Lessman named director of special education

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Kelly Lessman and Deb Wall

Kelly Lessman will be the new director of special education for Forest Lake Area Schools. Deb Wall will retire June 30.

Lessman is principal at the district’s Central Learning Center, which includes Central Montessori Elementary and the Area Learning Center, an alternative secondary school. She is also in charge of the Student Transition Education Program, STEP, for adult students with disabilities, located on Broadway Avenue.

She received her undergraduate degree in communication disorders from the University of Minnesota, Duluth and her master’s degree in that field from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Her principal and special education director license is from the University of St. Thomas.

Lessman was hired in 2001 as a speech language pathologist at Forest View Elementary and in 2006 became the educational services administrator. In the spring of 2011, this administrative position was cut and Lessman was asked to become the principal at the Central Learning Center.

“That probably wasn’t in her plans, but she did that with grace,” Superintendent Linda Madsen said at the April 3 School Board meeting.

“Being director of special ed has been a goal of mine since I was an undergraduate,” Lessman said.

Directors work in the district office and report to the superintendent. In the 2014-2015 school year, Lessman will receive a salary of $132,573, plus up to $5,000 performance pay. Her 2013-2014 salary as principal was $112,309.

Wall came to Forest Lake as director of special education in early 2007.

She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communication disorders from St. Cloud State University and Mankato State University, and an educational leadership degree from the University of St. Thomas.

She worked for many years as a speech and language pathologist in Stillwater and New Prague, and was special education coordinator for Minnesota River Valley Special Education Cooperative for 10 years. Before coming to Forest Lake, she was director of special education in Faribault.

While working in the Forest Lake district, she also served as president of the Minnesota Administrators for Special Education.

After the meeting, Wall shared her feelings about leaving and her plans for retirement.

“Being part of the Forest Lake District has been one of the highlights of my career,” she said. “I have children and grandchildren in Indiana and Colorado, so my husband and I plan to travel often to see them. In addition, we plan to travel abroad, volunteer and catch up with many good friends whom we have neglected.”

A new principal will be hired to fill the gap at Central Montessori and the Area Learning Center. The district is also looking for a replacement for Roche Martin, the principal at Linwood Elementary who was put on leave in September, resigned in December and will be paid through April.

Hockey contract

The school district has signed a five-year contract with the Edina Lakers, a Tier III junior ice hockey team that plays in the Minnesota Junior Hockey League. The team will practice and host games at the sports center the district purchased from the Forest Lake Area Athletic Association in November. (See article on page 1.)


Also at the April 3 meeting, the School Board approved leasing 14 school buses and eight wheelchair lift buses.

Business Director Larry Martini said leasing gives the district access to new vehicles that are under warranty, reducing maintenance expense.

“Over half our fleet is leased,” he said. This is the seventh year that the board has authorized leasing to replace some of the district’s aging buses.

Martini was recognized as a main reason that ISD 831 was a recipient of the 2014 School Finance Award from the Minnesota Department of Education. The award is given annually to schools whose financial reports are on time, accurate, in compliance with state statutes and indicative of fiscal health.

Junior high transition

The board heard from Century Junior High staff about an intervention program to help students who are struggling academically or socially.

Dean of Students Eric Stang told about Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, started this year with seventh-graders.

“Most feel very connected with school, but some are on the fringe,” Stang said. “How can we bridge the gaps?”

Personal connections in school are important, Stang said, and students who have them are more persistent, give more effort and are more confident asking teachers for help.

At the beginning of school year, seventh-grade students who might benefit from the program were identified. Those connections have helped, he said.

Stang introduced teachers Ryan Finke, Shannon Kubicek and Gina Doe, who gave details about the intervention system. About 20 students are currently involved. Kubicek said she hopes to continue and expand the program, even though “it is a very time-consuming process.”

“We would like this to become a junior high intervention system for grades seven through nine,” she said.

Coming from elementary to junior high, with the corresponding switch to having several teachers instead of one, many students lack organizational skills.

“We hope to develop a study skills and organization curriculum,” Kubicek said.

Spring break

Three school-sponsored trips during spring break, March 10 to 14, promoted science, music and culture.

AP biology students traveled with teacher Bruce Leventhal to Costa Rica, where they studied ants with a doctorate student.

Another high school group traveled to Europe, and the music department took band, choir and orchestra students to New York City.

in New Orleans

The 2014 conference of the National School Boards Association was held in New Orleans Saturday to Monday, April 5-7. Members Rob Rapheal, Dan Kieger, Erin Turner, Julie Corcoran and Gail Theisen attended.

The district covers the cost of the trip. The 2013-2014 budget for School Board expenses is $49,000, including $32,000 for compensation, $15,000 for travel and $2,000 for other items, including meals provided for board members and for the facilities task force.

Other actions

The board also passed resolutions to approve a mid-year budget adjustment that will increase the fund balance by $275,000, request bids for paper supplies and appoint election judges for the May 20 bond referendum.

A resolution to not renew contracts for 39 probationary teachers also passed. The superintendent called this an annual staffing necessity and said some probationary teachers will be offered jobs.

The list of donations approved, which totaled $2,623 this month, included $200 given to the food service to provide meals for students who have negative balances in their hot lunch accounts. The donors were Beverly and Donald Green of Ham Lake.

All votes were unanimous, with board member Rob Raphael absent.

The board went into closed session to discuss allegations against a district employee.