Waseca Superintendent Tom Lee is leaving more than a job with retirement.
Lee has been with the Waseca Public School District for the past seven years as the superintendent and in the Waseca community.
He is an integral part of the Waseca community both through his involvement in the schools and community endeavors.
“I will miss all the people and the relationships — not just the folks in the schools but those with whom I have rubbed elbows in the community,” Lee said. “Waseca really is a special place.”
He has always made a presence in the community and around the schools. Lee would attend community events often and he would get to as many school events as he could. He would attend sporting events, band and choir events and numerous other Bluejay activities. He was present and participated in graduations as well in the district.
In 2016 he was also named by the Waseca Area Chamber of Commerce boss of the year.
The people of Waseca and the school district always came first for his job as superintendent.
“Waseca Schools are strong,” Lee said. “We have a great staff. We have modernized all operations and are positioned well for the future. As a community, I have never experienced the support of a community as exists here in Waseca! I am confident that this community will always support its kids! While predictions for the future are difficult, it is pretty easy to see that the next few years will most likely be difficult ones. Waseca Schools is as prepared for what is coming next as any district in the state.”
In his time with the Waseca Public Schools he has been a part of many initiatives and projects to bring the school district up-to-date and to keep students and staff safe.
Lee was a part of getting the referendum passed that allowed for improvements to the buildings with the most significant change at the Junior Senior High School. The Performing Arts Center was added to the building, windows were added to make the space feel larger and the overall building changes brought a better flow for student movement.
Another accomplishment Lee is proud of his modernizing the district. He has brought a device and wifi access to everyone in the district.
“No accomplishments were ‘mine’,” Lee said. “It takes a team of people to realize the improvements we have seen. . . We also have come a long way in our curriculum review cycle, a new Student Information System (SIS), a Learning Management System (LMS), staff training and so much more. Of course there have also been areas in which I wish we could have done more, but generally I am proud of our accomplishments.”
Lee is also actively involved in numerous boards and committees in Waseca.
He is still a part of the school board where he gives updates and relays school information to the board members. He is able to communicate the needs of the students and staff to better the district.
In Waseca he is a part of or has been part of; the Chamber of Commerce, Waseca Area Foundation, Mayo Community Health Advisory, Waseca Tourism, Prison Community Advisory, Vision 2030, Rotary, Best of Waseca, Professional Development Schools Governance Board — MSU, Mankato and Minnesota Association of School Administrators Region 2 Executive Board.
“Mr. Lee has been the face and the voice of Waseca Public Schools for the last seven years,” School Board Chair Julie Anderson said. “These seven years have certainly brought a number of challenges, but Tom has tackled them all and has continued to move the district forward...
“As a member of the school board, Mr. Lee has been great to work with. He has encouraged all board members to be trained and to be engaged in the work of our school district. Behind the scenes, Tom is working with the board on multiple committees as well as preparing board members for our regular meetings. One of my favorite things about Tom is that he continually reminds the board about the goals in our strategic plan. His superintendent report is organized along the main parts of the strategic plan and I think this keeps the board focused on the work we are doing both in the short and long term. Tom is always available to talk through an issue with board members and he’s brought a perfect mix of humor, hard work and professionalism to his role as our superintendent. He will certainly be missed.”
When his time with the school board and the district comes to an end in July he has plans to go on a road trip to Virginia to visit his new grandson with his wife.
“I love to hunt and fish but more importantly, I love my family. . .,” Lee said. “I look forward to spending more time with family, hunting and fishing.”
Before his time in the district is over and he is able to travel and spend time with family Lee will finish out as much as he can along with setting up the new superintendent Eric Hudspith.
One of the biggest challenges of Lee’s career is how to adapt learning and teaching due to COVID-19. This has been a challenge for all of the staff, teachers as well.
“COVID-19 has been a challenge like no other in my lifetime or career,” Lee said. “Everybody has risen to the challenge to date, but I am concerned that this challenge will be impacting all of us for several years to come. Distance learning has been a success for some and a disaster for others. The majority is somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. I am hopeful that we will have students reporting in some form in the fall. Education as we have always known it though, is most likely a thing of the past. We will need to re-conceptualize what education looks like in the future. Yes, we will eventually get through Covid-19, but there will be other challenges.”
COVID-19 has kept students at home distance learning since March 30 and they will finish out the year at home. The district was able to come up with a plan while improving it as the days go.
Lee has seen many accomplishments and attacked many challenges in his extensive career.
Prior to coming to Waseca as superintendent he was the principal in Bloomington, Minnesota. He was also an assistant principal in Minneapolis for two years, a teacher of students with vision disabilities for 13 years and a substitute teacher for a year while working on his masters degree.
He attended Michigan State University for his bachelors and masters degree before attending the University of St. Thomas for his education specialist degree.
His experiences and education all lead him to Waseca Public Schools where he found a community and school district that he connected with and stayed with through retirement.
“The greatest honor of my career was serving as the Superintendent of Waseca Public Schools,” Lee said.
The Waseca Police Department and Sheriff’s Department came together at midnight on Wednesday, May 13 for Police Week.
A small crowd was spread out around the parking lot of the Public Safety building to honor the fallen officers with a Midnight Piper.
“At the Waseca Police Department, we have always taken time during this week to pause to remember the sacrifices of the officers who have laid down their lives in service to their communities,” Waseca Police Officer Captain Kris Markeson said. “This year, Police Week brings us a very close-to-home reminder of the dangers of this profession as we support Officer Arik Matson in his recovery after being shot in the line of duty this past winter. We are blessed beyond measure for Arik surviving his injuries and for his opportunities to recover. Still, we know there are many officers who do not come home. It is an honor for us to provide remembrances of the fallen every May 15.”
Former President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation in 1962 designating May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week in which that date falls as Police Week.
Traditionally police officers from around the world gather in Washington D.C. during National Police Week to honor officers who have given the ultimate sacrifice. Due to COVID-19 this year the large gathering was not possible. At the regular ceremony a lone bagpiper would walk through the granite memorial that displays the names of the fallen and perform a song to honor the fallen officers’ service and memory.
Markeson said that this year, the names of 307 officers killed in the line of duty will be added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. These 307 officers include 135 officers who were killed during 2019, plus 172 officers who died in previous years but whose stories of sacrifice had been lost to history until now.
Still wanting to honor those who were lost, the tradition of a Midnight Piper was brought to local police stations across the country. The Minnesota Police Pipe Band and other police pipe bands around the country participated.
At midnight all those in the Minnesota Police Pipe Band around the state began playing “Amazing Grace” to honor the fallen officers.
“Our law enforcement officers know every time they go to work that they may face danger,” Sheriff Brad Milbrath said. “With the coronavirus, they have faced additional challenges. We are thankful for them every day and I am proud to publicly recognize them for their service.
“I proudly recognize Waseca County deputies and all other law enforcement officers for their resolve and dedication in the face of dangerous uncertainty. Thoughts and prayers are with them and their families, and we will always owe them our appreciation and support.”
As Jamie Stonehouse played, the crowd was silent to honor those fallen officers.
In Waseca County one officer has been lost in the line of duty.
Sheriff Donald Eustice of the Waseca County Sheriff’s Department was killed on Sept. 4, 1976 from gunfire.
Eustice was 47 years old and left behind a family, friends and a job that meant the world to him.
On the day that he was killed in the line of duty, he and chief deputy Mert Schwarz, went to a farm house to check on Kenneth Jewison at the request of his family. Jewison had a history of mental illness and Eustice and Schwarz had gone to take him for a mental evaluation.
When Eustice approached the front door to speak with Jewison and after saying something like, “Hi, how’re you doin’?” He was shot with a shotgun from 15-20 feet away according to a Sept. 2, 2016 County news article.
When Eustice was killed, the community was devastated at the loss. Since his death Waseca has been fortunate. In the past months two officers were almost lost in the line of duty within months of each other.
Josh Langr, a deputy with the Sheriff’s Department responded to an accident in October 2019.
While on an accident scene Langr was injured after walking into an unseen downed powerline. He was airlifted to HCMC at the time and is currently doing well and recovering.
A few months later on Jan. 6, Officer Arik Matson, with the Waseca Police Department, was shot in the head when he responded to a disturbance.
He was airlifted to North Memorial Health Hospital in Robbinsdale where he has since left and is in a recovery facility.
These were two close calls that have deeply affected Waseca and the surrounding community recently. Waseca came together to pray and keep hope for the recovery of both officers with numerous fundraisers being created to help as well.
Waseca also came together when it lost Sheriff Eustice and has continued to honor his memory each year.
“We must continue working toward a time when all people respect and understand the important work that law enforcement officers do,” Milbrath said. “Unfortunately, our law enforcement officers do not always receive the respect they deserve. These brave men and women must operate in an environment where their moral and legal authority is constantly being scrutinized, and they undertake the critical yet difficult task of addressing the actions of those affected by addiction, homelessness, and mental illness. Their ability to work well in the face of these and other challenges is extraordinary, and we have incredible appreciation for their public service and selflessness.”
Graduation season is here but in the less traditional way.
The Minnesota Department of Education has released guidelines for how high schools should handle graduations due to the dangers of COVID-19.
Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton and Waseca Junior Senior High School have created plans with these guidelines to celebrate the graduating class of 2020.
“High school graduation is a milestone in the life of every person,” JWP Superintendent Kurt Stumpf said. “As we are trying to honor every JWP Graduate this year, we know it will not take the place of the traditional commencement ceremony.”
In-person ceremonies inside or in football stadiums will not be permitted according to the MDE as virtual ceremonies are encouraged.
If a school wishes to do a car parade or parking lot ceremony there are some guidelines on how to do it the safest way possible.
The MDE states online that each household should be in a separate car, those with COVID-19 symptoms should not attend, attendees should stay in their cars and if windows down comply with the six feet apart social distancing rule, partner with local officials and numerous other tips.
JWP High School will be showing a video for commencement along with a reverse parade for the seniors.
Seniors will be walking individually across a stage in the JWP athletic complex for a video and photo shoot in the days prior to commencement. This footage and photos will be used for a video that will be shown at the ceremony for the seniors and their families to attend.
As the JWP seniors walk across the stage for the video they will be getting their diploma and at a later date they will receive a free 4X6 photo. The students name will be called as they walk across the stage as it would at the regular in-person ceremony.
On Friday, May 22, graduation day, students will line up in alphabetical order around the JWP school for a reverse parde at 6 p.m. The students will have a sign and be standing at least 15 feet apart to keep with social distancing.
At the end of the parade, before the processional takes off, the seniors will let off an eco-friendly balloon.
Commencement will start at 8:30 p.m. after the parade. Seniors will get in their vehicles, alone or with family, and drive into commencement. Seniors will have priority parking and once all are parked family vehicles will be allowed to enter the athletic complex parking lot with a ticket.
Each student is allowed two vehicles, including their own, if there are people who do not have a ticket and would like to be present they are able to park in the other parking lots. The family vehicle parking spots are first-come-first-serve.
The students will stay in their vehicles for the entire ceremony that will be transmitted through the radio on 1420 AM, 102.7 FM, online at ktoe.com, iheartradio or through an Alexa device “Play KTOE Radio”.
If there is a weather delay the alternative date is May 23.
The Waseca Junior and Senior High School will also be hosting a virtual graduation ceremony.
School officials are working with Waseca County Health and following MDE recommendations to create a prerecorded virtual graduation ceremony. The ceremony will be available to watch on May 31 at 1:30 p.m. on the district website and social media platforms.
“This for us as administrators, board members, teachers it’s been a great experience,” Waseca Junior Senior High School Principal Jeanne Swanson said. “It gives us an opportunity to have contact with each graduate that we miss and to get closure. And this is an opportunity for them to participate in something and also gives their families an opportunity to participate while social distancing.
“For myself as a parent it’s emotional and really important to get that opportunity and closure also.”
The video will include each graduate receiving their diploma individually. Students will be crossing the Performing Arts Center stage in the days leading up to graduation during specific times for the video.
The video will also include the scholarship recognition ceremony.
KOWZ radio station will also be broadcasting a recording of the ceremony including speeches.
Following the virtual ceremony, that will stream on May 31, a senior congratulatory parade will take place at 4 p.m. Seniors will stand on the sidewalk around the school with signs for their families and friends to drive by and congratulate them.
Parade attendees must enter north of Walmart at the stoplight on 22nd Avenue and enter the parade from the northwest by driving in front of WIS headed south to circle the school and then will exit the parade on 19th Avenue NW and take a right to travel south on Hwy 13.
The parade map will be available on the school website.