Excited to promote student success: New superintendent-principal leads Tri-County
Asked about what he’ll miss most about his time as a principal with his previous school district, Bering Strait School District in Alaska, Michael Gadbois pointed to the beautiful outdoor scenery of the state— from the tundra and sea coasts to the mountains and rivers. He’ll also miss the pace of life there— calling it slower and not as rushed— and that sense of community within the Native Alaskan communities and his role within it.
“There’s a real strong sense of community in every one of them, but also a great need,” Gadbois said. “So I really felt, at times, that draw there, and I think what kept us there for five years in the village, and then my return is a purpose.”
He felt as if he had the ability to help these students and families within the community, as they worked through various challenges that any community faces, but also additional challenges related to cultural changes that have taken place over the past 150 years due to westernization.
“I’m going to miss that,” Gadbois said. “And, for me, it’s just turning that kind of help into another area.”
That new area is Tri-County School in Karlstad. Starting on July 1, 2021, Gadbois began his role as the new superintendent-principal of the school. He discussed his prior experience in education, his feelings and thoughts on this new job and place, how he sees his role within a district, and what people can expect from him.
His career journey in education has lasted 33 years so far, the same amount of years he has been married to his wife Therese. Growing up in the Minnesota suburb of Hastings, he met his wife as she was training to be an elementary teacher and he was training to be a high school social studies teacher. When they graduated from college, they found jobs at a school district in a rural Native Alaskan village.
“We went up to Alaska, 22 year olds on an adventure to a place called St. Lawrence Island and the village of Savoonga, and worked for the Bering Strait School District,” Gadbois said, “with no more than a couple of suitcases, and a couple, two or three flights to get there once you even get to Alaska.”
They lived there for five years, where they had their first of three children. They then decided to move onto the Alaskan road system, specifically Delta Junction, about 100 miles from Fairbanks. They stayed there for two years, while he worked as a social studies teacher.
They had a second child while in Alaska and had to make a decision of whether to stay in Alaska or return to Minnesota, where much of their family was located.
They returned to Minnesota, where he worked as a social studies teacher in a large suburban high school in White Bear Lake, doing that for three years. At the same time, he started his administrative program to help him become a K12 principal, feeling it was a natural fit.
“I did that because I had some leadership opportunities in the village at a young age, because we had been there five years and turnover was great,” Gadbois said. “So by the time we stayed, we had been through three principals. So, each principal would come in and (say), ‘Hey, can you help me out? I don’t really know what’s going on here.’”
He then worked within the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District, working to start their Alternative Learning Program. This turned into a 12-year career in alternative education, working with many schools. This work involved building a program for high school students, young adults, and teen mothers, and working with elementary schools on targeted services, after school programs and summer programs.
“That just turned into a long career that I loved in Alternative Ed(ucation),” Gadbois said.
He would then return to Alaska, specifically the Lower Yukon School District, first as a curriculum and CTE director and then as an assistant superintendent. Doing that for several years, he then remained in Alaska and returned to the place where his education career journey began as a teacher— the Bering Strait School District, specifically in a place called Little Diamond. This second time around, he would work as a principal.
He would finish up his superintendent certification. Now, he is at Tri-County School.
“All of the schools in rural Alaska are K12 schools. And when I was working there as a principal, and as the district office, many of them (are) almost the exact same size as Karlstad,” Gadbois said. “100-student schools, some a little larger, and then some really small as well, but a lot in that range.”
Regardless of school size, how does he view his role as a superintendent-principal? He first pointed to promoting student success— achievement that can be measured in many ways beyond just test scores, but also into their future careers.
“What are kids doing after they graduate? Do they feel competent that they can really go in any direction they so choose, even if they don’t know what they want to do when they graduate,” Gadbois asked. “Do they have those skills— both soft skills and technical skills, academic skills, both those kinds of skills— so that when they do figure things out, can they draw upon those? And then we feel comfortable and happy that we provided that foundation.”
He pointed to the saying on the school’s website: “Small School. Big Opportunities.” He believes in this phrase and looks forward to living it within the Tri-County School community.
“They (students) go to school 12 years… 13, 14 years, many of them in the same building with many of the same teachers. What an opportunity for us to really know that child, know that student, tap into their interests,” Gadbois said. “And when education is interest-based relative to… what the child is good at as they move forward, motivation and engagement will go up. When students are more engaged, teachers are more engaged. That’s where the magic happens.”
To see the complete story, read the August 12 issue of the North Star News in print or online.