By Olivia Koester
Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota has a new president.
LeMoyne Corgard, previously the physical education teacher at Oxbow Creek Elementary School in Brooklyn Park, assumed the role July 1 after running unopposed for the office earlier this year.
Corgard served as AHEM’s vice president for five years, four of which were under the leadership of Julie Blaha, whose presidency ended June 30.
Blaha decided not to run for re-election in January after serving two two-year terms as president.
Before assuming office, Blaha worked as a seventh-grade math teacher at Jackson Middle School in Champlin. She stowed away all of her teaching supplies in a closet at home and found herself peeking at them more and more frequently this year.
With an itch to get back into the classroom, Blaha will return to Jackson as a sixth-grade physical science and social studies teacher this fall. She is both excited and nervous to lead experiments for the first time – she burned up a lab station as a student years ago. She should be pretty safe teaching simple machines and the scientific method, she said, laughing.
“I think a good union president always misses the classroom,” Blaha said.
Corgard knows daily interactions with students is what he will miss most in his new role.
This spring, Corgard retired from a 35-year teaching career in Anoka-Hennepin.
His first job in the district was teaching physical education at Morris Bye Elementary School in Coon Rapids.
He spent the majority of his career – 27 years – at Oxbow Creek.
Corgard coached gymnastics, alpine skiing and track and field at four of the district’s five regular high schools: Anoka, Blaine, Champlin Park and Coon Rapids.
Both Blaha and Corgard think it’s fortuitous that the union and district will both experience leadership transitions this year.
David Law started as superintendent July 1.
“He’s kind of a homegrown hero,” Corgard said, referring to Law’s graduation from Coon Rapids High School and years of work as a teacher and assistant principal in the district.
Corgard looks forward to a “fresh approach” with Law.
Bargaining for the 2013-2015 teachers’ contract lasted nearly 11 months. Eight months in, AHEM entered into mediation with the district, enacting work to rule and setting a strike authorization vote not long after that time.
Corgard would like to see “more of an expeditious timeline” when it comes to settling teachers’ 2015-2017 contract.
Collaboration between the district and teachers is key, Blaha said. “We can come to shared decisions without external forces.”
In her tenure, bargaining required a state mediator, and a federal investigation prompted the drafting of an anti-bullying consent decree, Blaha said.
The folding together of Minnesota’s Quality Compensation Program, Q Comp, and a new teacher development and evaluation plan in the district was a step in the right direction for Corgard. “We really have never had a more collaborative effort in the district,” he said.
Tom Powers, a fifth-grade teacher at Rum River Elementary School in Andover, recently named the new lead negotiator for AHEM, led the design team for the teacher development and evaluation plan with Sarah Kriewall, Anoka-Hennepin’s director of employee services.
Paul Goupil, a world language teacher at Coon Rapids Middle School, stepped down this year after serving as lead negotiator for many years, several contracts.
Powers ran against Jay Wilkins, a social studies teacher at Anoka High School, in a race to fill the union’s vice presidency, vacated one year early by Corgard.
Wilkins won with 61.8 percent of the vote.
Union presidents and vice presidents are elected to two-year terms and can serve a maximum of four consecutive terms.
A history of union leadership
At age 18, to pay his way through Anoka-Ramsey Community College, Corgard went to work in a sheet metal factory that was unionized.
“I saw the good work unions did,” he said.
Between his stint at Anoka-Ramsey and obtaining his bachelor’s degree from St. Cloud State University, Corgard headed west to work at a ski resort in Colorado, where workers were also served by a union.
Several years after he was hired in Anoka-Hennepin, the teachers went on strike.
He asked himself: “Am I going to be part of the solution or stand by and let others do the work?”
So, he got involved with AHEM, serving on the negotiations team, then as vice president.
“I love helping my colleagues,” he said. “I love vicariously helping students.”
For Corgard, it’s all about making decisions that ultimately benefit students, he said.
Contact Olivia Koester at [email protected]