July 1 will usher in a new era for the Forest Lake school district as Linda Madsen will officially exit her position as superintendent and welcome current Forest Lake Area High School Principal Steve Massey as her replacement.
“One of the things I like about Forest Lake Schools and the leadership group is that no one has an ego,” she said. “They are not about themselves or furthering their own agendas, but rather put the focus on the kids. I have maintained that same attitude during my time here by working hard, doing the right thing and focusing on the kids. I hope it has served the district well.”
Madsen started her journey in Forest Lake as a first-grader at Forest Lake Elementary and made her way through the system from there. She graduated as a Ranger and went on to earn an education degree from the University of Minnesota in 1981. She was hired to teach home economics at Central Junior High School right after college and stayed in that position until 1996. She earned a master’s degree in 1985. She was hired as the mentor cordinator and curriculum coordinator for the Forest Lake district in 1996 and earned her doctorate in 2000. She moved up to become the director of teaching and learning in 2001 and began her tenure at superintendent in 2009.
“With all the positions I have held here in Forest Lake, I have been blessed to have worked with great people,” she said. “From my co-workers to the people I see on a daily basis to the students and families, it has all been great. I know that isn’t always the case with people, so I feel lucky in that regard.”
As far as major accomplishments during her tenure, Madsen said the passage of the facilities bond in 2015 is a definite milestone.
“I really enjoyed working with the community to discover what we wanted to include in the bond,” she said. “I am also proud of all the hard work that was put in by so many people to help get it passed.”
Another accomplishment highlighted by Madsen is not necessarily one that is top of mind for a lot of people, but it is something she is extremely proud of.
“We made sure that students and families that don’t have a voice are represented,” she said. “That may include everything from homeless students to those who don’t speak English as a first language.”
Madsen said the district’s American Indian student and parent group didn’t exist when she first started, and it has been fun for her to see them come together. She also mentioned the Hmong student group and the black affinity group as important to making smaller student groups feel heard.
“Forest Lake is 90 percent white students and 10 percent students of color. Sometimes it is more difficult to find someone who is like you and feel supported and not alone,” she said. “I am proud of the fact that we as a district really sat down and said, ‘What can we do, and how can we help, and how can we serve that group better?’
“Those are things that maybe aren’t noticed in a big way, but they make a major difference to those directly affected.”
Madsen also said that the district’s ability to maintain a significantly diverse amount of programming during her tenure has also been a major boon.
“We are able to offer a comprehensive school experience for people from birth to age 21,” she said. “It was very important to me to make sure students had the opportunity to engage in quality experiences so that they could find a place that engages them and gets them excited. We have maintained a lot of programming in the areas of industrial technology, family and consumer sciences, arts, and business. Some districts have diminished, and we haven’t experienced as much of that.”
Finances have been a major part of Madsen’s career as superintendent. Many of her years have seen serious reductions in both staff and services.
“I think another accomplishment would be that I have remained respectful and calm in the face of reductions almost every year,” she said. “I tried hard to not make it sound like we’re in the worst shape but also didn’t pretend that we were in the best. Even in tough times, you need to continue on and set the example of how we should be respectful and factual and not dramatic or overemotional.”
As far as Madsen’s plans for the future go, she is somewhat undecided and admits that she hasn’t had a lot of time to think about life beyond the district yet.
“I have been in FL for many years and have had a wonderful career,” she said. “It feels like the right time personally and professionally to move on. It is certainly a demanding job that I have been completely devoted to.
“I still have energy and a desire to continue employment, but perhaps with a new focus and direction. Right now, I am just focused on finishing my job here in the best way possible and working to make the transition as smooth as possible for Dr. Massey.”