After 20 years of service as a counselor at St. Francis Middle School, the recently retired Barbara Jahnke has begun an elected term on the District 15 School Board.
Placing second in a race for three seats last Nov. 5, with each carrying a four-year term, Jahnke has told the Anoka County Union that she wants to ensure each district student has the chance to be successful.
“I’m very passionate about education,” she said. “I think it’s a great equalizer, giving opportunities to people who would not otherwise have them. … We have a lot of talented kids out there who just don’t have resources.”
Jahnke credits her own initiative and access to low-interest college loans with helping her to establish a professional career.
According to Jahnke, she may not have appeared to be a top candidate for advancement, growing up as one of two children in a working-class home in Detroit Lakes. Her father, Harry, worked as a laborer and small business owner after completing school through fourth grade, Jahnke said. Her mother, Evelyn, worked as a grocery store clerk after attending school through eighth grade.
“But they very much valued education,” Jahnke said. “Even though it was a small amount (of money) they contributed, they made tremendous sacrifices (for me).”
After completing a degree in elementary education through Minnesota State University – Moorhead, she returned to Detroit Lakes for a few years of teaching first and second grade.
Following a move to Bismarck, N.D., where she devoted early years as a mother for three young sons, she worked as a student counselor on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation after finishing a master’s degree through Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D.
One son graduated from high school in Bismarck before a family move to Aberdeen, where Jahnke worked as a counselor in the K-12 schools but also as a community counselor for victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault. “That was a tough job,” she said. “I was there for a number of years. I learned an awful lot.”
She came to St. Francis in 1994 at a time when all three sons, Paul, Matthew and Patrick, were in adulthood and back in Minnesota. Jahnke’s sister, Nancy, was working as a school social worker in Mora and had touted St. Francis as being a progressive district.
“I was very happy there,” Jahnke says of finishing her career in the district.
Jahnke enjoyed a team approach to helping students in a “very collaborative working environment” at the middle school, she said, and she liked the process in her earlier years there when a counselor would follow and work with a sixth-grade class of students as they progressed through seventh and eighth grades.
An eventual reduction in staff due to budget cuts meant that the counselors dealt directly with students from more than one grade.
Jahnke hopes to give more time to her sons and their families (including eight grandchildren) in her retirement, along with hobbies that include gardening and square dancing.
She also understands the commitment of a school board member, however; she previously served an appointed role in that capacity at a parochial school in Aberdeen.
“I want us to have strong schools in St. Francis,” Jahnke said.