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Carlson served 35 years as principal

Jerry Carlson spent more days in a principal’s office than anyone in district history, and to date, his 35 years as an elementary principal (1962-97) is the longest tenure among past and current principals.

Every school day, all those years, Carlson tried to observe in every classroom, even if his schedule meant he could pop in for just a few minutes. He also tried to visit support staff daily. He credits his mentor, assistant superintendent Dr. Bernard Larson, for inspiring this habit.

“We (principals) were supposed to be educational leaders and know the curriculum and know what was going on in every classroom,” he said. Larson even asked principals to serve as substitute teachers at least once for each teacher annually.

Carlson had a lot of classrooms to visit his first few years as a principal. Elementary schools operated split shifts, and Carlson’s school also had portable classrooms. He was assigned to lead two schools, Creekside and the new Hillcrest elementary schools.

Split shifts had inconveniences with start and end times in the dark in mid-winter. “But some of the best teaching that ever took place took place during those years,” he said. “Planning was fantastic. Organization was fantastic. Results were fantastic. We didn’t suffer (academically). If anything, we gained.”

While student school days were short, teachers spent hours in workrooms before or after their shifts preparing for classes and sometimes working together. Teachers developed methods to save class time, like writing class work on large pieces of paper ahead of time instead of writing on the blackboard during class.

Carlson encouraged students as well as parents and staff to visit his office any time. “I wanted to be their friend, not their enemy,” he says. “We never really had major discipline problems.”

Carlson saw a lot of changes during his leadership tenure. Staff dress codes changed from coats and ties for men and dresses for women to business casual attire. Parent involvement tapered off too. In his earlier years, mothers’ clubs were popular and schools were packed for PTA meetings.

Because the district had innovative programs, “we had visitors all the time,” said Carlson.

A career highlight for Carlson was helping school systems throughout the Midwest improve. Carlson spoke at conferences and led school in-services related to school self-evaluation and accreditation.

Prior to becoming a principal, Carlson was a speech-language pathologist for three years and an elementary teacher for three years. He was principal of Creekside (1962-63), Creekside and Hillcrest (1963-65), Cedar Crest (1965-81) and Washburn (1981-97).

After retirement, Carlson continued to be on the move. For years, he worked in public relations for the Minnesota North Stars hockey team and the Met Center arena. Currently he provides travel assistance to celebrities who fly into the Twin Cities.