November 13 – 15, 2022

Cragun’s Resort on Gull Lake  |  Brainerd, Minnesota

Join us as we celebrate the strength and impact of Greater Minnesota education and share practices and programs.

Early Bird Registration is open through August 15, 2022, for MREA members only. All meals are included for Sunday Awards Banquet through Tuesday breakfast!

Register for the Summit

MREA’s Greater Education Summit is the only conference in the state that brings together educators, administrators, school board members and other advocates across Greater Minnesota for quality professional development, networking, and career recognition.

“I had great conversations with a variety of professionals—superintendents, principals, teachers, school board members. I LOVE the professional energy in celebrating and learning from success!”


Summit Highlights

  • Kick-off Celebration & Awards Banquet honoring educators and the innovation we’re seeing in Greater Minnesota schools. Join us in person or via the livestream on Nov. 13.
  • Keynote Speakers on community as a place and overcoming adversity
  • 30+ Breakout Sessions on a variety of relevant topics for teachers, school administrators and school board members
  • Gallery Walk vendor showcase of best practices for schools today
  • Networking with education professionals next door and across the state
  • Northern Minnesota location that is restful, yet invigorating

4:00 pm Check-in Begins – Poolside
5:30 pm Social Hour – Event Centre
6:00 pm Awards Banquet – Event Centre
7:30 pm Dessert Reception – Poolside

7:00 am Breakfast – Main Dining Room
8:15 am Welcome and Opening Keynote – Event Centre
9:45 am Break – Event Centre
10:00 am Breakout Session 1
11:15 am Breakout Session 2
12:15 pm Lunch – Main Dining Room
1:30 pm Breakout Session 3
2:45 pm Break – Poolside
3:00 pm Mindstorm – Poolside
4:00 pm Legislative Session – Lakeshore 1-4
5:00 pm Gallery Walk Vendor Show & Light Dinner – Event Centre
7:00 pm Member Meetup – Poolside

7:00 am Breakfast – Main Dining Room
8:15 am Breakout Session 4
9:30 am Closing Session – Event Centre
10:30 am Closing, CEU pickup

ben_winchesterOpening Keynote – Ben Winchester, U of M Extension

Living in the Middle of Everywhere: Resident Recruitment in Rural America

Monday, November 14, 8:30 am

Bringing in new residents is vital to ensure the future of our rural communities. Studies of the motivations and factors related to rural workforce movers document a “brain gain” whereby people aged 30-60 have been moving to small towns and rural places since the 1970s, providing a re-invigoration of social, economic, and demographic life. This model incorporates research on community development, economic development, and tourism. Recruitment of residents is especially important in a tight labor market as now it’s not sufficient to show new potential residents the job, they must envision their life there. See how we live in the “Middle of Everywhere” across rural spaces during this session.


Ben has been working both in and for small towns across the Midwest for over 20 years. He lives in St. Cloud, Minnesota with his wife and two children. Ben is trained as a Rural Sociologist and works as a Senior Research Fellow for the University of Minnesota Extension, Center for Community Vitality. He conducts applied research on economic, social, and demographic topics surrounding a theme of “rewriting the rural narrative” that are vital to rural America.

Winchester received his B.A. in Mathematics and Statistics from the University of Minnesota, Morris (1995) and M.S. in Rural Sociology from the University of Missouri, Columbia (2001). He was a founding employee at the Center for Small Towns, an outreach and engagement program at the University of Minnesota, Morris and specializes in community development, demographic analysis, data visualization, and moving communities away from anecdata.


Closing Keynote – Curtis Slater, Co-Founder of TILL360

Are You Comfortable in Your Shoes?

Tuesday, November 15, 9:30 am

We all want to be part of a positive, nurturing, and welcoming environment at work. What role do we play in that journey? Each day we have the chance to make someone’s day a little brighter, but we can’t make that happen unless we have the energy and passion to build relationships with the people around us. Get ready to learn how a few small adjustments to your day can have a huge impact on those around you and ultimately…yourself!


Curt has had the pleasure to work in the U.S. public school system for the past 30 years. He has been a paraprofessional in a level 4 EBD program and began his teaching career as a sixth-grade teacher at Coon Rapids Middle School. He served for a year as dean of students at Anoka Middle School before becoming the Associate Principal at Princeton Middle School. He served as Associate Principal of Wayzata East Middle School from 2006-2015 before accepting the principal position at Wyoming Elementary.

Curt received an Administration Licensure from Saint Mary’s University in Minneapolis, MN; a Master of Education from Saint Mary’s University in Winona, MN; and a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Moorhead State University, Moorhead, MN.

Curt has trained over 800 schools around positive school culture, social/emotional learning, RTI, and MTSS frameworks and works with the University of Minnesota on the IM4 TIER 2 intervention System that supports staff and students.

He was the 2018 National Distinguished Principal of the Year for Minnesota when principal at Forest Lake Area Schools. He is a trainer, speaker, and coach who works with school systems around the country to support nurturing, caring, positive, engaging environments that support staff, students, families, and communities.

He is a co-founder of TILL360Consulting in Minneapolis. TILL360 works with school systems that support the whole child approach.

Session 1: 10-11 am, Monday, Nov 14

(101) Rural Districts: Education Policy & the Forgotten 20%

Breakout Room: Lakeshore 1

One in five students in the US attend schools in a rural locale. Further, over half of all operating regular school districts and about one-third of all public schools are in rural areas, which means that a substantial proportion of the country’s educational infrastructure serves rural students. However, the needs of rural schools and students are often overlooked by education policy. Join NWEA researchers as they discuss their research and the impact for rural educators and leaders in Minnesota.

Nate Jensen specializes in the application of student testing data to myriad questions of policy and practice. As director of NWEA’s Center for School & Student Progress, Dr. Jensen engages directly with school systems to influence educational practices and policies that promote student success and conducts rigorous research directly relevant to educators’ work. Before joining NWEA, he was a senior research associate in the Office for Education Policy at the University of Arkansas and a teacher at The New England Center for Children. Dr. Jensen holds a PhD in counselor education from the University of Arkansas.

(102) Moving In, Moving Out, and Moving Over: The Rural Housing Supply

Breakout Room: Lakeshore 2

There’s a wave of change coming to rural America during the next 20 years as people move in, out, and over, resulting in major demographic shifts that will forever change the face of rural communities which far-reaching consequences. Three-quarters of our owner-occupied housing will turn over as seniors and baby boomers move out, and then who moves in? Are we poised to welcome a whole new generation of residents? Join us for a broad examination of the trends related to these moves – such as workforce housing, a tight labor market, and changing residential preferences. At the end of this session you can’t say you don’t see it coming!

Ben Winchester University of MN Extension

(103) Boost Student Motivation with Data-Driven SEL

Breakout Room: Paul Bunyan 1

Learn how a data-driven social-emotional learning experience reduces costly student interventions and most importantly, increases student academic success. Insights shared by school leaders and students will help you accelerate your district’s ability to improve student motivation and well-being, beginning  with a highly personalized SEL program that helps students activate concepts for measurable growth. Find out how to bridge the gap between curriculum-only programs and one-to-one therapy. Best of all, explore how to increase equitable support to all students without additional staff hires or adding to the workload of current staff.

Katie Dorn, EmpowerU’s co-founder, is a highly experienced licensed K-12 School Counselor and therapist. After serving as a high school counselor in the western suburbs of Minneapolis, she opened a private practice as a therapist and worked at Adler Graduate school as adjunct faculty and a program director in the school counseling graduate program. She helped align curriculum with state standards and gathered data to measure program effectiveness and outcomes. A mother of seven grown children and a successful entrepreneur and author, Katie is a strategic thinker with an ability to connect and build functional and productive teams. Her passion for finding effective ways to help students and families with mental health obstacles fueled the beginning concept of EmpowerU in 2015.

(104) STEM Curriculum Within a MakerSpace Setting

Breakout Room: Lakeshore 4

A stand-alone MakerSpace classroom is every district's dream. Learn about the tools needed to implement STEM learning in a MakerSpace setting featuring tried-and-true techniques from Menahga school district. With hands-on problem-based learning and collaborative planning and design, the district grew its program from fifth grade only to a K-8 technology continuum.

Christine Lake teachers STEM/PLTW/Technology at Menahga Elementary School. An award-winning educator, she has 24+ years of teaching PreK - 6th grade and designed and created Menahga Elementary's MakerSpace program as well as secured grant support for the program.

Michelle Rinke Koch has been in education for 30+ years. She has taught both High School English and Elementary Grades and is currently Dean of Students and UNC Speech Coach at Menahga Public Schools. Michelle has a passion for connecting students to the excitement of questioning and learning, especially with MakerSpaces and STEAM programs, and is committed to fostering meaningful relationships with students, staff and all stakeholders.

(105) Support Students Who Are Transgender

Breakout Room: Lakeshore 3

Every student deserves to learn in a safe and supportive environment. This includes creating a school climate that respects and affirms gender diversity so that all students, regardless of their gender identity, feel welcome at school. Here is a terrific opportunity for rural educators and leaders to learn about the issues and concerns faced today by your students who are transgender. In this session, review the legal landscape surrounding issues with gender diversity and get practical guidance and suggestions for ways to collaboratively create a supportive environment for transgender students.

Kristi Hastings is an attorney and partner at the Fergus Falls office of Pemberton Law. Her practice areas include representing public entities (school, city, county, and township employers), handling complex employment litigation, human resources support, negotiating collective bargaining agreements on behalf of public employers, defending public entities in litigation matters, as well as handling the myriad of issues that face public employers daily. Kristi is a Board-Certified Labor and Employment Law Specialist by the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Josh Heggem, partner at Pemberton Law in Fergus Falls, is a Board-Certified Labor and Employment Law Specialist by the Minnesota State Bar Association. Workplace investigations have been a significant niche within his practice and he has completed well over 150 investigations and presently conducts at least two per month. He also has a great deal of experience handling labor negotiations on behalf of employers, conducting workplace trainings, and advising employers on the myriad of issues they encounter daily, including contract issues, medical leaves, wage and hour, workplace misconduct, and employee separation issues.

(106) Free Hugs: Therapy Dogs and Student Wellbeing

Breakout Room: Paul Bunyan 2

Therapy dog teams are becoming more popular as an in-school therapy service offered by licensed school counselors and social workers during times of crisis and to help students manage their well-being. Discover how the seasoned therapy dog team at Morris Area Schools helps teach empathy and interpersonal skills, reduce undesirable behaviors, and improve social skills and student attendance. Join the session and learn about therapy dog team training, animal-assisted activities, and information regarding the proposal, school board policy, and approval process. Therapy Dogs Hank and Mercer will co-present.

Tammy P. Roth, LSC is a licensed school counselor from Morris and obtained her school counseling degree from North Dakota State University. Tammy and her work partners Therapy Dog Mercer and Therapy Dog Hank work for Morris Area School District and have provided volunteer services to college students, senior citizens, hospice patients, library patrons, and area schools. Tammy was recognized as a 1998 Elementary School Counselor of the Year and 2009 Multi-level School Counselor of the Year. She has served on boards for West Central Counselors Association, Minnesota School Counselors Association, and Central Lakes United - Education Minnesota, and currently is a board member with Minnesota Rural Education Association. 

Therapy Dog Mercer and Therapy Dog Hank are registered and certified therapy dogs. Mercer is a retired drug dog in his second career and has been providing therapy dog team services to the region since 2013. His son Hank, the pick-of-the-litter pup, has helped provide animal-assisted activities since 2017. Mercer and Hank are the work partners of licensed school counselor, Tammy P. Roth and share therapy dog services at Morris Area Elementary School.

(107) Demystify Arts Standards for Leaders

Breakout Room: Paul Bunyan 3

Is your district ready for 2023-2024 implementation of the new Minnesota Academic Standards in the Arts—dance, media arts, music, theater, and visual arts? Learn about the statutes related to K-12 Arts education, changes from the current (2008) Arts standards, and resources and no-cost implementation support available from Perpich Center for Arts Education. More than a “sit and git,” you’ll experience first-hand the grade-level benchmarks and develop awareness of the learning required in the new standards. 

Jeremy Holien started his career teaching visual art in Hibbing but spent most of his career teaching visual and media arts and serving as the Arts Department Coordinator for Northfield Public Schools. He has taught all age levels PK-adult and has served Perpich Center as the State Visual & Media Arts Education Specialist since 2009. Holien’s work and leadership has been honored with awards from TIES, Arts Educators of Minnesota, School of Art Leaders, and Public Broadcasting System (PBS). Most recently, he was appointed Director of the National Art Education Association’s 2020 Conference, the world’s largest visual art education conference.

Wendy Barden, Ph.D. joined Professional Development and Resource Programs at Perpich Center for Arts Education in 2018. She began teaching instrumental and general music at Osseo Area Schools and then served 21 years as the district K-12 Music Coordinator. Through the years, Wendy has been honored as a Yamaha National Mentor Teacher, Yale Distinguished Music Educator, and member of Phi Beta Mu. In 2014, Dr. Barden was inducted into the MMEA Hall of Fame. 

(108) Leading Change

Breakout Room: Paul Bunyan 4

Learn the stages of the change curve through an experiential lens as well as through the lens of the leader. Focusing on how people experience change and identifying predictable stages people will move through is a valuable topic for leaders trying to move the needle in a positive direction. Pick up clear directives for how to best assist others through change as well as techniques to sustain the progress made.

Jenna Fromm is the CEO of Palmer Bus Service. She earned her school bus license in high school and drove bus her senior year. Jenna graduated summa cum laude from Bethel College, was tenured with Anoka Hennepin, and earned a Master's Degree in Educational Leadership. She stepped into a leadership role with Palmer Bus Service in 2015 and sees herself as a servant/leader, believing that surrounding herself with great people is of utmost importance.

(109) Property Taxes & Your TNT Hearing

Breakout Room: Dutch

School districts must present statutorily required items at their annual "Truth In Taxation" public hearing. Find out more about these required items along with property tax base make-up, property valuations and an overview of the property tax events throughout the year.

Jodie Zesbaugh is a Senior Municipal Advisor who joined Ehlers’ Education Finance Team in 2009. She previously served 15 years as the Director of Financial Operations for the South Washington County School District. Her first-hand knowledge of district financial operations gives her unique insight into referendum planning, tax impacts and debt issuance for education projects.

Aaron Bushberger is a Municipal Advisor with Ehlers’ Minnesota Education Team, bringing more than 16 years’ school finance experience to his role with the firm. He worked for seven years as the Director of Finance for South St. Paul Public Schools and served as the Finance Director for South Washington County Schools prior to that, giving him a keen analytical background to help districts drive projects toward successful completion.

(110) Diversify Your Educator Workforce

Breakout Room: Pioneer

Diversifying the educator workforce is critical to close racialized gaps in student educational outcomes and improve the longevity of teachers in the workforce. This session will provide educators with an understanding of why the educator workforce needs to be diversified, a comprehensive theory of action for how to accomplish this, and practical insights to implement various diversification strategies based on interviews with fellow Minnesota educators.

Katie Pekel, EdD, is the Principal in Residence at the University of Minnesota where she leads the Minnesota Principals Academy, an executive development program for school leaders; the Executive PhD program; and the Urban Leadership Academy. Dr. Pekel has served at all levels of K-12 education including as a high school English teacher, an elementary principal, and a middle school principal. She has collaborated with Dr. Muhammad Khalifa in the development of the Culturally Responsive School Leadership Academy and Dr. Kim Gibbons on numerous research-to-practice presentations and projects. 

Katie Baskin is the Director of Teaching and Learning for Austin Public Schools, connecting the district’s the strategic vision to the K-12 departments’ curriculum and instructional practices. Katie works closely with Principals, Instructional Coaches and Technology Integrationists to ensure professional learning directly supports site operational plans and aligns with strategic directions for Austin Public Schools. Katie has served at all levels of K-12 education and is currently working toward her PhD in Organizational Leadership and Policy Development at the University of Minnesota.

Session 2: 11:15 am-12:15 pm, Monday, Nov 14

(201) MREA Advocacy in Action

Breakout Room: Lakeshore 1

Sam Walseth Capitol Hill Associates

(202) The Post-Pandemic Future of Rural Education

Breakout Room: Lakeshore 2

Is a return to the pre-coronavirus state of rural education possible? Or even desirable? What are the advantages and challenges to going back to how things used to be – or going forwards? Learn about the future of rural education coming out of the pandemic and moving towards a more flexible education system.

Dr. Allen Pratt has served as executive director of the National Rural Education Association for five years. He has also served as a high school science teacher and coach, high school principal, assistant superintendent/curriculum director, executive director of the Tennessee Rural Education Association, executive director of the East Tennessee Center of Regional Excellence for the Tennessee Department of Education, and rural outreach liaison for Lincoln Memorial University. His primary interests include issues that impact rural schools and the role of instructional leaders at the district and building levels. He is also involved at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga School of Education and Educational Leadership. His current work focuses on providing a unified voice for rural schools and communities. His work in the past has been in the areas of workforce development, school reform, professional learning communities, and rural education initiatives.

(203) Use AI to Transform Ag Labs

Breakout Room: Paul Bunyan 1

Learn how to help your CTE teacher offer advance courses by becoming a certified Curriculum Ag Science Education (CASE) educator. The certification includes curriculum resources and classroom techniques to transform traditional lab courses into technologically advanced skill-based skills where students will experience equipment artificial intelligence trouble shooting maintenance project-based learning.

Keith Olander is Executive Director of AgCentric-Minnesota State with 28 years of agricultural education teaching experience and an administrator, farmer, and lifetime resident of rural Minnesota. He has been the Lead PI of more than 20 curriculum and crop research grant projects in, leader of Minnesota Farm Business Management, and 2021 inductee to the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame.

Carl Aakre has over 25 years of high school teaching and curriculum development and training. He is Assistant Director of Curriculum for Ag Science Education (CASE) and has worked at secondary and post-secondary levels to deploy curriculum to advance student competency. 

(204) Beauty & the Beast: Tales of Co-Teaching

Breakout Room: Lakeshore 4

When a special education teacher and a general education teacher team together in the classroom, they multiply each other’s strengths while increasing student academic achievement. Join this session to explore successful strategies by the SPED teacher and the GenED teacher to  dance smoothly together while co-teaching. Behind every Beauty (pros) and Beast (cons), are co-teachers who believe in working together to assist students to achieve more! Never judge co-teaching by its cover.

Dr. Wendy Schoolmeester, Ed.D., is in her 35th year as an educator. She began as an elementary teacher, moved to the elementary principalship, then took a leap of faith switching to higher education. Wendy is in her 20th year as a Professor of Education at Southwest MN State University (SMSU) in Marshall where she enthusiastically shares her education passion with teacher candidates while mentoring them to become top-notch teachers. Wendy served as a school board member for 5 years serving as the Chairperson her last 3 years. She is the co-author of POWERFUL Teaching (2019 Kendall-Hunt Publishing) and other journal articles. Find her at, a blog she pens with her colleague.

Jamie Juhl, M.A., is currently an Assistant Professor of Special Education at the University of Sioux Falls where she started in August of 2019, teaching and mentoring future teachers to better understand the exceptional children population. Leading up to her position at USF, Jamie was employed at Pipestone Area Schools for 8 years as 3rd grade teacher, Special Education teacher, and Special Education Assessment Coordinator. She also taught for 2 years at an Idaho charter school. She has been a mentor/coach for several Community Expert Special Education teachers and provides workshops on adapting lessons to meet the needs of Special Education students. 

(205) Cultivate Respectful Workplaces

Breakout Room: Lakeshore 3

Educators strive to create a positive learning experience for students by promoting a school climate where all students feel welcome. It is equally important that staff feel respected in the workplace and model the expected behaviors we want to see from our students. This session will focus on providing tips for responding to workplace gossip, addressing concerns with coworkers, celebrating diverse perspectives, and learning to recognize legal concerns that often arise in the workplace, such as hostile work environment, defamation, and retaliation claims.

Kristi Hastings, Attorney, is a partner at the Fergus Falls office of Pemberton Law, and her practice areas include representing public entities (school, city, county, and township employers), handling complex employment litigation, human resources support, negotiating collective bargaining agreements on behalf of public employers, defending public entities in litigation matters, as well as handling the myriad of issues that face public employers daily. Kristi is a Board-Certified Labor and Employment Law Specialist by the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Joshua Heggem, partner at Pemberton Law in Fergus Falls, is a Board-Certified Labor and Employment Law Specialist by the Minnesota State Bar Association. He has completed well over 150 workplace investigations and presently conducts at least two per month. He also has a great deal of experience handling labor negotiations on behalf of employers, conducting workplace trainings, and advising employers on the myriad of issues they encounter daily, including contract issues, medical leaves, wage and hour, workplace misconduct, and employee separation issues.

(206) Fill Your Students' Opportunity Buckets

Breakout Room: Paul Bunyan 2

Recognizing the need to establish a new normal, Walker-Hackensack-Akeley School District has developed multiple strands that provide rich experiences and opportunities for student success. Their plan maximizes the time available, works with community partners, and promotes the overall growth and betterment of students. Learn about their needs assessment, work to establish programs, initiatives, and support, and the tangible results and lessons thus far.

Brian Dietz, Walker-Hackensack-Akeley Schools Superintendent, has been a superintendent for 16 years  in both rural and the metro areas of Minnesota and Southern California. He is a member of the AVID National Superintendent's Collaborative, a trainer for AVID, and a member of the Foundation Board. During my career, he and his teams have successfully passed multiple capital bonds worth $120 million in renovations, new builds, and space reimagining; they have also passed multiple operational levies to support and activate services and initiatives

Jill McGowan, Walker-Hackensack-Akeley Schools Elementary Principal, Jill has been a leader in implementing High Reliability Schools (Marzano Framework) into the culture of the building and District.    Prior to her time here, she served as an instructional coach with the Wayzata School District as well as an elementary teacher. 

(207) Tending to Tomorrow's Teachers

Breakout Room: Dutch

The national teacher shortage is worsening as attrition rates accelerate. More than ever, schools and students need an avenue to develop, recruit, and retain quality teachers. Additionally, diversifying teacher demographics to reflect the student body will provide a more equitable educational experience for all. Examine how a concurrent enrollment Introduction to Education class empowers schools and students by creating a pathway into the profession and fostering favorable perceptions about education.

Cody Shaffer is a high school English Language Arts teacher in Pelican Rapids, Minnesota and is an instructor for the College Now program through Southwest Minnesota State University. His philosophy as an educator is driven by the goal of empowering public education, thereby providing an equitable opportunity for every student in every classroom. In addition to classroom teaching, Cody supports his students by serving in a variety of coaching/advising roles.

Dr. Kandy Noles Stevens is a teacher education professor at Southwest Minnesota State University where she has the joy of daily sharing her love of teaching and learning. Dr. Kandy has been an advocate for science, STEM, and outdoor education for the bulk of her career, particularly creating environments where all students feel included and valued in these spaces. She works tirelessly to extend that advocacy to creating pathways to teaching among all students, especially for rural areas. Dr. Noles Stevens is also a regional best-selling author, national motivational speaker, and active community volunteer.

(208) Managing Board Meetings in Polarized Times

Breakout Room: Paul Bunyan 3

With today’s polarized political environment, School Board meetings are frequently becoming a space for members of the public to speak and air their opinions regarding many issues affecting school districts. This presentation will cover tips and strategies that school districts can use to effectively manage their board meetings.

Jay T. Squires is a founding shareholder of Rupp, Anderson, Squires & Waldspurger, P.A. Jay received his B.A. degree from the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and his J.D. degree from William Mitchell College of Law. Prior to founding RASW, Jay was an associate and shareholder at Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney, P.A. Jay represents school districts, counties and cities throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin in the areas of general municipal and school law, real estate, land use and zoning, condemnation, construction disputes, and municipal litigation, including appellate work. He has argued over 50 cases to Minnesota's Appellate Courts and is a Real Property Specialist certified by the Minnesota State Bar Association and  licensed to practice in both federal and state courts in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

(209) Tackle Substitute Shortage Through Grow Your Own

Breakout Room: Dutch

Learn about strategic opportunities to help tackle the substitute shortage every district and school is  experiencing. This is Byron Schools’ 7th year offering an internship program in collaboration with Winona State University providing guaranteed substitutes for the second semester of every school year with a guaranteed weekly stipend and one University graduate credit taught by district staff. Over the past five years, the district has hired 11 internship students. Leave this session with a strategic plan for a similar Grow Your Own Program. 

Amanda Durnen, EdD serves as the principal at Byron Primary School. She obtained an Education Specialist degree in K-12 Administration from Winona State University in 2011 and 10 years later earned an Educational Doctoral Degree in Organizational Leadership. Researching preservice teacher preparation programs, including Grow Your Own models of strategic practice, is an area of passion for her. Amanda currently supports the Winona State University/Byron Public School Internship experience as a graduate instructor and program coordinator. 

Jessica Denter serves as the Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment for Byron Public Schools. After obtaining a Masters of Arts in Literacy Education from Hamline University, Jessica served as a reading specialist and instructional coach for 7 years. She earned her Education Specialist degree in K-12 Administration from Minnesota State University, Mankato in 2017. Developing great teachers who will make a positive impact on students is a core value of hers. Jessica currently supports the Winona State University/Byron Public School Internship experience as a graduate instructor and program coordinator.

(210) Referendums: Don’t Go It Alone

Breakout Room: Pioneer

Is it possible for a rural Minnesota district, with no operating referendum and a small group of advocates, to pass a referendum for additional student funding? Yes, it is. Embark on a multi-year effort, build a reservoir of public trust,  and win at the polls. Think November 2023 and begin planning now. We will offer seven key learnings and a year-long community engagement plan.

Dr. Nate Rudolph became superintendent of the Cambridge-Isanti Schools August 2019 and led the district through $4.5 million in budget reductions, two referendums and the pandemic response. He previously served the Sauk Rapids-Rice Public Schools for 19 years as teacher, elementary principal, and middle school principal. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Southwest Minnesota State University and Doctor of Education in Educational Administration and Leadership from St. Cloud State University. He is an active member of Rotary and Chamber of Commerce, sits on the Cambridge Medical Center and Falcon National Bank Boards and the State MSDLAF+ Board of Trustees.

Dr. Fred Nolan, President of E & F Services, served a total of 15 years as Superintendent of Eden-Valley Watkins and Foley and most recently was the Executive Director of the Minnesota Rural Education Association (MREA) for 9 years. Previously he had been a teacher, elementary principal and for 9 years Isanti Middle School principal in the Cambridge-Isanti School District. He earned a BA at Macalester College, a Master's Degree at Tri College University and Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota. He is currently working to start a Bluejacket Education Foundation in Cambridge-Isanti and assisting districts improve their education, equity, and efficiency.

Janet Swiecichowski, APR brings more than 25 years of experience in school-community relations, including leading eight referendum campaigns in four different school districts. She is a regular presenter at the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) Annual conference (19 years and counting) and is accredited in public relations. She earned her bachelor’s degree in communications and secondary education at Marquette University, a master’s in strategic communications from the University of Minnesota and is a doctoral candidate in Organizational Change and Leadership at the Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California.

Session 3: 1:30-2:45 pm, Monday, Nov 14

(301) PANEL: Rural Homelessness Awareness and Identification

Breakout Room: Lakeshore 3

Learn to identify several types of youth homelessness, better understand related learning challenges, and become aware of how wrap-around services can benefit your school community and youth experiencing homelessness. Discuss factors contributing to youth homelessness, the experiences to which they are vulnerable, and resources on providing timely intervention.

Roberto Reyes, Minnesota Department of Education State Homeless Coordinator McKinney-Vento has extensive experience working with vulnerable/homeless children for non-profit, county and state organizations including Ramsey County, New York City Department of Education and now MDE.

Beth Loechler, MDE Education Specialist, has a background in public administration with a career in strategic development focused on inter-agency collaboration and wrap-around services in both rural and urban Minnesota communities. She currently manages ARP funding for Minnesota districts who serve youth currently experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

(302) Develop Future Talent Through Community Partnerships

Breakout Room: Lakeshore 2

The Bemidji Career Academies were created in 2016 to build student learning opportunities with  business and industry partners and prepare students to succeed as the next generation of employees and community leaders. With 15 academies and 22 career pathways offered, students can earn an academy medallion to wear at graduation. First, however, they must complete relevant high school courses and a quality real-world experience with paid internships and community mentorship. The program has 600 students registered! Learn more about the current program and the process to get a program started in Greater Minnesota high schools.

 Brian Stefanich has been an administrator for the past 22 years and is currently the Bemidji Career Academy Director and Solway Elementary School principal. He served as the principal at Bemidji High School from 2009-2018. Brian earned his degree from Bemidji State University and St. Cloud State University. He has served as the Sunrise Rotary President and on numerous leadership and foundation boards including Northwest Technical College and received Principal of the Year honors for the Northern Division in 2016. 

Jenny Fraley is a licensed school counselor at Bemidji High School for the 9th grade and Bemidji Career Academies. Prior to the career academy she was a school counselor at Bagley High School implementing career exploration curriculum for students grades 7-12. Jenny is passionate about her local community and connecting students to hands on experiences, especially within Greater Minnesota. 

(303) Social Emotional Learning Done Well

Breakout Room: Lakeshore 1

The social and emotional needs of students and staff are a top priority, and school leaders are seeking solutions that create immediate impact, and at the same time, are sustainable. This session will identity 10 proven components of social and emotional learning and provide a process for implementing SEL in your building. Reflect on and assess existing elements and create a plan of practical steps for moving forward. 

Eileen Weber is a District Strategy Partner at Sourcewell, where she partners with school district leadership teams to support their continuous improvement efforts. Before joining Sourcewell, Eileen was a teacher, school administrator, regional teaching and learning coordinator, and statewide Principal Leadership Specialist with Minnesota’s Regional Centers of Excellence.

Lisa Worden is an education consultant at Sourcewell, where much of her work centers around social and emotional learning, trauma informed care, and mental health and wellness. She is a SEED facilitator and certified Youth Mental Health First Aid trainer. Lisa’s background includes classroom teacher (grades 3-6), gifted education, and post-secondary instruction.

(304) CTE Outcomes: Equity, Retention, & Success

Breakout Room: Lakeshore 4

High school Career and Tech Ed programs in Minnesota have been effective at boosting job security and wages among males without postsecondary credentials, especially those enrolled in skilled trades related CTE. However, this is not always the case for female students. This session will document the mechanisms that influence CTE student outcomes and discuss ways in which CTE programming can be improved to increase female participation and achieve greater equity. The session will also discuss outcomes in strategic CTE pathways in Greater Minnesota (skilled trades and healthcare, among others) and quantitative evidence of high school CTE’s role in improving workforce retention in Greater Minnesota.

Alessia Leibert, Research Project Manager, has been with DEED’s Labor Market Information office for 15 years. Besides leading the Hiring Difficulties surveys (aka Skills Gaps Surveys), she has developed popular online tools such as Graduate Employment Outcomes and Occupations in Demand and writes regularly for Trends magazine. Alessia is also an expert in the analysis of secondary and postsecondary students’ data to measure the effect of credential attainment and major on employment and earnings. She has a Bachelor's degree in economic history from the University of Rome, Italy, and a Master's in public affairs from the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota.

(305) Exercise Students' Critical and Creative Thinking

Breakout Room: Paul Bunyan 1

Wouldn’t it be nice if we sent our students into the world with problem solving tools? Learn about a six-step process that teaches creative and critical thinking tools that can be applied to ANY challenge, big or small. This process teaches kids HOW to think, not what to think. Learning critical and creative thinking skills, students will have the tools needed to create their own positive futures in a global society --  a future of hope by the choices they make instead of the consequences of circumstances. Teams of 4-5 participants will explore how diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) are critical elements for our students’ success. Participants will consider a scenario that is focused on DEIB; brainstorm Challenges; focus on the Underlying Problem while brainstorming Solutions; apply Criteria to the top Solution ideas; and lay the foundation for an Action Plan.

Cheryl Whitesitt is the Executive Director of the Minnesota Future Problem Solving Program (FPSP) and has been teaching critical and creative thinking skills to students and adults since 1985. She’s a certified evaluator at the State and International levels and serves on the International FPSP Governing Council. Having served 15 years on her local school board, the MREA Board, MREA Legislative Action Committee, and the Hiawatha Valley Education District, she is able to see the challenges facing both teachers and administration.

(306) Debunk Stigmas of Trade and 2-Year Pathways

Breakout Room: Pioneer

Two-year college/career pathways are not just for “those types of students,” as students on “both ends of the building” enjoy meaningful and fulfilling careers in the trades. This presentation will feature no-nonsense discussion about stigmas surrounding 2-year college and career pathways including job market outlook, earning potential, scholarships, and real-life success stories. Attendees will also receive digital access to career exploration opportunities, college pathways, and scholarship resource libraries.

Judy Barka is the AgCentric - Northern Center of Agricultural Excellence Assistant Director. Before joining AgCentric she worked in a variety of non-profit services organizations. In these organizations she served as agency director, volunteer coordinator and fundraiser. Judy is a graduate of MARL – MN Agriculture and Rural Leadership Program. She has served as President of the MN FFA Alumni association and continue to be active in the organization.

Steven Hoemberg is Director of Outreach for MN State Transportation Center of Excellence. He has been with the TCOE for three years focusing on career education in schools and building connections with post-secondary and secondary students. He has a background in education having spent 16 years in the Staples-Motley school district. 

(307) Transform School Climate and Culture

Breakout Room: Paul Bunyan 3

The 11 Principles provide educators with a framework to build a character education program that will help transform the culture and climate of their schools so students feel safe, respected, and connected and thrive academically and socially. Learn how one nationally recognized PreK–12 school applied and benefitted from the framework and discover how to make that happen in your school. 

Barb Bergseth is the coordinator of the Minnesota Schools of Character and Promising Practices Award program, administered by Synergy & Leadership Exchange, a nonprofit program connected with the South Central Service Cooperative in North Mankato.

Sadie Fischer is the Communications and Community Engagement Specialist at Community of Peace Academy, a PreK–Grade 12 charter school in St. Paul. Community of Peace Academy is a three-time National School of Character. 

(308) Use a Trimester Schedule for Secondary School Improvement

Breakout Room: Paul Bunyan 4

Over the past twenty years the trimester schedule has become very prominent, allowing for all the benefits of block scheduling without the built-in problems. They are a vehicle for the school improvement process and foster creativity and flexibility. With all the positives in the time structure, the real benefits are in the guidelines and policies that make the time structure work to its full advantage. Other major benefits are the curriculum alignment and the ability for students to take courses over in the same year.  Learn how the policies and practices that surround the schedule help to provide cultural changes in the school.

Mark Westerburg, Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial Schools Superintendent of Schools is a new superintendent in MN and has been a superintendent previously in MT, CA, and MI. He is in his 40th year of education has presented in 25 states on the use of trimesters in secondary schools. He is passionate about helping others to do real school improvement regardless of the size, demographics, or type of school they represent. 

(309) Managing Threats of Violence

Breakout Room: Paul Bunyan 2

With daily in-person operations in Minnesota schools now resumed, it is vital to review and refresh your knowledge on school safety protocols. With a focus on preparedness and planning, you'll get guidance on how to assess and manage risks of harm to your school community. This may include ideas on how to update safety protocols, improving on reporting and identification processes for threatening situation with a focus on prevention instead of just response, and best practices for a safe environment.

Jennifer Larrive is School Resource Officer Coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. She has been with the MN School Safety Center since May of 2017 and brings a range of experience as a former law enforcement officer and a school resource officer. She served as a police officer for over 15 years, 10 of those as a school resource officer. She is passionate about her role with K-12 schools across the state to support their emergency planning efforts through best practices in emergency response, comprehensive facility assessments and multi-hazard mitigation.

Connie Forster joined the MN School Safety Center in June 2017 as the Facility Assessment Coordinator and conducts training, facility assessments, and crisis plan reviews to create and maintain safe school environments in partnership with schools and public safety officials. Connie is a retired Assistant Fire Chief and a former teacher. Her 20 years in the fire service focused primarily on community risk reduction, prevention program development, and fostering community partnerships for greater public impact. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education and a Masters of Public Administration.

Session 4: 8:15-9:15 am, Tuesday, Nov 15

(401) Restorative Practices as a Community Initiative

Breakout Room: Lakeshore 1-2

Learning and practicing the restorative practice ways and philosophies together provides a safe and nurturing school environment for students, parents, and community members.

Connie Hyde, Principal with the Cloquet Area Alternative Education Program, has worked in education for 33 years. The last 21 years have been as an administrator for k-12 education. For the past 6 years, Connie has coordinated MDE Restorative Practices training for northern MN educators and implemented training in organizational adaptation to Restorative Practices for administrators and educators. She has also co facilitated RP trainings with Marg Thorsborn of Sydney Australia, author, and presenter of restorative practices. Her current school was the recipient of the 2018 Alternative Education School of the Year for MN based on the work the staff and students of CAAEP have accomplished utilizing and sharing the Restorative Practices in their school and outreach to other schools and districts interested in bringing RP to their schools and districts.

Dave Perry, Cloquet School District Restorative Practices coordinator, has been working in public education for over 20 years. He is currently working at CAAEP as the RP coordinator, special education teacher and Social Studies teacher with a master's degree in education and is a published author. He has been a presenter on Restorative Practices for MDE trainings in northern MN for the past five years and regularly travels to other schools and districts to train staff interested in the RP process for their schools.

Laraine Mickelson has over 25 years of experience in the field of Conflict Management and Restorative Practices and has designed, implemented and written policy for a variety of programs including full-spectrum Integrated Conflict Management Systems for the State of Minnesota and Restorative Justice programs for state and county agencies including juvenile diversion programs. Within education she specializes in whole-school implementation, training in school conferencing, mediation, and circle as well as consulting on topics of bullying and staff conflict. Laraine has been awarded the MN Dept. of Corrections Person of the Year, Carlton County Restorative Justice Volunteer of the Year, and is a co-recipient of the Minnesota Corrections Association President’s award.

(402) Know the Community Impact of Rising Property Valuations

Breakout Room: Paul Bunyan 1

Increasing home prices in recent years are leading to rapidly rising assessments on residential property across the state. Rising property valuations will impact tax levies, equalization formulas and the distribution of property taxes. At annual truth in taxation meetings and throughout referendum campaigns, school district leaders have a responsibility to communicate the impact of changing property tax levies. This session will equip school leaders with the knowledge to understand the impact of rising valuations so that they can effectively have this conversation in their communities. 

Michael Hart is a Director of Public Finance in Minnesota for PMA Securities. He has over ten years' experience in public finance including leading school districts through the financial aspects of bond issues and referendums for both capital projects and operating funds and holds Series 7, 50, 53, 54 and 63 FINRA licenses. 

Steve Pumper, Vice President at PMA Financial Network, joined the organization in 2009. Prior to joining PMA, Steve worked as a school business manager in Minnesota schools for 22 years. He brings experience developing services that are beneficial to school districts. Steve is a Registered Representative with FINRA and holds his series 7, 50 and 63 securities licenses.

(403) Craft K12 Computer Science Pathways in Rural Schools

Breakout Room: Paul Bunyan 2

Details coming

Jennifer Rosato College of St. Scholastica

(404) Create Windows and Mirrors for All Students

Breakout Room: Paul Bunyan 3

 A common assumption in rural communities is, “We don’t have a lot of (fill in the blank) students here, so diversity, equity and inclusion work doesn’t always apply.” It may really be that the diversity that exists in rural communities isn’t always visible. Recognizing the many identities that currently exist, as well as those who might join our communities, is imperative to creating inclusive school environments for all. This session will explore what inclusivity looks like in perceived homogeneity, tools to spark the conversation, and strategies for creating windows and mirrors for all students.

Rachel Logan is an Equity and Inclusion Consultant at Sourcewell, serving mostly rural school districts in Central Minnesota. Before her consultant role Rachel was a classroom teacher (K-6) and literacy coach in Minnesota, North Dakota, and Texas. She is a nationally trained SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) facilitator and has presented for a variety of state and national conferences including AASA, MAAP, MASBO, MCTE, MREA, MSBA, MSCA, and the VT Higher Education Collaborative. Her undergraduate degree is from Concordia College, Moorhead; she earned her Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction and K-12 Reading License from Concordia University, St. Paul.

(405) 2022 Educators of Excellence Panel: Rural Teacher Leadership

Breakout Room: Lakeshore 3-4

Join this year’s Educators of Excellence for a discussion and insights on teaching and living in rural communities, their challenges, and the direction in which they see headed the future of rural public education.

Cragun’s Resort on Gull Lake (Summit site)

We are thrilled to welcome attendees to Cragun’s Resort on beautiful Gull Lake. Cragun’s has been updating rooms and cabins to provide an exceptional experience for all guests. Register early to ensure on-site lodging!

Bringing a team? Cragun’s has great options for groups of attendees who want to have common areas for socialization with separate sleeping spaces.

11000 Craguns Drive
Brainerd, Minnesota 56401

Room Rate: $84 per night

The lodging reservation link with MREA’s preferred rooming rate will be provided after completing Summit registration.

Member registration for only the Gallery Walk Vendor Showcase (without a full conference registration) on Monday, November 14 opens August 16. Non-member registration opens September 1. Come back soon for details!

Thanks to these Presenting Members:


Empowering Members:

Creatively Focused     |     JLG Architects     |     Kraus-Anderson