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Interim principals settle in at East Ridge, Lake

Molly Roeske1 / 2
Karen Toomey2 / 2

Coming into a new school during the middle of the school year can be tricky.

“It is like walking into the middle of a movie and you’re trying to figure out what’s the plot, who are the characters,” said Karen Toomey, interim principal at Lake Middle School. “But it’s fine as long as you are willing to ask questions.”

Toomey has taken on the role of interim principal after Molly Roeske was selected to serve as interim principal at East Ridge High School following Aaron Harper’s sudden resignation.

“I’m sad about leaving Lake, but I’m feeling very welcomed here at East Ridge,” Roeske said.

Harper stepped down last month after the district investigated a complaint against him. Harper now is the subject of a Woodbury police investigation after the district provided authorities with information alleging Harper misused school district funds.

Both Roeske and Toomey will serve as interim principals through the end of the school year.

Enjoying East Ridge

Roeske said District 833 officials approached her about the interim principal position based on the fact that she knew many of the students. About two-thirds of Lake’s students feed into East Ridge.

“It kind of made sense to them only because I’m familiar with the students and the families and I know the administrative team,” Roeske said. “I could help make the transition as smooth as possible.

“I just felt as part of the district administrative team I could help out right now.”

Roeske has been at Lake since 2011. She previously was principal at Bailey Elementary School and has a total of 16 years’ experience in South Washington County Schools, including as a special education teacher and assistant principal. She also worked as a probation officer and social worker.

“It’s really just about kids and making sure they have everything they need to be successful,” she said of her education philosophy.

Roeske officially began full-time as East Ridge’s interim principal on Dec. 1.

“For the most part, the expectation is that I’ll be doing everything that the former principal was doing,” she said, “which is a lot of the same things I was doing at Lake, just a different building with different people – the transition hasn’t been as bad as it could have been.”

Roeske said she is already enjoying her time at East Ridge, specifically being able to see students that she knew from Lake.

“It’s fun coming over here and seeing how much they’ve changed and grown,” she said.

Roeske said she hasn’t thought about the possibility of making her switch to East Ridge a permanent one by applying for the principal job, but she is happy to be at the school.

“I’m not here to change anything right now,” she said, “I’m just here to support everything that they’re doing.

“I’m very happy at Lake, but in my initial days here I’m very happy with this group as well.”

Keeping the ‘ship afloat’

Toomey is not a complete stranger to District 833, having served as interim principal at both Hillside Elementary and at Middleton Elementary recently. At Hillside she filled in while Erin Shadick was on maternity leave. At Middleton she helped out while former principal and current assistant superintendent Julie Nielsen was on special assignment for the district’s referendum.

Toomey’s background in education spans 33 years and includes both classroom and administration experience.

“I was very fortunate in that the career I chose is a career I love,” she said. “I believe in helping every child reach their fullest potential; my job is always doing the best thing for kids.”

Toomey began her career as a special education teacher before moving up to administration where she oversaw the special education program at several districts.

Most recently, Toomey served as a principal for 16 years at Westview Elementary in Apple Valley.

Toomey, who retired from education in 2011, said she is happy to be back in the schools.

“I retired so that I could be there for my father; he needed some extra help,” she said, “but when I retired, I wasn’t ready to retire.”

Toomey said she feels comfortable coming to Lake on an interim basis, having served in District 833 and knowing that Roeske is only a phone call away.

“I’m not setting out to change anything, unless somebody tells me that something needs to change,” she said. “It’s seeing through the programs they have set in place.

“I’m just here to keep the ship afloat.”

Both Roeske and Toomey said they are hopeful that the rest of the school year will run smoothly.

“Even though change is hard,” Roeske said, “hopefully this will be a smooth transition.”

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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