The world is always changing, and to keep up with it educators must also change. That lesson is one Hutchinson Middle School’s incoming principal, Brenda Vatthauer, keeps in mind.
“The students today are not the same we worked with 20 years ago,” she said. “We have to grow and change.”
Vatthauer was selected to fill the position held by Todd Grina, who will retire at the end of the month. Monday was her first day working in the school, though she joined staff for a half day of training this past month. She was hired after a round of interviews with School Board members, and another round with central office staff. She comes to Hutchinson Middle School from Lincoln Park Middle School on Duluth’s west side, where she was principal for six years.
Her career started in Fosston, Minnesota, as a family and consumer science teacher at the high school and middle school. She also coached girls basketball and track. From there she taught in Red Lake Falls and later Thief River Falls. That’s when she decided to pursue her master’s degree in curriculum instruction.
“It was my high school principal’s encouragement to go on and obtain an administrative license,” Vatthauer said. “So I did. From there, the Northwest Service (Cooperative) approached me and asked if I would work for them as an education consultant.”
The cooperative serves as a regional education hub for professional development.
From there, Vatthauer went on to her first principal job at Montevideo Middle School, which has a population of about 400 students. She was there four years.
“Then I felt I needed a big change, bigger challenges and a bigger system,” she said. “So I went to Duluth.”
Six years later, Vatthauer said she was attracted to Hutchinson as an instructional leader.
“I’m excited about what the high school is offering with TigerPath, and the innovation up there,” she said.
TigerPath is the school’s award-winning workforce development and career exploration program.
“There is a lot of opportunity here (at the middle school) to have kids ready for high school,” Vatthauer said.
But there’s a bigger picture to keep in mind, she added.
“Education now days, especially in the middle school, is more than academics and standards,” she said. “It’s social/emotional. It’s being connected to the community. It’s service. It’s the whole child, engaging kids so they feel part of something. I think that needs to really be looked at, and we need to provide opportunities for kids to have those experiences. ... Middle school is about exploring. (Students) maybe don’t know what (they are) really good at yet.”
As an administrator, Vatthauer said she is focused on instruction and engaging with what is happening in the classroom.
“Things need to change with the times to meet the needs of our students,” she said. “We know change is hard. It does take time.”
She has found teachers in Hutchinson are open to trying new things and hearing new ideas. She has also found a welcoming atmosphere, which is encouraging for a principal who enjoys promoting and building culture.
“If you can develop relationships and trust with parents, your students and your staff, you can do a lot of things,” Vatthauer said.