make him most worthy of this recognition,” Carlson said.
With new technologies and trends constantly emerging in the world, there are always new subjects to learn, Kerr said.
“The challenge is to grow and evolve,” he said. “I’m fortunate to have a strong team, continuously striving to achieve.”
Community education programs aim to bring relevant learning opportunities to children and adults, introducing new classes each season, according to Kerr.
The adult learning program began offering iPad classes last year and students in the adults with disabilities program will see and learn about Australian animals through an interactive video conference class with zoologists in Kansas later this fall, Kerr said.
Children are learning to count, read and write in preschool, before even entering kindergarten, while volunteers are learning how to align their time in the classroom with the teacher’s lesson plan and the school district curriculum efforts, he said.
Youth are participating in community service opportunities to lend a helping hand to others locally – and as far as Haiti, Kerr said.
Adult basic education students regularly send letters to Kerr, sharing how the classes they have taken have helped them speak English, land a job and provide for their families, he said.
He embraces the change and encourages growth in community education programs, Kerr said.
“When I was little, my mom told me that I could do whatever I made my mind up to do,” he said. “I value that and I believe the same for our students. That is the source of my drive. I hope that my work has made a difference in my community.”
To learn more about community education programs in District 11, visit www.discovercommunityed.com or call 763-506-1260.