by Paul Rignell
Principal Erin Talley at Westwood Elementary School in Zimmerman has been new to her building in 2017 but not to work and service in School District 728.
When Talley left a new home in central Florida last January to accept an interim role as Westwood’s principal, she had barely taken a six-month break since her earlier career of 27 years for the Elk River district.
After teaching first in Minneapolis, Talley began a classroom position at Rogers Elementary School in 1989. She later became principal at Otsego Elementary School, and then she was serving as the district’s director of teaching and learning up through her retirement last June.
As Talley was enjoying life in central Florida last fall with maybe only occasional plans to return to Minnesota, she took a call from Jana Hennen-Burr, the district’s assistant superintendent of educational services.
Talley heard from Hennen-Burr that Kari Sampson, the Westwood school’s principal up through last fall, had agreed to start as principal at the district’s new Otsego E-8 school campus next fall.
The new Otsego position was going to require that Sampson start preparations there at the start of 2017, and Hennen-Burr told Talley that the district needed an interim principal to complete this school year at Westwood.
Talley agreed to return for work in Minnesota for just another six months. She told the Star News recently that she got the call for help from the school district basically because she had been the most recently retired administrator there and they knew how to contact her.
She said she has found the faculty and staff at Westwood to be a wonderful team, and that did not surprise her.
“There is consistency in this district about bringing in quality people,” Talley said.
A move out of Florida and back to daily work was a shock, but Talley soon adapted.
“I won’t say it was an easy job to step into, but very well-organized,” she said.
With permission from the district, Talley brings along a special friend to the school one day each week, her certified therapy dog, a collie named Angel.
Angel interacts with the students on her days at the school, and students’ parents have met the dog also at family math nights and other special evening events at Westwood.
Angel is likely glad to be active at the school only one day each week.
“She is exhausted when she gets back to our place at night,” Talley said.
The move to Florida was more or less supposed to be permanent for Talley, so during her interim period for work back in Minnesota she is residing part of each week at her daughter’s home in Minneapolis, and the rest of each week at a college friend’s home in Brooklyn Center.
All of the Westwood activities during I Love To Read Month through February were exciting for Talley, she said, along with some student concerts.
It is amazing to see 600 or 700 people, including students, parents and faculty, all together at the school for a special event, such as the Valentine’s dance, she added.
“There is so much pride in this community,” Talley said. “I’ve really appreciated that throughout my career.”
One academic focus in the spring toward the end of the school year is on preparing the students for taking the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments. Starting in third grade, the MCAs are designed to test students’ abilities in reading and math. The students in District 728 benefit from dedicated teachers, said Talley, who noted also that the students’ test scores are regularly above state averages.
The short tenure at Westwood is quickly coming to an end for Talley, but she is looking forward to the usual fun and social spring events, she said. Those include some receptions to honor and show appreciation for the staff and many school volunteers, but Talley notes the big school events include student activity days, track and field days, and the student arts and talent night.