Those familiar with St. Michael-Albertville Schools are probably aware of its motto, “Excellence Starts Here.”
That’s not just a feel-good catchphrase without meaning, as STMA has demonstrated its excellence with school ratings and most recently standing out among the state’s top test scores.
For new Albertville Primary School Principal John McDonald, “Excellence” literally “Starts” with his school, as Albertville Primary hosts the district’s youngest pupils, in this case kindergartners.
“Excellence starts here in this building,” McDonald said. “That is my ultimate vision.”
McDonald began his new job in June, after having served the nearby Wright County school district of Delano, where he was assistant principal for two years at Delano Elementary School.
More than familiar with STMA, the nearby Otsego resident said he’s always had an eye on job opportunities, wanting to be a part of its “Excellence” reputation.
“I’m very excited to be here,” he said, “and I’ve always wanted to be here for a number of years.” He began his education career teaching first grade nearby in Big Lake, where he served for 18 years before getting the Delano job.
“It’s the perfect opportunity for me to work with primary students. I’ve always had a passion for it,” he said.
He grew up in Blaine, Minnesota, and graduated from Blaine High School. He went to the University of Minnesota for a year and then joined the Army. While in the Army, McDonald said he did “some soul searching” and realize he has a passion for kids.
“Education is a perfect life choice, not career choice,” he said. “I applied to the St. Cloud (State) elementary education program and I have not looked back since.”
McDonald first discovered his passion for children while growing up and helping supervise his younger cousins, and “loved their excitement, everything was new. You should be driven by what you love.”
Ever since he was placed into a classroom, he said he realized it was his calling. Being named new principal at Albertville is thus “the ultimate goal in my life,” he said.
As for his leadership style, McDonald said he sees himself as more of a servant to teachers rather than a demanding task-master.
“I work for the teachers,” he said. “I’m here to make their job easier — effectively and efficiently. They need someone to be comfortable making decisions.”
First on his agenda is “relationship building” with students, parents and staff. He will also be welcoming an expansion project at the school, which will add eight classrooms, common area/meeting space for 100 students, and four office spaces. The project will allow Albertville to bring back Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) from St. Michael Elementary School and a couple Bright Beginnings classrooms.
Construction will take about a year, and if not, McDonald joked that “I’ll be out there hammering nails to make sure its done!”
Ground breaking for the project is set for Sept. 8, the first Friday after school starts Tuesday, Sept. 5.
The school expects a big class of about 420 kindergartners, with a little more than 100 of those open enrolled. Traffic at the school was reconfigured to take out the south entrance and have all traffic entering and exiting from the north entrance, for safety and efficiency.
At home, McDonald is joined by wife, Julie, who works for physical therapy/pediatrics in St. Cloud, and sons Ethan, 17, and Colin, ninth grade. His sons attend nearby Rogers High School.
Away from the office, McDonald loves to golf, fish and spend time with family.