Special Election: President-Elect – Region 9 (2021-2022)

Rick Bleichner, Superintendent, Herman-Norcross Community Schools
Vern Capelle, Superintendent, Upsala Area Schools
Ann-Marie Foucault, Superintendent, St. Michael-Albertville School District
Matthew Hillmann, Superintendent, Northfield Public Schools
Karen Jacobson, Executive Director, MN River Valley Education District

The candidate elected will complete Laine Larson’s term as President-Elect on the MASA Board.

Rick Bleichner
Superintendent, Herman-Norcross Community Schools​
MASA Region 4

It is my honored privilege to be nominated to serve as your next MASA president. I have been in the education circles for 35 years with 28 of those years in administration, the last 24 as a superintendent.

My educational career first started as I taught and coached at a college in Bismarck, ND. Other teaching experiences brought me to Cold Spring Rocori and St. Cloud Cathedral before I moved into the administration arena.

I have been blessed to start my administrative career at St. Cloud Cathedral, with moves to Sartell, Battle Lake, Evansville, Breckenridge, and now, for the past nine years, at the Herman-Norcross Community School.

During these years in administration, I have served on many boards, committees, and other leadership roles. I look at all of these experiences as privileges that I have been given and I work extremely hard in representing everyone while serving in these roles.

  • MREA Board
  • MSHSL Board (Treasurer)
  • State FFA Board (First school administrator approved to serve on this board)
  • MASA Board (Currently representing Region IV)
  • Numerous MASA committees
  • Region IV Chairperson
  • MASA Superintendent Mentor

Though my ties in education have always been in the rural educational setting, I see the whole picture and the educational challenges we all face as school districts across our state. I understand the smaller rural schools face different challenges than larger rural schools as well as our metro districts, yet we all come together for one common good, and that is to put forth a great education for all of our students.

As we work our way out of a pandemic, and look to the future as to what education has to offer in our “Next Normal”, these are not only challenging times, but these are exciting times. We all stand united to bring great changes to our educational world. The work we are currently doing, will set the precedent for future generations. For decades our former colleagues were never given this opportunity to make changes such as we have all done, at a “break neck” pace, during these past two years.

Our work is not yet done. We face so many challenges with budgets and putting great teachers and staff members in place. I have always said, the most important work an administrator can do, is to recruit, hire, and maintain a great team. Show me a great school district and I will show you a great staff.

Our work with equity has only scratched the surface of what needs to happen. In some of our rural districts not a lot of diversity occurs in our student body nor in our faculty and staff. This is an area that we all need to consciously be aware of and help to create a student body and an atmosphere of caring, learning, and being respectful of differences. We are all in this together and we must stand united to help foster a better and stronger world for our future generations.

Finally, the work we do for kids does not happen without proper resources. We need to work with legislators to secure stronger funding for our schools. Though they came through with the most for our schools this past legislative session, it still is not enough to help us keep up with the inflationary pace that we are currently facing. If something is not done, education and educators will continue to fall even further behind and may not be able to catch up. The world outside of education will begin to surpass us by so fast that it will be difficult to find highly qualified individuals to put in front of our students.

I will work diligently with our legislators to see that appropriate funding is placed in the hands of school districts so we can continue to do what is right for students. I would like to congratulate the other four candidates for stepping forth and seeking your vote for president of the MASA.

Your support for me in the upcoming election is greatly appreciated. Know that I will humbly work to move our MASA organization in a forward and progressive direction.

Vern Capelle
Superintendent, Upsala Area Schools
MASA Region 5

I am honored and humbled to have been nominated to serve as the MASA President-Elect. I have worked as an educator in the Upsala Area School District for 37 years, starting as a science teacher and coach in 1985. Throughout my career as an educator, I have focused on building positive and effective relationships with the students and families of our community. I am a firm believer in the power of relationships and the effect they have on student learning. Currently, I have the privilege to serve the Upsala district as its Superintendent. My experiences have led me on this journey to district leadership and have prepared me for leadership on a larger scale. I feel my career experiences to this point have prepared me to serve as an effective representative of MASA membership and MN school districts. Some of the experiences that have prepared me for this role are listed below:

  • 37 years of experiences as an educator in the Upsala Area school district.
  • Teacher/Coach/Dean/Principal/Superintendent
  • Chairperson of the MASA Region 5 Superintendent Group
  • Ex-Officio member of the Sourcewell Governing Board
  • Member of the Sourcewell Advisory Committee
  • Chairperson of the Mid-State Education District Advisory Council
  • MASA Legislative Committee Member
  • 2021 Graduate of the AASA National Superintendent Certification Program.
  • 2019 Region 5 MASA Administrator of Excellence.
  • Past Chairperson of the MSHSL Region 5A committee.
  • 2011 Class A Basketball Coach of the Year.
  • 2007 Teacher of the Year Candidate.

In my career as an educational leader, I have relied on my belief in the power of relationships to establish a culture of collaboration. I believe that we best accomplish our goals through the creation of a common vision and working as a team to achieve these goals. As President-Elect, I would work in collaboration with MASA membership to advocate for all students and educators across regardless of geographic location. All MN students deserve the best we can give them. I believe that public education is an important pillar of our society. For this reason, I strive to ensure that our students have the capacity and resources necessary to pursue the future of their choice. Every student deserves to graduate prepared to be successful in whatever endeavor they choose to pursue. As MASA President-Elect, I will extend this work to advocate for every student across the state of MN.

I am proud to be the Superintendent of Upsala Area Schools and the leadership journey I have taken. Our mantra is Every Student…Every Day! Inspiring students and building effective relationships is at the core of our philosophy. If elected, I intend to extend this to my work as a leader of MASA. Again, thank you for the nomination and I humbly request your vote.

Ann-Marie Foucault
Superintendent, St. Michael-Albertville School District
MASA Region 6

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I am honored and humbled to be nominated as MASA’s President-Elect. I proudly serve students, staff, families, and the community as Superintendent of St. Michael-Albertville Public Schools.

I began my career in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula following in the footsteps of my mother, who is still teaching at 77 years old. After moving to Minnesota, I worked as a secondary science teacher and later as a testing coordinator, director of teaching and learning, principal, and superintendent. In my 27 years as an educator, I have served in rural, suburban, and urban school districts.

The “Why” (My Purpose):
Before I get to the “what” and the “how,” what I would do and how I would do it, it is important for you to know my “why,” as this is my purpose and the foundation for my actions.

First and foremost, I wholeheartedly believe in our students. It is why I spring out of bed each morning and why I am often at school many evenings. I strongly believe all students can learn and they deserve our absolute best. They deserve to learn in an inclusive environment where they feel valued, welcomed, and respected. I am passionate about caring for, engaging, and inspiring our students to maximize their success. I am energized about the abundance of possibilities and opportunities that the future holds as we prepare our students for a world we can only imagine.

Second, I have a tremendous sense of pride for educators and have a high degree of respect for all who work in our noble profession. I am constantly in awe of colleagues and educators as they work tirelessly to inspire and empower our students. They show up each day and give their very best to our students. They are my heroes and I am proud to walk alongside them.

The “What” and “How” (My Platform):
As president-elect, I promise to work tirelessly for all Minnesota students and for you. My seven-point platform outlines what I will do and how I will do it. If elected, I pledge to:

  • Put Students First

Students should be at the forefront of each and every decision. Putting students first means closing the achievement gap and completing unfinished learning. It also means addressing the social, emotional, and mental health needs of our students.

  • Grow, Develop, and Support World-Class Educators

This starts with attracting individuals to the educational profession. We need caring, compassionate, and skilled educators and must partner with state leaders to make this a reality by creating straightforward pathways to attract and retain high quality individuals. We must also have robust systems in place to grow and develop our educators so they feel valued and supported.

  • Lead with an Equity Lens

We must work together to address the inequities that are in our schools and systems. We must provide space for each other through actively listening to a variety of perspectives and engaging in difficult conversations that may challenge the status quo. Educational equity must be a priority in our schools.

  • Listen and Practice Collaborative Leadership

To successfully navigate the many intricacies in our profession, we need each other now more than ever. Collaboration is critical as we face a future with much uncertainty. We must listen to what our students and families are saying, partner with stakeholders, advocate for change, and support each other.

  • Effectively Communicate

Effective communication is the key to building and maintaining trust, which leads to positive outcomes. It builds bridges by connecting us to others and allows our voices to be heard. To influence others and positively impact students, effective communication must be utilized.

  • Build and Nurture Strong Relationships

Building and nurturing positive relationships with state and national leaders is essential to propel our educational system forward and enact meaningful change. Our jobs are challenging and we need each other. We must support each other by being present, accessible, and empathetic.

  • Fiercely Advocate

Our students need courageous and determined leaders who are fierce advocates. We must work together as a unified team to move our organization forward on behalf of superintendents, technology leaders, and central office leaders.

I am very proud of our profession. I love being a superintendent and can’t imagine doing anything else. I am energized and invigorated every time I go into a classroom. I enjoy partnering with educators and families. I am uplifted and rejuvenated working with superintendents and central office leaders. I am grateful for the work I get to do and am excited about the future of education.

I believe my 27 years of experience in working in rural, suburban, and urban school districts has prepared me to be the next MASA president-elect. I am up for the challenge and excited about the opportunities and possibilities that lie ahead. I am ready.

Thank you for your time and for considering me for the MASA president-elect position. If elected, I would be honored to serve you and I promise to work tirelessly for you and all students in our great state. Our students matter. Educators matter. You matter. And now more than ever … our leadership matters.

Matt Hillmann, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Northfield Public Schools
MASA Region 1

Watch Superintendent Hillmann’s campaign video here!

I write today asking for your vote in this week’s primary for MASA president-elect. If elected, I pledge to represent you with professionalism, grace, and integrity as a positive yet assertive voice for PreK-12 public education.

First, I want to thank Laine Larson for her outstanding service to MASA and as a Minnesota educator of over 40 years. I know you join me in wishing her well in her retirement. I also want to thank Ann-Marie, Karen, Rick, and Vern for stepping forward to run as well.

I have been an active member of MASA since 2013. It has been my pleasure to serve as superintendent of the Northfield Public Schools since 2016. As challenging as our job can be, I consider it a true privilege to do this work. Leadership matters.

Below is a brief set of professional highlights that support my candidacy:

  • Current MASA board member
  • Active in executive development, legislative, excellence in education and equity, and nominating committees
  • 2022 MASA Region 1 Administrator of Excellence
  • 2022 City of Northfield Human Rights Award
  • 2022 AASA national superintendent certification program mentor (Minnesota cohort)
  • 2020 graduate of the AASA national superintendent certification program (East cohort)
  • 2020 Northfield Area Chamber of Commerce “Chamber Champion” Award
  • 2016 MASA Outstanding Central Office Leader award honoree
  • 2016 graduate of MASA Aspiring Superintendents Academy
  • Minnesota Educational Equity Partnership’s superintendent racial equity leadership network participant
  • Previous experience as adjunct faculty for educational leadership at Minnesota State University, Mankato, Concordia-St. Paul, and the University of Minnesota

Our state is at a crossroads on many fronts. Public education has never been more important. Our leadership will play a significant role in advancing racial equity and how public schools emerge from and innovate in the post-pandemic world.

As leaders, we focus on relationships, ensure quality instruction, and strive for effective school management. We measure what matters. I have a “what’s next” philosophy for leadership. When we earn success, we should celebrate the win and ask “what’s next?” When we do not meet our goals, we should dissect why and ask “what’s next?” We are always working to improve. I will bring this approach, and a sense of urgency, to my work as MASA president-elect. You can have complete faith that I will take the responsibility of representing you seriously and use all of my being to advance an agenda focused on our students and their families. I would consider it an honor to represent you. Thank you in advance for your vote!

Karen Jacobson
Executive Director, MN River Valley Education District
MASA Region 3

I am honored to have been nominated to serve as MASA President-Elect. Laine Larson is an incredible leader and public servant. The candidate elected to fill out her position, will not only be challenged with following in Laine’s capable footprints, but will have just one month to prepare for serving as MASA President. Currently, I am serving as past-president of the Minnesota Rural Education Association (MREA). Last year I had the wonderful opportunity to serve as President of MREA. It was a highlight in my career and such a positive experience that I decided to accept the nomination to serve as MASA President-Elect. It would be my privilege to serve my colleagues in this role.

“It’s not how you start that is important, it is how you finish!” – Jim George

My career pathway into education was anything but direct. Coming from a family of educators, I was determined to find my own unique vocation. After graduating from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus, I moved to rural Minnesota and began a career with the Minnesota Extension Service. It took a couple of years before I realized that education was a huge part of my job…and I loved it. I obtained a Masters of Education degree from the University of Minnesota. For the next couple of years, I managed a drug and alcohol prevention program for a consortium of school districts. This was followed by seven years at the Southwest Minnesota Initiative Foundation as a program officer and then Community Initiatives Director. In November 2001, I was hired as the Assistant Director at the Minnesota River Valley Education District (MRVED) and became Director in July 2007. I have been a member of MASA for 15 years and have served on the Executive Development Committee for most of those years.

Throughout my life, I have had amazing careers, but working with educators was like coming home. Over the past 20+ years I have been blessed to work with amazing educators. The mission of the MRVED is to effectively and efficiently assist member districts in meeting the goals they have set for themselves, their students, and their staff. My job is one where I am a facilitator, collaborator, and educator. Those traits define my leadership style.

I will not come into the position of president-elect with an agenda of my own. It is my belief that the role of the president is to ensure that the mission, vision, and values of an organization are adhered to with integrity. MASA has a legislative platform. I firmly support the platform and will work with MASA’s staff and members to achieve as many successes as possible.

My beliefs for education are as follows.

Children come first.

It is my strong belief that public education serves as the conduit for providing equitable opportunities to ALL learners. There is no greater reward for educators than to guide children to the best future possible.

Take care of your educators and staff.

Our teachers, paraprofessionals, and other staff members all are integral parts of the education team. As we are facing staffing shortages and high levels of social emotional needs, we must have a culture where we care for and support those who are on the frontlines of teaching and caring for our learners.

That is definitely simplistic. Yet if we keep focused on those two things, we will make a difference in our schools and communities.

“You don’t need a special suit, a title or a super hero name. You just need to tap into the love, spirit, passion, soul and purpose inside you to create your life and a better world today.” – Jon Gordon

I am not superhero. However, I do have a love, spirit, passion, and soul for education. If elected, I will bring those traits to the position of MASA President-Elect. Thank you for considering me as you cast your vote.

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