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Retiring math teacher looks back fondly on 35 years at FHS

Faribault High School math teacher Tammy Lessman said choosing to work at Faribault Public Schools is one of the best decisions she ever made.

But after 35 years at FHS, Tammy will complete her last day June 9. After sharing the news of her upcoming retirement, Tammy said a friend told her, “Now you can start your fun job.” To that, she replied, “I already did my fun job.”

At Monday's School Board meeting, Tammy addressed the board one last time as an employee of Faribault Public Schools. She said her decision to retire “did not come lightly” because of her strong ties with both the math department and the FHS administration. She said Principal Jamie Bente and Assistant Principals Shawn Peck and Joe Sage made her feel “respected, valued and supported and included while continually challenging me professionally.”

A 1986 graduate of the University of Northern Iowa, Tammy landed her first teaching position in Faribault, a town she needed to find using her family’s old atlas.

Tammy knew she wanted to teach ever since she was a little girl playing school with a blackboard and desk from her parents. She saw herself as an elementary school teacher — until she observed a classroom. Realizing that wasn’t her forte, she instead pursued work educating older students.

Although she interviewed for a math teacher position at Faribault Middle School, she instead landed a position at FHS. The high school principal at the time wanted to get a speech program started in Faribault, and since Tammy specialized in both math and speech communications in college, she could fulfill two needs at once.

Tammy Lessman began teaching math at Faribault High School after graduating from the University of Northern Iowa in 1986. She’s pictured here in her classroom in 1987. (Photo courtesy of Marci Lessman)

Tammy quickly found family at FHS, and not just by connecting with staff and students. As one of only two new teachers at the start of the 1986-87 academic year, she met her husband, Mark Lessman, on a teacher workshop day. Mark had begun teaching automotive technology at FHS a year prior and became a mentor to Tammy and the other new teacher. Mark and Tammy also shared the same prep hour.

Apart from the last few years since Mark retired, Tammy said she’s had a family member at her place of employment throughout her entire career. Both of Tammy and Mark’s daughters, Marci and Nina, graduated from FHS.

Tammy's colleagues, including FHS math teachers Dean Reiter and Holly Mackay, said they'll be sad to see Tammy leave.

“She’s the only teacher left in this department who was here when I first got hired,” said Reiter, who started in fall 2001. “… She was always someone to ask for help from and advice from, and sometimes not just math advice but life advice as well.”

Added Mackay, who Tammy mentored as a new teacher in 2009: “We’re definitely losing a gem, she’s incredible. She’s been very valuable, and a true friend is what she’s really turned into, and someone I can always go to. And the students love her as well. She’s amazing at breaking things down for them. They are definitely her priority; she is always thinking of them first.”

Throughout her 35 years of teaching in the Faribault district, Tammy has taught speech at FHS, yearbook, journalism at Faribault Middle School, and an ACT prep course just this year. But math has been her constant since the beginning.

Currently, Tammy teaches intermediate algebra support to ninth and 10th graders. She wrote the curriculum for the class herself and designed it to pre-teach and reteach to help students taking intermediate algebra succeed.

“I enjoy it because I can slow down as much as they need me to slow down,” Tammy said.

The other math class Tammy teaches is geometry for 10th graders and advanced ninth graders. It still amazes her sometimes that she teaches geometry, she said, because she personally found it the most challenging math class. She believes that’s a big reason why she knows how to teach it to students who may not understand. Her history as a communications teacher also pays off in this area, even though she said math and speech satisfy two very different standards.

With FHS teaching students learning about different types of career paths, including those in Mark’s automotive technologies class, Tammy stepped up to teach a course on communication with workplace tactics for several years. This gave students the tools to communicate as workers rather than public speakers.

Tammy also helped her husband write a grant for the automotive technology program, specifically for an auto youth apprenticeship. As she recalls, the grant was for about $50,000.

The ACT prep course, which Tammy teaches to junior and seniors, started out as a tutoring group another instructor offered before school. With the implementation of the seven-period day at FHS, Tammy was able to teach an ACT prep class during the school day at no charge to students. She admitted it makes her a bit sad to stop teaching this class after just one year.

The experiences Tammy gained as a teacher span from teaching as a graduate student, being a traveling teacher between buildings, teaching night classes and most recently, distance teaching during the pandemic.

Twelve years ago, Tammy was selected to participate in the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program. The opportunity, paid for by the Japanese government, allowed U.S. teachers of all grades and subjects to visit Japanese schools for one month. Thinking her chances of being selected were slim, Tammy almost didn’t submit her application and is still grateful her husband pushed her to give it a try.

During her retirement, which starts June 9, Tammy said she wants to spend more time with her family, including her parents in Iowa. After living by the bell for years, she joked that she looks forward to doing whatever she wants whenever she wants and taking more than 20 minutes for lunch. Learning to quilt is one thing on her to-do list, along with substitute teaching.

“We enjoy our summers as teachers, but when I step back to school at the beginning of fall, it feels like home,” Tammy said. “I would like to come back and be open to other opportunities.”

College partnerships make nursing degree accessible to SCC grads
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Seeing her mom work as a nurse growing up, lifelong Minnesotan Florence Msuya developed an early passion for caring for others, and an early interest in nursing.

But instead of pursuing a career in the medical field, Msuya earned a business degree at St. Cloud State University 20 years ago. It wasn’t until long after marrying and raising her four daughters that Msuya decided to go after her dream to become a nurse. South Central College simplified the process.

Msuya enrolled in SCC’s LPN to RN Plan, which is designed for current licensed practical nurses working to obtain an associate of science in nursing degree. Msuya started the SCC program as an LPN and came to the program with prerequisites already fulfilled from Anoka Technical College. Now a recent graduate of SCC’s nursing program, she plans to earn her bachelor of science in nursing from Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Florence Msuya, holding the sign, is a recent graduate of South Central College’s LPN to RN nursing program. From here, Msuya will attend MSU Mankato to earn her bachelor of science in nursing degree. Pictured from left are nursing faculty, Star Thorson, Bradly Ely, Candis Mortenson-Klimpel, Rebecca Gullickson, Msuya, Kelly Wohlford and Andrea Mettler. (Photo courtesy of Florence Msuya)

“I got family support, and the children are all grown up; the last one is 10 years old, so some days I sit with them and do homework together,” Msuya said. “It wasn’t too bad, and they were all helpful. We were able to study together and be together.”

As of Monday, SCC and MNSU have established a new partnership to make obtaining a nursing degree even more accessible to students. The Maverick (Nursing) Advance (Transfer) Plan, or “MAP,” creates a seamless transition between the associate of science in nursing degree from SCC and the 100% online Registered Nurse (RN) Baccalaureate Completion degree from MNSU, Mankato.

“We are proud to be working with South Central College on this Maverick Advance Plan nursing partnership,” Richard Davenport, president of MNSU, Mankato said in a press release. “The nursing programs at both South Central College and Minnesota State Mankato have rich histories, and this partnership will benefit students transferring into the university’s 100% online program as well as help meet the critical need for nurses in our region and state.”

Said Annette Parker, president of SCC: “With MAP, SCC nursing graduates can not only immediately begin working in their field, but also begin in Minnesota State Mankato’s RN Baccalaureate Completion degree from anywhere online with the potential to complete it in just a few semesters.”

Msuya attended the signing agreement celebration between SCC and MNSU Monday in support of the new program.

Although she was a bit hesitant to go back to school, she encourages anyone wanting to make a similar career change to “take baby steps” and consider taking one class at a time to earn credits.

“The connection with MNSU is a good program to connect with before you get caught up with other activities in life,” Msuya said. “Plus it creates more opportunities for growth in the healthcare industry once you have your BSN.”

As an SCC student in the LPN to RN Plan, Msuya started out by completing a transition course to establish a foundation within the RN program. It took her four semesters to complete the program, but she said the timeline varies, depending on the student.

As part of the plan’s transition course, Msuya worked in elder care at nursing homes and then branched out to hospitals. Shadowing nurses in the unit, she learned to assess clinical care and worked alongside SCC instructors.

Living in the Twin Cities, Msuya commuted to both Faribault and Mankato for SCC courses. Some of the hands-on experiences took her to hospitals in Faribault, Owatonna and Mankato. Completing this portion of the program during the pandemic, she said, gave new depth to her studies.

The next step for Msuya is to earn her bachelor of science in nursing degree in Mankato. With all sorts of prerequisites under her belt, she’ll only need to focus on nursing classes within the bachelor’s program. After obtaining her bachelor’s degree, Msuya said she wants to continue working in a hospital setting and become a healthcare leader in an administration. Apart from being in a clinical setting, she is interested in a managerial role.

“I would like to just thank South Central because they make the program easier to join,” Msuya said. “With the admission process, they (SCC and MNSU) collaborate and connect to each other. You go to SCC and MNSU and you’re not seen as a stranger but a part of the program already, and most things can be transferred automatically.”

Woodland preservation gets a hard look from commission's subcommittee

The Faribault Environmental Commission is interested in establishing project teams to conduct research and provide recommendations to strengthen the city’s effectiveness in tackling environmental topics.

The first project team task: Woodland preservation.

Commission members Roger Steinkamp, Emily Nesvold and Cindy Diessner, are evaluating woodland preservation (tree preservation/replacement) ordinances. The volunteers plan to review woodland ordinances in cities including Northfield, Owatonna, Red Wing and Rochester to evaluate how those cities are addressing the topic.

City Planner David Wanberg noted Faribault has some woodland preservation requirements, including regulations intended to prevent erosion on shoreland property, but says it’s not specifically tailored to woodland preservation. Wanberg said there are no plans to prevent property owners from cutting down trees though the city could have requirements stipulating that a certain number of trees be planted to replace ones eliminated.

Wanberg said commission members in the future could organize project teams to review Minnesota GreenStep Cities best practices and prepare recommendations to advance the city within the program; evaluate the city’s Climate Adaptation Plan and Energy Action Plan strategies, and prepare implementation recommendations.

Other possibilities Wanberg mentioned for project teams include developing “recommendations to broaden awareness and understanding of environmental issues,” building on the work of Rotary Club and other groups to organize the community to curtail invasive and noxious plants and restore native plant habitats, identify chances to supplement the pollinator work of GROWS (Gardeners Reaching Out With Service) and Master Gardeners, and other opportunities.

The commission has expressed interest in voluntary membership, and no project team could have more than three commissioners, to avoid conflicting with the state’s Open Meeting Law. The hope is that the committees would provide an efficient route for the Environmental Commission.

“Project teams will not have inherent power,” Wanberg noted. “They will make recommendations to the Environmental Commission. The Environmental Commission, in turn, will make recommendations to the City Council.”

Though city staff have limited time to spend with the project team, Wanberg noted project teams must still coordinate their work with them and the commission. Wanberg noted project team work should also relate to the Environmental Commission’s work plan and council directives.