Two area school administrators were recognized for their "outstanding performances" by Area Education Association District 5 last week. The deserving men are devoted to their educational careers and to the students they serve.
Storm Lake High School Principal Mike Hanna received the award for the high school level.
For 34 years, he has been involved in the educational system; 15 of those years have been at the Storm Lake High School.
"I knew during my junior high years that I wanted to be an educator," he commented. Hanna's high school in Osage had a strong Future Teachers Association, which he joined. As a part of the group, he had the opportunity to take part in classroom observations and even take part in some teaching under the guidance of his own teachers.
"That experience solidified my decision to go into teaching."
He attended and graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a degree in English and a minor in journalism.
For the first 12 years of his career he taught in various Iowa school districts, where he taught English classes, was the advisor for the yearbook and speech, directed the high school plays and served as the assistant boys basketball and track coaches. The days at school were long but he was young and single. He enjoyed his years there and feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to gain experience in so many areas.
He also gained "sympathy" for those teachers who were spending as much time as him or longer at the school and following the example of an awesome principal he encountered at the school. He decided he wanted to become an administrator, so that other educators could share their burdens with him.
He received his Master's Degree in Education Administration from the University of Iowa.
He held his first principal position in the North Kossuth School district, for fifth grade through 12th grade. He also served as the athletic director. He later became the high school principal and was curriculum director for kindergarten through 12th grades.
He and his wife Pam and their three children moved to Storm Lake 15 years ago. The Hanna children all graduated from the district.
"I love it here and I love being a principal," he commented. "I can't imagine doing anything else in my life."
He added that he could retire out of the Iowa system but is not ready to do that.
"I love being around the kids, especially the high school age kids. I think I found my niche. It is fun to watch them mature and grow up and it is great to be able to help them develop leadership skills and career goals as their public education comes to an end."
The school enrollment is large, but Hanna does his best to get to know all the high school students.
"When I'm in the hall, I try to say 'hi' and good morning' along with the names." That, he said, is important and lets the students they know they are cared for.
Hanna is one of the truest Tornado fans around. Over the years, he has attended all of the home events as well as many of the away events.
"The most important thing in my role as an educational leader is to help the teachers do the best things they can for the kids but another part is to help set the atmosphere for the learning to occur. We tell the kids, 'there is a proper time and place to buckle down and get their work done but there is also a time and place to have fun. We have a good balance here and I hope none of the students dread coming here."
Newell-Fonda's Middle School Principal Randy Nielsen received the honors for the middle school level. He has spent all 23 years of his career in the Fonda building.
Nielsen grew up in Exira, in southwest Iowa, and came to this area to attend college at Buena Vista. His enthusiasm to become an educator was sparked in some degree by the social studies teacher he had in high school.
He graduated from BV with a social science degree in 1981. During his college years, he came to enjoy this part of the state. He was fortunate when the ideal teaching position came up with the Fonda School District.
The first seven years of his career were spent teaching social studies for grades six-12 as well as serving as high school track and boys basketball coaches as well as the junior high volleyball coach.
He went back to college to earn his Masters Degree from Drake in 1986.
When Newell-Fonda began whole-grade sharing in 1989, he served as part time principal for the middle school as well as teaching sixth grade social studies. When the two districts merged in 1995 and with the retirement of the elementary principal, Nielsen was named as the kindergarten through eighth grade principal.
His time is split between the two school buildings and he praises Tammy Johnson who serves as the assistant principal for the elementary students.
He makes himself available to the students and has purposely given himself noon duty to allow him time to interact with the students at the two buildings and takes care of an eighth grade study hall.
"I always had in my mind that I wanted a career being around people. This is a good way to do that. The student is what makes this a great job. I love this age group. I've always enjoyed working with the students; I feel this is my calling. There is not a boring day and never a day the same. The students somehow keep me young."
He added, "I've got a great staff to work with. They know their job and they do it extremely well. We also have parental support. It's been a great experience working here with everyone. Really."
These two administrators were nominated for the awards last year. The process to narrow down the field of nominees and determine the award winner takes several months. The awards are then given the following fall.
The nominees are eligible to become part of the running for the State Administrator of the Year; Hanna received word that he was one of the top three high school administrators in the state.
The respective school districts indicate their pride in the two award winners, for the care and concern that show students.
Storm Lake's Superintendent Dr. Bill Kruse and Lori Porsch, director of special education, have been nominated for AEA5 awards which they will receive next fall.