As a graduate of Montgomery-Lonsdale with a more than 30-year career in education, Tri-City United Montgomery Pre-K-8 Principal Deb Dwyer has long been a pillar of the TCU school district.
The 2019-20 school year marks Dwyer’s final year with the district before her retirement, but the outgoing principal won’t be forgotten by her students, teachers and colleagues.
Before she was a principal, Dwyer graduated from Montgomery-Lonsdale High School. Her father and uncles were educators, as well as her role models at school, so it was only natural that Dwyer would pursue a similar career.
“It kind of came full circle,” said Dwyer. “I just had great role models for teachers and obviously my father and my uncles many of whom were educators themselves. I was inspired by how they loved what they did and the teachers that I had were awesome and I wanted to follow in their footsteps and make an impression on kids’ lives.”
Dwyer had the opportunity to teach in Denver, Colorado, but she couldn’t shake her love of small town Minnesota and would return to teach in the same area she grew up. With a teaching career spanning more than 20 years, Dwyer was a mainstay in Le Center classrooms before becoming an administrator.
In 2012, the Le Center and Montgomery-Lonsdale school districts consolidated into what is now the Tri-City United School District. In her new role as the TCU Montgomery principal, Dwyer had the opportunity to lead the school into a new era and she considered it one of the proudest moments in her career.
“My main goal is to enable all students to have opportunities and to learn at high levels, and I really feel that we’ve been able to do that,” said Dwyer. “Part of the consolidation was to bring in opportunities from a little bit larger district into a little bit smaller district. To give students opportunities and to see them grow in various areas was a wonderful goal that I think was accomplished with the consolidation.”
As a principal, Dwyer sought to foster a nurturing environment and to build relationships between students and faculty. She was known for starting each school day greeting students with a wave and visiting with them on their way to the cafeteria or the classroom.
“One of her favorite sayings is ‘Make it a great day,’ and she’ll give you a smile and kind of a fist in the air,” said TCU Montgomery fourth grade teacher Nyla Newton. “The kids hear it and the staff hears it and it’s always a positive message from her.”
Newton has worked across many different buildings in her teaching career, but she said that Dwyer was the best principal she's ever worked with.
“Deb is the kind of principal that every teacher wants to have,” said Newton. “She truly cares about the staff and the students. She promotes a positive culture within our building and she’s definitely knowledgeable about our curriculum standards. If you have a question, she’s right there and easy to go to. I just love how I feel like I can go to her with a new idea and she truly listens and she will let you know one way or another.”
Dwyer has also earned praise for her commitment to students. Superintendent Teri Preisler said Dwyer goes all in on everything, whether it was highlighting students and their accomplishments on Twitter or having fun on Halloween.
“I meet with all of our principals and directors each month, and Deb would always go ‘I can’t wait to show you the data on the student’s growth here,’” said Preisler. “She would pull out the spreadsheets and she would have bar graphs, and you knew those were things that weren’t just important to her for academics, they were important to her and to the students, because it represented their growth and her belief in them.”
After so many years of educating, Dwyer will be able to enjoy a well-deserved retirement. But she said leaving the kids will be hard, especially with COVID-19 shutting school doors for the foreseeable future.
“I’m going to miss seeing the kids’ faces and their enthusiasm and seeing their smiles” said Dwyer. “It’s bittersweet. I never thought my career would end so abruptly, and I don’t know if I’ll have the opportunity again to give them hugs and that type of thing. So I definitely will miss their energy, their smiles and their enthusiasm for learning.
“If I knew March 13 would be the last time I would be face-to-face with the kiddos, I would have given them each a big hug,” she continued. “They’re awesome.”
Marisa Rotter almost feels like her family is on vacation since her children’s school, Tri-City United Lonsdale Elementary, closed in response to COVID-19. They don’t need to wake up to alarms, and the family is together more than usual.
But even though Marisa’s sixth grader Jules and second grader Max haven’t been in school since mid-March, their learning continues outside the classroom. Students across the district are at home with their parents, but they continue to check in with their teachers virtually and complete their tasks on their own time.
Marisa was a bit nervous about the transition at first, thinking distance learning would pose challenges similar to blended learning days, which the district implements during weather-related school cancellations. That wasn’t the case, she found. Compared to blended learning days, students connect more frequently with their teachers during distance learning.
Jules and Max have loved completing one task after another without waiting for a cue from their teachers, said Marisa. They’ve both set up their personal learning areas and agreed it’s quieter than a classroom with less distractions. But they have commented to their mom that they miss seeing their friends at lunch and recess or while riding the bus. Instead, Jules texts her friends each day, Max has virtual “play dates” and they both see their classmates during online school meetings.
Before distance learning, Marisa said she mainly spoke with her children’s teachers if they needed help with an assignment. With Jules and Max at home during the school day, she’s gained a rare insight into her children’s school life.
“I already knew our teachers were good, but now I’m actually seeing for myself,” said Marisa.
TCU parent Kristen Glockner agreed that she appreciates the live chats TCU teachers hold with students.
“It keeps them accountable and connected,” said Glockner. “We also have three teenagers that can work on their own, so that has helped as well. I feel for the younger elementary families.”
According to Marisa, distance learning was accessible to Jules from the start and has become easier for Max to navigate after she helped him figure out the platforms. Now, he can work on his own.
“The teachers make it really easy for us and fun,” said Marisa. “My kids seem like they’re excited to learn and excited to do their work. I know that has to do with the teachers.”
A new way to teach
Just as students have quickly adapted to a new learning style and setting, TCU teachers have made adjustments to their curriculum and formats in response to the school shutdown. Without even seeing one another in person, families and teachers have worked together to make the transition possible.
TCU Lonsdale Elementary second-grade teachers Abby Brockway and Kristen Munden work as a team to plan and ensure they meet all their students’ needs. Brockway said they talk daily to stay on the same page and do their best to stay consistent on the SeeSaw and Google Classroom platforms they use. Apart from a few students who receive paper copies, the majority of the work is handled online. The TCU tech support team made sure all families had devices and working internet.
“I would say that families have been incredible in helping to make this entire transition successful,” said Brockway. “They have been supportive and have helped their children with issues that have arisen. Our students have been flexible, work hard, and have made us teachers extremely proud.”
TCU Lonsdale kindergarten teachers Ellie Ryan, Ann Swartout and Emily Dahl also share the same lesson plans and chat daily. Ryan said kindergarten teachers also make sure their students have a story read to them each day and that they work on their phonics skills, writing and math. Like the second-graders, kindergartners use SeeSaw and Google Classroom. In lieu of the morning meetings these teachers usually hold with their students at school, they talk about the day and the weather or practice counting among other forms of group sharing during online “hangout” sessions. Students may join whichever hangout they choose.
“[Hangout] is my favorite time of the day, because it is a great time to connect with students and most importantly students are able to connect with one another,” said Ryan.
Like Brockway, Ryan said families have been positive and encouraging each day, and her students have adapted well to distance learning.
“They come to hangouts each day with a smile on their faces and a fun new story to tell me,” said Ryan. “Each day I leave our hangouts with the biggest smile on my face. They truly are the MVPs of all of this … This is really a team effort and I am so proud of how everyone has stepped up to the challenge!”
But no change comes without its ups and downs, so challenges with distance learning were to be expected.
“I would say that the biggest struggle is when technology isn’t working the way we had planned,” said Brockway. “There have been a few different times when this has happened, and students have been great about taking a break and trying again later.”
Apart from any technological issues that may have occurred, Ryan said the biggest challenge is being away from her students.
“We’ve definitely made the adjustments,” said Ryan, “but I miss talking and interacting face to face with not only my kindergarteners, but all the students in the school.”
Two Tri-City United School principals will have new jobs come July 1.
On Monday, the Mankato Area School Board named TCU Lonsdale Principal Mollie Meyer principal of Hoover Elementary School and TCU Le Center Principal Brian Grensteiner the principal of Franklin Elementary School. The vote passed unanimously, 6-0.
Grensteiner, who taught social studies at New Prague Middle School, was hired as TCU Le Center principal in May 2014. He has a bachelor’s degree in secondary education from the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse, and master’s and specialist degrees in educational administration from St. Mary’s University. He replaces Travis Olson, who will serve as director of teaching and learning for Mankato Area Public Schools.
Meyer, who joined TCU in July 2017, also taught at St. Peter and Mankato Area Public Schools; Minnesota State University, Mankato; and as a teacher on special assignment in St. Peter Public Schools. Meyer has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in elementary education from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and an education specialist degree from Minnesota State University, Mankato.
In September, Tri-City United Lonsdale Elementary was named one of 362 National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2019, a recognition based on a school’s overall academic performance.
The anticipated departures will leave TCU with four new administrators come July. Superintendent Teri Preisler and TCU Montgomery Principal Deb Dwyer announced their retirements earlier this year, effective June 30.
Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop Superintendent Lonnie Seifert, was selected chosen as Preisler’s successor following interviews with the TCU School Board April 7. Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools’ Lisa Manders will succeed Dwyer as TCU Montgomery principal March 30. Both begin at TCU July 1.
“We’re very happy for Brian and Mollie and proud of the work they’ve done here,” said TCU Superintendent Teri Preisler. “I know from the response and feedback of the Mankato Area Schools superintendent the two of them were extremely highly regarded in the interview process and … strongly represented what the TCU district is.”
Looking ahead, Preisler said the TCU administration has given a lot of thought to the process of replacing Meyer and Grensteiner and considering all options to ensure the highest quality of principals.
“We are extremely fortunate at TCU to attract quality candidates outside the district,” said Preisler. “We also have outstanding administrators within the district … second to none, and that will continue forward in all that occurs.”
A 17-year-old Robbinsdale boy has been charged as a juvenile in Scott County District Court after his alleged involvement in a shooting near an Elko New Market business.
Mohamed KH Omar Ahmed was charged April 17 with felony dangerous weapons drive by shooting toward person, occupied motor vehicle; felony first-degree aggravated robbery; and felony second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon.
Court records state Ahmed was charged after Elko New Market police responded to a call of shots fired near the End Zone Bar and Grill, 260th St. East, Elko New Market, at around 4:15 p.m. March 31.
Two alleged victims reportedly told the Scott County Sheriff’s Office that they had arranged through Snapchat to conduct a marijuana sale.
Once they arrived at the bar and grill, they parked next to another vehicle with three males inside.
After a victim rolled down the window, Ahmed allegedly immediately pulled a handgun on the victims, including a 5-year-old girl sitting in the backseat.
The male allegedly told the victims to give him their valuables, including wallets and jewelry, eventually opening a rear passenger door and placing one foot in the vehicle.
A victim then reportedly put her car in reverse and “floored it,” court documents state. As she reversed, Ahmed reportedly fell from the victims’ vehicle, shooting at the vehicle and hitting the rear window.
While the shots didn’t strike any of the victims, one reportedly came inches from hitting the 5 year old.
A witness in the suspect vehicle reported seeing Ahmed pointing a gun at the vehicle and then hearing a gunshot. Ahmed’s cellphone allegedly pinged off a Elko New Market cell tower around the time of the shooting.
Court documents state law enforcement found three live handgun rounds and two spent handgun casings on the ground of the restaurant parking lot.
The Elko New Market Police Department was dispatched to the scene. The Scott County Sheriff’s Office also responded.
Ahmed was taken into custody April 16.
“The safety of our community is a priority, and we are pleased to have made an arrest,” Scott County Sheriff Luke Hennen said in an April 23 statement. “We take violent crimes very seriously, and we are grateful nobody was harmed in this incident.”
The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, and the Elko New Market and Northfield Police departments assisted in the investigation.