by Cori Hilsgen
Diane Moeller is saying “goodbye” and “thank you” to Kennedy Community School and St. Joseph.
Moeller’s official last day was June 7, the last day of the school year.
“It was an incredibly difficult day for me,” Moeller said. “Saying good-bye to the student body was too hard, I cried. Saying good-bye to the staff after the buses left – again, I broke down. I love this school, all the kids and families. The staff is like my family. Leaving is an incredibly emotional experience for me.”
If it were easy to walk away, then the experience would have been meaningless, she said, adding it is good to sometimes cry and experience sadness.
“It says it was a great job,” Moeller said.
Moeller will miss everything about Kennedy – the children, staff and families. She loves being around the children – they give purpose to the work. The camaraderie of the staff was fun – they work hard and play hard. Many of the families and Moeller have been through a lot together. She has come to call many of them friends.
She never felt like it was a job, because she loved the people she was with every day. She wants to say “thank you” to the students and staff for giving her that.
“I love everything about my role as principal with you,” Moeller said. “It’s a calling inside of me to serve in a larger capacity, to help our district with a big achievement gap and to help all our students learn and be able to graduate.”
Leaving the school has been a difficult decision, but Moeller said she feels she can work for the good of the school in a larger way. She doesn’t think her new position will be better than being principal at Kennedy, but rather it will be different.
She also wants to thank the city.
“The support this community has shown not only me, but the entire Kennedy community, has been instrumental to our success,” Moeller said.
She said things such as the St. Joseph Area Chamber of Commerce members welcoming her, the partnership formed with the colleges of St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict, the many businesses who allowed students to learn by taking field trips, the friends at the monastery, the police and fire departments have all shown that St. Joseph encompasses what a community can do to support the school.
Moeller said the new school would never have been built, and built “green,” if it hadn’t been for the citizens of St. Joseph who said at a meeting in 2006 they would support a new building if it was built green.
When the referendum passed, the district kept their word and built it as an award-winning green school.
This past year Moeller left Kennedy for four months to accept another position in the district.
Dave Earp filled in as principal, but when he retired in April. Moeller completed the school year covering both positions.
Moeller said the process is in place to find a new principal, but she is still at Kennedy until a replacement is named. She will be directing summer school, getting staff ready for the next year, doing the schedules and many of the other duties she has performed in the past.
“I’m hoping to have all this in place for the new person,” Moeller said.
Moeller has been doing both jobs since April 1 and said Kennedy staff is amazing. They work hard and go above and beyond what they need to do. The staff at the district office also helps. With that kind of support in both positions she said she could make it work.
“I also made lots of lists of details and worked some pretty long days – still am actually,” Moeller said. “There is a lot to do in both worlds.”
Some of Moeller’s most rewarding experiences at Kennedy, she said, were any time the students and staff gathered or any event that brought all the families together. She said she always feels a sense of pride seeing people have a good time together and always feels rewarded when the staff comes together for the children. For her, it’s rewarding to see that strong network.
“I love seeing the positive climate,” Moeller said.
In spite of the growth of St. Joseph, Moeller feels it’s still a tight-knit city.
One moment that stands out for her, she said, was when the entire school went to the corn field to break ground for the new school. Seeing the buses drive up with children eager to see where their new school would be, having children from each grade dig with a gold shovel, getting to dig the first hole herself with a backhoe were very rewarding experiences.
“Then to work incredibly hard for the next year-and-a-half to that rewarding opening of the new school – indeed a highlight of my career,” Moeller said.
Challenges during her time at Kennedy, she said, included any time the resources didn’t stretch to meet the needs or class sizes were larger than she agreed with. She said funding formulas working the way they do tied her hands.
“I feel frustrated when staff, parents and others come to me to try to convince me the classes are too large,” Moeller said. “I get it, and feel frustrated to be operating out of my belief system.”
Other challenges, she said, were when she and staff faced some challenging student needs. She said sometimes it takes a long time to figure out what works and that is hard.
“I also see the urgency on the part of the parent, and that creates a challenge for me personally as well,” Moeller said.
She said she grew in many ways during her years as principal. The biggest change was she realized she could empower others to be leaders.
She also grew in how to deal with behavior issues. She discovered the “cookbook” approach did not work for her. Moeller learned each child had unique needs and maybe needed some different approaches.
“Overall, I think it was effective,” Moeller said. “We get many compliments on our Kennedy students’ behavior. If a child could learn from a mistake by visiting with me, I felt successful.”
When Moeller began her career at Kennedy in 1999, it was a kindergarten through fourth-grade school with about 220 students. Pre-school was added and then fifth- and sixth-grade was brought back. Within a few years, portable classrooms were added.
The town grew and the school ran out of space. St. Joseph supported the building of a new school which served pre-school through eighth-grade. Enrollment is approaching 800 students for next year.
Moeller’s new position is assistant superintendent and her role is to support the superintendent. She is most responsible for teaching and learning.
Moeller works with curriculum, instruction, assessment, Title I, interventions and pretty much anything having to do with the work that is done as a school district.
“As difficult as it is for me to leave Kennedy, I feel I can really make a difference for students and teachers in this role,” Moeller said. “Having been a teacher for 22 years, I knew how to support teachers when I became a principal. Now, having been a principal for 14 years, I feel like I understand what schools need to be successful. My goal is to support the good work already taking place in all our schools and to build on that with resources that can enhance learning. In a positive way, I hope to still be impacting the Kennedy kids, as well as the 9,000 others.”
Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people's stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.