n Educator’s passion for helping teachers and kids with special needs brings him to Ivan Sand High School
by Jim Boyle
Tom Hoffman would have gladly followed in his father’s footsteps had it not been for some timely advice from the man he had come to respect.
He has since cultivated a 32-year career in education that brought him to Elk River this past summer.
He spent the previous four years as a principal and special education manager at Northeast Metro 916, an intermediate school district that works with children who have emotional and behavioral disorders.
He was named the principal of Ivan Sand Community High School in June. It’s Hoffman’s hope that he’s at his final post with a chance to finish his career with another decade of strong, meaningful work.
“I’m passionate about the classroom teacher,” he said. “The best way to support a teacher is to be an administrator. A well-supported teacher means well-supported students. And when students are supported, achievement goes up.”
Crossroads reached as a young educator
Hoffman considered pursuing a career in journalism until he worked at the Princeton Golf Course the while in high school. It wasn’t the work there that swayed him. There was a young individual that liked to follow him around the grounds when he could. The young man had Down syndrome. The two developed quite a bond, one that sparked an interest in special education.
The 1977 Princeton High School graduate went on to complete a special education teaching degree at St. Cloud State University in 1982 and launched his career in Forsyth, Mont., with his educator wife, Krista.
But after a couple of years, he was toying with the idea of law school as he and Krista made their way back to Minnesota. He had even been accepted at William and Mitchell and another one on the East Coast.
His father, Lou, with one of his children already following in his footsteps, had concluded his son had selected a noble career and it was evident his son was good at it.
“‘My recommendation is you stick with it,’” Hoffman’s father told him.
It turned out to be good advice for the younger Hoffman, who went on to earn two master’s degrees, a six-year certificate and a doctorate to apply to his passion for educating the marginalized.
Along the way, he has coached the same sports he played as a Princeton Tiger in high school.
His first teaching job in Minnesota was down in Stewart. After a year there, he moved to Hutchinson for five years, where he taught and coached baseball, football and basketball.
It was there he decided to go into administration. He already had a master’s degree in special education by then. In 1991, he got his second master’s degree in administration.
He worked at a half dozen schools serving in various roles in special education coordination, assistant high school principalships and intermediate and elementary school principalships.
He even went on to work at the collegiate level as an administrator for Crown College and Hamline University, where he worked in teacher education and administrative licensure departments.
Hoffman got his doctorate from Hamline University in 2010. Working at the collegiate level, however, he found himself too far removed from students.
So he became a principal again. That’s where he can fuel his passion to help reach students who don’t have the luxury of the best upbringings, those who have drifted in their studies because of issues of chemical dependency, dysfunctional homes, mental health, falling behind or simply not functioning well in a traditional school setting.
At Northeast Metro 916 Intermediate School District, he led a school that provided services to some of the most challenging kids from at least 10 school districts.
“I have a heart for kids with at-risk issues in their lives,” he said of the work.
Alternative learning centers, he said, consider the intellectual, emotion, behavioral and spiritual components of students.
Hoffman said it didn’t take long to conclude the staff at Ivan Sand is experienced, committed and dedicated to the students who attend the high school. The job at hand, he said, is helping provide a road map to get these kids to their diplomas, jobs, having families and becoming productive citizens.
Hoffman said he has two focuses for improving the school: to get all of its students to believe they can succeed in life and to put more creativity into the learning process.
The school has 107 students and 12 teachers.
“The school is smaller than other high schools, so we can be personal in style and value,” he said.
And timely advice will be one of the components to student success.