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East Ridge planning team named 2010 Education Team of the Year

The Woodbury Chamber of Commerce named the East Ridge High School Planning Team the 2010 Education Team of the Year. The members of the team are: (Front Row) Maureen Kostka (office coordinator,) Carolle Neisius (counselor), and Susie Peichel (language arts;) (Row 2) Nancy Berg (science,) Kelly Reagan (social studies,) Mary Seidel (language arts,) Greta Lewis (nurse,) Glen Wurm (physical education,) Lynn O'Driscoll (business,) Gretchen Romain (former art teacher, assistant principal) and Mary Tollefsrud (...

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fifth in a series of stories on the recipients of the Woodbury Chamber of Commerce award for educators, business organizations and citizen of the year.

In spring 2008, East Ridge High School was nothing more than a dream and a vision.

It was thanks to the hard work of the 23 individuals on the East Ridge Planning Team that the vision became a reality.

"We were able to think really globally about what is best for students as students and not get too departmentalized or too focused on individuals in the schools," Planning Team member and theater director Amanda Hestwood said. "It's kind of mind boggling - the thousands, millions of decisions that were made by this group."

The East Ridge Planning Team has been recognized for its work by being named the 2010 Education Team of the Year by the Woodbury Chamber of Commerce. The award will be presented Jan. 21 at the annual Woodbury Chamber of Commerce gala.

"Often you get informal recognition all the time -- a thank you from a parent or a student or recognition by a colleague," Planning Team member and assistant principal Matt Kraft aid. "Not too often do you get a formal recognition, so it is very humbling to be formally recognized."

Vision to reality

When the East Ridge Planning Team was formed, the first step was to develop a community amongst themselves before developing the East Ridge community.

"The first step really was building community," Hestwood said. "It took a little bit of time to come together and be a team."

The members were, and still are, responsible for making educational decisions that impact nearly 1,650 students in grades 9-12.

"That was one of the biggest accomplishments was blending the communities in a concerted effort to say you are East Ridge and it's good," Planning Team member and science department head Nancy Berg said. "It doesn't matter where you live."

During the planning process, the planning team was responsible for countless details from the look and color of the interior building to developing learning centers and classrooms to the creative and best practice ideas that have been incorporated into every academic decision made. Also included in the planning process were decisions relating to technology education and equipment, program of studies curriculum, and developing a career-readiness program for all ERHS students.

"We all gave our input and got to a common ground," Planning Team member and band director Chris Tank said.

"We moved into an empty building," Berg said. "We were responsible for filling the building with supplies, not just with kids."

A full time job

During the 18 months the planning team met and worked leading up to the school's opening, two meetings were held every month and hundreds of hours were put in.

"There were several weeks where it was a full time job on top of a full time job," Hestwood said.

Principal Aaron Harper, who was also part of the planning team, said many of the hours the team put in were volunteer hours.

"There's so much time put in that it's countless," he said. "It was all part of the ownership, part of the commitment the team had.

"It's important that the community understands that people are working hard for them and working hard for their kids -- a lot of time and energy went into that."

The fruits of their labor

Now that the planning process has calmed, the planning team is able to sit back and look at what their hard work has created.

"Its fun to just walk around the building and remember those conversations when you see those physical reminders of the work that we did," Hestwood said.

All of the planning team members said their vision and their work would never have become a reality if had not been for the passion and dedication from everyone involved.

"It was a lot of passion for the big picture - it wasn't self-indulgent - and to really do it well," Berg said. "Plus, (Harper) was an equal member of the team. There wasn't the hierarchy, so he made everything really comfortable -- it made us feel valued."

"That kind of passion and that kind of leadership continues to amaze me," Kraft said."

The Woodbury Chamber of Commerce's "Let's Paint the Town" Annual Gala will be 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Jan. 21 at the Prom Center in Oakdale. For more information or to purchase tickets visit

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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