Teri Preisler has a lot to be thankful for as she reflects on her seven years as superintendent of Tri-City United Public Schools.
As she approaches retirement July 1, Preisler recalls how the School Board took a chance on her, even without prior experience as a superintendent. Along with that she includes the district’s families, passion-filled staff and curious students on her gratitude list.
“‘Thank you’ doesn’t seem like a strong enough word, but it really is heartfelt,” said Preisler. “… It has absolutely been an honor to serve this school district. And I know I’ve been a better person for it, and for that I’m very, very grateful, and we can all be proud together for what we all have created.”
In January, when Preisler announced her retirement, she hadn’t yet developed plans beyond TCU. Since then, she has accepted a one-year position as an assistant professor in the teacher preparation program at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her contract begins in the fall, tentatively on campus.
Preisler’s career in education began as a music teacher for Norman County West and Faribault schools. She later earned her master’s degree and administrative license and gained experience in Owatonna, Le Sueur-Henderson and Faribault as an elementary school principal. She worked as a district-wide administrator in Owatonna before replacing former TCU Superintendent Matt Helgerson in 2013. Her tenure at TCU began not long after the former Montgomery-Lonsdale district consolidated with Le Center schools to form TCU Public Schools in 2012.
Having lived in Le Center prior to the consolidation, Preisler said she knew the discussion, the emotions and why the districts consolidated. So stepping into her role as superintendent, she knew she needed to honor and build off the pride of the two former districts as they merged into one.
“We needed to find our new way, and I’m proud that we have,” said Preisler. “There’s still work to do and there always will be, but I am proud of the progress we’ve been able to do on behalf of kids to become our TCU way.”
In the past few years, Preisler was instrumental in implementing learning opportunities like Project Lead the Way, project-based learning, AVID and career pathways. A major victory for the district came in the form of a voter-approved $22.1 million bond referendum in February 2018. The bond referendum has funded facility updates across the district and increased programming opportunities in Early Childhood and agriculture among other departments.
But when Preisler reflects on the ways TCU has evolved since the start of her tenure, she credits the district as a team — staff, teachers, parents and students — for working together to establish TCU’s culture and identity.
“I think when all is said and done, and even as I’ve begun reflecting now, the thing I will take away the most is how people came together to do great good for kids,” said Preisler. “It truly has lived that ‘united for success’ part of the mission. That’s been powerful.”
Even while wrapping up her tenure in the midst of a pandemic, Preisler recognizes the bright moments that shined through “a tremendously unusual conclusion to the school year.”
“… I’ve just been amazed and honored to work with Tri-City United staff through all my seven years, and particularly so during this difficult time,” said Preisler.
TCU High School Assistant Principal Jeff Eppen, who will step in as TCU Le Center’s principal starting July 1, said Preisler served as a great role model during the start of his administrative career.
“She certainly has high expectations for all people, students included, but she goes about it in a way that’s certainly done with a caring spirit,” said Eppen. “She pushed us to do our best, but does it in a very supportive and encouraging way. She’s very good at asking the right question to make us as administrators consider different perspectives a little bit broader than what our initial thoughts were.”
Eppen also recognizes Preisler as a driving force behind improved school curriculum, which has pushed students to grow and prepare for the next steps in their education and lives.
School Board member Kevin Huber, who served on the board before the consolidation, said Preisler took the district to places he didn’t expect. Whether advocating for post secondary options or criminal justice classes, she followed through with her visions. Her integrity, said Huber, is “second to none.”
“She’s always been very transparent,” said Huber. “She treats you with respect and won’t make promises she can’t keep. If she says she’s going to look into something, she does.”
Preisler made everyone in the district feel a sense of belonging, said Huber, and she guided staff members to success by working with them to find their unique place in the schools.
“In my opinion, her leadership, abilities and style were the best I have been exposed to in our district,” said Huber. “She is one of the biggest reasons TCU is what it is today. She will be missed greatly.”
There won’t be many Fourth of July celebrations in Le Sueur County this year, due to the impact of COVID-19, but there’s still plenty of open spaces to explore and activities to do throughout the week. Here’s just a few ideas to make this Fourth of July a memorable one.
Camping and Hiking
Camping is a mainstay of the Fourth of July and Le Sueur County’s campgrounds are up and running including Clear Lake Park in Lexington Township and Lake Washington Regional Park and Campground in Kasota. Lake Washington is even bringing back a special Fourth of July event with its Best Decorated Campsite competition from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This will be the second year of the competition and the winner will receive a free week of camping.
“Those that want to participate can decorate their camper or campsite,” said Lake Washington Caretaker Sue Holicky. “We do a voting where everyone gets a voting tag and writes down the number of the best decorated camper.”
Campers and non-campers alike will also have the opportunity to make Fourth of July-themed popcorn bags during a crafting activity.
The campsites at Lake Washington are booked for the week, but non-campers can still come to the park area to take in the 3.5 miles of trails and participate in the park’s Saturday Shenanigans. Each Saturday, the park introduces a new activity to encourage people to explore the outdoors. On June 20, the park tied pink ribbons at eight different locations which required visitors to walk 2.5 miles to find them all. On June 27, the park is holding a nature scavenger hunt encouraging visitors to find wildflowers, acorns, dandelions and much more.
There are many other spots to hike in the county as well. Near Le Center, visitors can walk and bike the half-mile trail loop at Bradshaw Woods full of native trees like including Basswood, Elm and Maple. Richter Woods can be found 1.5 miles west of Montgomery with 2.5 miles of trails, a basketball hoop, playground and volleyball net and wildlife such as deer, raccoons and eagles.
The Ney Nature Center near Henderson has several miles of trails, geocaching and a wide range of programming. While there won’t be any special events over the Fourth, the Ney Nature Center will be starting its Nature Build Camp for youth on July 6.
“The Nature Build camp is for ages 6-8. It’s all about how animals build their homes and other nature building activities,” said Ney Nature Center Executive Director Becky Pollack. “It should be a lot of fun.”
The camp is from 9am-4pm each day from July 6-8 at a cost of $84 for members and $99 for non-members.
Swimming, fishing and boating
As the summer heats up, there’s no better time to take a dip in the water. Luckily this is the land of 10,000 lakes and there is no shortage of natural and artificial bodies of water to access.
Some of the most popular lakes in the county for boating include Lake Washington, northeast of Mankato, Lake Francis and Ray’s Lake near Elysian, the German-Jefferson lake chain, Lake Tetonka near Waterville and Lake Volney near Le Center. For kayakers, lakes Diamond, Emily, Gorman, Ray’s, Thomas, Tustin and West Jefferson all have accesses built to get a canoe or kayak out on the water.
Washington, German-Jefferson lakes and Volney are also popular fishing spots offering bluegills, crappies, walleye and more. Clear Lake, Lake Emily, Gorman Lake and Sabre Lake are also well-known places to catch fish.
Municipalities like Le Sueur and Le Center are also beginning to open up their pools for swimming. In Le Sueur, the Aqua Valley Open Pool is opening from June 29 through August 31 while the Le Center municipal pool will be open starting July 6. Le Sueur is currently offering pool memberships for $50 and family memberships for $80. While at the pool, visitors will be expected to remain six feet apart with the exception of family members.
Reading and education
For those who would like to use their Fourth of July as a chance to learn, the Waseca-Le Sueur Library System has you covered. On Tuesday, June 30 at 7 p.m. readers can join author-illustrators Dan Santat (Ninja Red Riding Hood, Drawn Together), Leigh Hodgkinson (Goldlocks and Just One Bear, Smile!) and Sam Wedelich (Chicken Little: The Real and Totally True Tale) over Zoom for a Doodle Showdown. The authors will talk about their work and square off to see who is the best of the best when it comes to doodling. Viewers can even participate at home with a pencil and paper.
St. Peter options
St. Peter has a number of places to fish and walk close to home.
Hallett’s Pond Nature Area, also know as Lake Hallett, has a new fishing pier, plus a newly reconstructed asphalt walking/biking trail around the scenic, woodsy lake. Sunfish have been biting well this season. The lake also has crappies and largemouth bass. It is managed by the city of St. Peter.
The city’s Mill Pond/Riverside Park along the Minnesota River behind city hall offers overnight camping sites, plus good fishing of a variety of species in the river and the Mill Pond, which has a fishing pier and is stocked with panfish. It also has walking trails, a lighted volleyball court, grills, restrooms, showers, drinking fountains and a boat access.
Down the road, off of Hwy. 169 is the Nicollet County Historical Society Treaty Site History Center, which has walking trails along the river.
Nicollet County’s Seven-Mile Creek along Hwy. 169, between St. Peter and Mankato, also has an extensive set of walking trails for all abilities, plus a stream stocked with brown trout for interested anglers. It also has picnic grounds with shelters, playgrounds and sand volleyball courts.
St. Peter’s Minnesota Square Park has large and open grassy spaces, along with a playground, and a central pavilion with picnic tables. And the Gustavus Adolphus College Arboretum has flat walking trails going through gardens, woods and ponding areas.
Debate broke out among the Le Sueur City Council at a June 22 meeting, as local bars requested relief in the form of reimbursement in liquor license fees and future fee reductions.
The COVID-19 pandemic and related health and safety restrictions from Gov. Tim Walz forced bars to shut down from March 17-May 31, leading to a significant drop in revenues. Even now, bars and restaurants may only operate at 50% capacity and the future trajectory of coronavirus case numbers remains a mystery.
In a memo to the City Council, three on-sale liquor license holders requested financial relief from the city to help with present and expected costs. Their first request was that the city reimburse each establishment for liquor license fees while they were shut down under state mandate. Refunding these fees would cost $416 per establishment in potential revenue for the city — around $1,250 total.
The City Council unanimously voted in favor of reimbursing the bars for the time they were shut down. Councilor John Favolise believed it would be unethical for the city not to reimburse the bars since the establishments were not allowed to use their liquor license to sell during that time. Only off-sale license holders — those who sold alcohol to be consumed elsewhere — were allowed to operate.
However, the memo’s second request was more controversial. The on-sale license holders wanted liquor license fees from July 1, 2020 to June 31, 2021 to be reduced from $2,000 to $1. In addition, off-sale license holders wanted Sunday Sales fees reduced to $1 for the stay-at-home order and from 2020-2021.
While the loss of revenues for bars and restaurants has been severe, the city of Le Sueur is also grappling with costs related to COVID-19. At the same council meeting, the city voted to open the Aqua Valley Pool which would leave the Community Center with a $60,000 deficit under the assumption that potential funds from the CARES Act and volunteer work do not offset expenses. If the city cannot be reimbursed for the lost revenues from waiving liquor license fees, city projects and expenses would need to be cut to make up for it.
“If we do reduce fees or refund fees, that will have a negative effect on our miscellaneous revenue line item that we have,” said City Administrator Jasper Kruggel. “Depending on the amounts we would likely either have to move funds around or do something with our contingency fund.”
Councilor Newell Krogmann believed that it was too early for the city to be cutting license fees for next year. Because the future impact of COVID-19 is uncertain, Krogmann wished to delay making a decision until the next council meeting and — in the meantime — have city staff work with license-holders to set up a payment plan.
“I understand the sympathy with our businesses and certainly want to support them, but candidly I think we’re being premature here,” said Krogmann. “We’re trying to do something good, but we’re not in a position to make this decision. We don’t know what the future is going to be.”
But other councilors believed the city needed to take immediate action and Krogmann’s resolution to table the issue until next week was voted down 4-3. Councilor Marvin Sullivan pointed out that the coronavirus is likely to stay an issue in July and that bars are still operating at half-capacity.
“I understand the feeling that we’re premature, but we know this is going into July and numbers are currently rising,” said Sullivan. “Businesses in our area have been closing their doors because of outbreaks, so there’s a great possibility this will extend further than next month.”
“We don’t know how long it’s going to last, we don’t know how long it’s going to be in the future, so my recommendation is we come up with some sort of reduction for even a month or two until we know where it’s going to go in the future,”Sullivan added. “I understand the impacts it’s going to take on the city, but on the flipside without our businesses, we don’t have our community.”
Councilor John Kirby proposed that the city waive all liquor license fees for three months from July 1 to September 30 with the council reevaluating license fees in the fall. However, this proposal was also voted down 4-3. Councilor Scott Schlueter believed that a full fee waiver was unnecessary at this point, especially during the summer.
“The next three months are also the nicest months of the year where most of their business is going to be outdoors anyways,” said Schlueter. “So they aren’t going to have a lot more capacity inside, but they can still be outside.”
Councilor John Favolise was open to reducing fees, but believed that as long as bars were using their liquor licenses, they should be paying for it.
“For me, I feel ethically that we should only be charging 50% during the time they are at 50% capacity because they can only use 50% of their license during this time,” said Favolise.
With resolutions to delay a decision and to waive fees both struck down, Sullivan proposed that the city drop liquor license fees for the month of July and return to the issue at the end of the month. The resolution passed 4-2, with Schlueter and Mark Huntington opposed.