Meet the Rochester school cabinet

*Editor’s note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and style.

Jacque Peterson, director of elementary and secondary education

What are your areas of responsibility? Supervision of K-12 schools, supervision of elementary and secondary “principals on special assignment,” strategic planning, home school registration and bilingual services.

How long have you worked for Rochester Public Schools? 28 years

What’s your favorite part of your job? I enjoy meeting and getting to know students, staff, families and community members. I am energized when problem-solving and helping to remove barriers that stand in the way of learning.

How or why did you get into education? From a very early age I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I was fortunate to be surrounded by amazing teachers growing up, including my father; a retired English teacher. I landed my first teaching job in my hometown of Rochester and I’ve been here serving in various roles my entire career.

What’s the biggest challenge of your job? In any leadership role it’s unlikely everyone will be pleased with a decision or outcome. It is important to actively listen and gather multiple perspectives. Ultimately, we need to make decisions based on what is best for students. If we can be sure student needs are the central focus, then we can be assured in our decision.

Karl Bakken, director of human resources

What are your areas of responsibility? Recruitment, staffing, daily substitute coordination and placement; on-boarding new staff; investigations and performance management; posting, interviewing and making job offers; negotiating contracts with bargaining groups; communicating and problem-solving with union representatives; supporting RPS staff with questions related to employment, retirement, and contracts; coordinating staff leaves of absence and determining if staff are in need of accommodations.

How long have you worked for Rochester Public Schools? I am wrapping up my 15th year. Prior to being in the HR position this school year, I have been in the roles of school psychologist, special education supervisor, and assistant director of student services.

What’s your favorite part of your job? Working with a variety of people and situations. I enjoy the challenges and problem-solving that go into my job.

How or why did you get into education? My undergraduate degree was in psychology. After college I worked as a job coach for adults with disabilities, a child protection worker, and then went to graduate school to study neuropsychology and behavior. All students in the first year of graduate studies attended similar classes. Some of the other students I was friends with in my cohort were studying school psychology. I found this field very interesting and eventually switched my graduate studies program and went into school psychology.

What’s the biggest challenge of your job? With approximately 2,800 employees, unfortunately there are going to be times that staff are subject to discipline, and I tend to be directly involved in that. These situations can be unpleasant at times.

Karla Bollesen, director of student services

What are your areas of responsibility? Special education; 504 Services, which is for students with disabilities or medical issues that need accommodations at school; Students In Transition, for homeless students; Truancy and Fostering Connections; Title Programs, which is federal support for programming, such as reading, math support, or extra staffing, based on the number of students in poverty; mental health services, family and community engagement, Graduate Induction Program.

How long have you worked for the Rochester Public Schools? 30 years

What’s your favorite part of the job? The people. RPS is extremely fortunate to have amazing staff — teachers, paras, support staff, administrators — who go way beyond expectations to ensure that we provide the very best service to our students and families. I am privileged and humbled to work with such passionate and inspiring people.

How or why did you choose to go into education? From a very young age I knew I wanted to teach but it was the influence of my parents, Curly and Joy Bollesen, that shaped my decision. My dad was a teacher for more than 32 years. He loved his job and his students, and he modeled that joy every single day. My mom instilled the value of working hard and doing what you love. She had an impeccable work ethic and supported my career path by providing care to my children and never making me feel guilty for working so many hours. To this day she continues to provide endless encouragement and inspiration to me and my family.

What’s the biggest challenge of your job? The biggest challenge of my job is maintaining high quality services and programs without adequate state and federal funding. The needs of our children and families are growing, and it is difficult to address the struggles they face with limited resources. I firmly believe that it is the role of public education to open the doors of learning to every child, and it is my responsibility to advocate for quality programming and educational opportunities for all, despite the ever-present challenges.

John Carlson, director of finance

What are your areas of responsibility? Business services, accounting, payroll, insurance services, purchasing, and overseeing Paper Tiger, the district’s internal print shop.

How long have you worked for Rochester Public Schools? 6 years

What’s your favorite part of your job? I like being able to present financial information to the School Board, hopefully in a way that is easy for them and the public to understand.

How or why did you get into education? My wife grew up in Rochester and has worked for the District since graduating college in 2002. My career aspirations were focused on finance and operations. In 2010, I started paying attention to the district’s finances around the time immediately preceding the failed referendum that year. Upon digging in, I realized that school financing was intriguing and complicated. I kept my options open from there for future finance openings and found one in 2011. I left the position of chief financial officer at Zumbro Valley Mental Health Center to be the treasurer, which managed the accounting, payroll, purchasing, and Paper Tiger operations. After a retirement in business services, I was promoted to controller in 2013. After another retirement, I moved into executive director of finance in 2015.

What’s the biggest challenge of your job? I would say there are often a lot of misunderstandings between the public and the school district. Misunderstandings as to how property taxes work, how much aid the state gives — or doesn’t — how restricted some portions of the money are, and how much things cost. Unfortunately, during the operating referendum in 2015, I saw factual information I presented get twisted in a negative way. My goal is to keep presenting the facts in an understandable way and to make sure there is much integrity with the district’s finances.

Amy Eich, director of community education

What are your areas of responsibility? Community Education, which includes early childhood family education cal
led PAIIR, school readiness and preschool, early childhood screening, family literacy, youth enrichment, School Age Child Care, adult enrichment, adult literacy, citizenship test prep, GED & college prep, 21st Century Community Learning Centers; and Student Nutrition Services

How long have you worked for Rochester Public Schools? 4 years

What’s your favorite part of your job? I enjoy so many parts of my job, it’s hard to limit to one. I love the collaborative nature of Rochester and all the community and non-profit leaders who welcome the opportunity to work together to address the needs in our community. I love working with the families we serve from early childhood through senior adults. I love the opportunity to serve the committed staff we have, from customer service professionals, to classroom assistants, care providers, teachers, and program leaders. It really does take a village to bring high quality learning to our community.

How or why did you get into education? I believe I was drawn to this field as the perfect place to serve and use my skills. I began my career as an English teacher. Then I left public education for a while and worked in corporate learning. Coming back to public education in Community Education opened up a whole new set of opportunities to help people build better futures. I recently added student nutrition services to my responsibilities, and have thoroughly enjoyed learning more about this area.

What’s the biggest challenge of your job? The biggest challenge is having enough time to meet all the needs of students, families, staff, and the community at large.

Jayne Gibson, director of curriculum and instruction

What are your areas of responsibility? Research and assessment; Specialized programming including Gifted Services, CTE, CTECH, and media services; Professional Development; K-12 Curriculum and Instruction; District Wide Integration and Revenue Plan, Literacy Plan and Worlds’ Best Workforce Plan.

How long have you worked for Rochester Public Schools? 4 years.

What’s your favorite part of your job? The opportunity to work with so many different people! Everyone has a story, and each person brings unique perspectives into their own learning. This is true of our students and our staff. It is amazing to get the opportunity to work with, and learn from, so many.

How or why did you get into education? I entered education through the non-traditional route. I joined the military after high school graduation, and went to college later in life. I knew when I did go to college, it was going to be for a degree in education. I just didn’t realize it was going to take me a little longer to get to college!

What’s the biggest challenge of your job? Lack of time — there are so many wonderful things happening in our schools and in our community for our students and families. It is a challenge to participate in all of them, and devote as much attention to each of them as I would like to.

Heather Nessler, director of communications, marketing, technology

What are your areas of responsibility? District-wide communications, marketing, branding, and graphic design; social media; website; Rochester Instructional Television Studio; Department of Technology, which includes software support, networking, tech repair, work stations support, help desk, etc.

How long have you worked for Rochester Public Schools? 4 years

What’s your favorite part of your job? I love that a portion of my job is telling the stories of our phenomenal students and incredible staff. I also enjoy working with technology, which I believe is molding the landscape for tomorrow’s future leaders. I feel empowered to do what is best for all of our students and am humbled to collaborate with such talented colleagues.

How or why did you get into education? Professionally, I’ve worked for more than 16 years in the areas of communications, marketing, and technology, while personally I’ve remained committed to service and volunteer work. After I became a mom it occurred to me that I really desired to give back to our community. I wanted my young daughters to feel inspired by watching me do work I am passionate about.

What’s the biggest challenge of your job? We have more than 17,500 learners and about 2,800 employees, all playing a critical role in the system. I’m proud of how well our system works despite the size, but we have challenges with the volume of items to communicate as well as the most efficient tools to connect with our audiences. In the area of technology, the paradigm shift to digital leadership and personalized learning is complex. Engaging students and staff with the tools and professional development needed to teach creative thinking, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving is a costly endeavor and requires a solid strategy and time.

Scott Sherden, director of operations

What are your areas of responsibility? Transportation, including First Student bus service; Facilities: managing buildings, grounds, trucking, health and safety, maintenance services, construction-related projects; overseeing the school police liaison program, district security issues, investigations and incidents.

How long have you worked for RPS? 2.5 years — After 33 years of service, I retired from the Rochester Police Department in November 2014. I was hired in late December 2014 as coordinator of district security and performance management, moved to the director of security in April 2015, and finally, to director of operations in February 2016.

What is your favorite part of the job? Every day is different. Similar to the police force, this position regularly provides new challenges on a daily basis, with the singular goal of supporting the education of the students in the district. Working with a variety of district staff has been enlightening, as I am able to see first-hand the outstanding level of commitment and dedication of the teachers, administration and support staff have to the students.

How or why did you get into education? I was an adjunct professor at RCTC for about 15 years in the Law Enforcement Program and thoroughly enjoyed working in the classroom and in the field with students. I also coached track and field at John Marshall High School as the girls track coach for more than 15 years. I’m a John Marshall graduate, and two of my three sons when through the district, as well.

What’s the biggest challenge of your job? Working closely with such an outstanding, committed group of cabinet members, including the superintendent and his support staff, I am humbled to be a part of such a group. Having come from the “outside,” I see on a regular basis the incredible level of intelligence and thought they put into providing the best education to all students. My biggest challenge is hoping to rise to their level to ensure I do my part in the position I am in.

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