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Bemidji School District: New high school, middle school principals talk school, family, future

Drew Hildenbrand is the new Bemidji Middle School principal. Hildenbrand accepted the position following the retirement of Jim Wheeler. Hildenbrand, who previously served as principal of the Bemidji Alternative Schools, says being the new principal is the right kind of Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper1 / 2
Brian Stefanich is the new principal at Bemidji High School. Stefanich was assistant principal at BHS for five years before accepting the position following the retirement of Richard Anderson. Pioneer Photo/Anne Williams2 / 2

They are next-door neighbors and family guys. Both have been assistant principals in Bemidji and principals of a K-12 school. As college students, both attended Bemidji State University.

Now, in continuing their symmetry, Brian Stefanich and Drew Hildenbrand have been appointed as the new principals of Bemidji High School and Bemidji Middle School.

Brian Stefanich

Brian Stefanich took over as the new principal at Bemidji High School following the retirement of Richard Anderson. But Stefanich said he already knows half the students.

Stefanich held his previous position as assistant principal at BHS for five years before taking the new role as principal.

"As assistant principal I dealt with students with last names A-K," said Stefanich. "Now I get to work with A-Z."

Stefanich recited his role as principal: "I supervise and facilitate the daily operations of the high school," but a grin on his face indicated he had more to add.

"I get to do the fun stuff," said Stefanich. "As assistant principal I was the master scheduler. Now I'll be more involved in what I call 'fun stuff,' like helping to plan and organize our academic awards nights, senior scholarships and national honor society."

Stefanich brings almost 20 years of education experience to the principal's office.

Stefanich received his Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education from BSU in 1990. He went on to receive a master's degree in curriculum and instruction from BSU in 1994.

Beginning in 1990, Stefanich taught third grade at J.W. Smith Elementary School for 10 years until he transferred to Horace May Elementary School in 2001 to teach fifth grade.

"The Senior class at BHS is very special to me because they are some of the same students I taught my last year of teaching third grade at J.W. Smith," Stefanich said.

This will be Stefanich's second job as a high school principal. After Horace May, he took a job as a K-12 school principal in Sabeka, Minn., through 2004.

"It was a big transition for me going from an elementary school teacher to a principal of an entire school," said Stefanich. "I learned as a principal you can't do a good job without loving the students and loving what you do."

As principal, Stefanich said he plans on using the leadership skills he gained as a soldier in the Army National Guard. Stefanich joined the Army National Guard in 1987 and retired in 2007 as a major.

"My father was an elementary teacher for 32 years," he said. "My dad taught me the value of being responsible and respectful, and treating people the way you want to be treated. I guess I followed in his footsteps."

Stefanich grew up in Babbitt, Minn., in northeastern Minnesota. He spent many summers at his family's summer cabin fishing on Lake Vermillion.

"I've really taken a longing to fishing again," said Stefanich. "There was a long period time when I didn't fish because I kind of got fished out spending so much time on Lake Vermillion."

In the past five years, Stefanich says he has gone to more than 80 percent of all extra curricular activities offered at the high school.

"I don't know what I'd do in the evening if I didn't have events to go to," said Stefanich. "When I went to high school in Babbitt, we didn't have the opportunities we have here in Bemidji. The student talent here is incredible."

Stefanich outlined six goals he hopes to accomplish as the new principal at BHS:

- Establish a BHS Academic Alumni Foundation: The foundation will generate and raise money for campus projects and facility and staff enhancement.

"Principals, teachers, students and parents all have dreams of improving their schools, but often we don't have the funding to see those dreams come true. This will help," said Stefanich.

- Continue the Link Crew Program: Started last year, the Link Crew Program welcomes ninth graders into BHS. Link Crew trains 11th- and 12th-grade students to act as mentors to the ninth-grade students.

"This will continue our efforts of building school spirit and Lumberjack Pride," said Stefanich.

- Perform well on MCA II tests: Analyze test scores in order to make SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable Realistic and Timely) goals to stay in line with the school district's objectives.

"BHS will continue to perform well on MCA II test scores," said Stefanich. "We need to continue to exceed the state averages in reading, math and writing."

- Post-secondary education: Continue supporting programs such as Advanced Placement courses, Project Lead The Way, College in the High School, and the CNA Nursing Program.

"We want to continue offering BHS students a world class education of over 200 courses," said Stefanich.

- Smooth transition from middle school to high school: Continuing a process called "vertical teaming," which consists of teachers, counselors and administrators from middle school and high school. The educators work together to develop a curriculum that proves a seamless transition from middle school to high school.

"We need to find out what they are teaching in middle school so students are prepared when they get to high school," said Stefanich.

- Go paperless: Report cards and newsletters will now be on the family access and high school Web site. Paper copies will be sent upon request.

Stefanich is married to Sage Stefanich, a paraprofessional at J.W. Smith Elementary School. He has three step-daughters and two sons.

Stefanich said it will not be hard to find him on the first day of school.

"I enjoy being visible," he said. "I enjoy being with the students. I want to find out their names, who they are, and what they're all about."

Drew Hildenbrand

With a height of over six feet and the build of a linebacker, Drew Hildenbrand does not look like your average middle school principal.

He likes to use analogies often to explain his thinking, but his motivation is clear -make Bemidji Middle School a sound, safe and positive place to be.

Hildenbrand replaces Jim Wheeler as the new Bemidji Middle School principal. Hildenbrand said being the new principal is the right kind of challenge for him.

"I want to lead by being a tireless, positive role model -constantly pushing for academic excellence for our students," he said.

Hildenbrand worked as the Bemidji Alternative Schools principal, overseeing the Lumberjack High School, the Alternative Education Center, Bemidji Youth Learning and Working (BYLaW), First City School (Northwestern Minnesota Juvenile Center), and the New Spirit Center School.

"I gained a lot of experience working with homeless students, a large variety of special needs students and developed a working relationship with different agencies that represent kids," said Hildenbrand.

Hildenbrand completed his undergraduate and master's degrees from Bemidji State University. In 1999 he accepted a position as the K-12 principal Northome School for one year.

He started in 2000 as the assistant principal at BMS, where he stayed for seven years. He said he looks forward to coming back as principal.

"I know the lay of the land," said Hildenbrand. "Middle school is a great age. The kids are growing in leaps and bounds. They are noisy, but they're neat."

Hildenbrand has outlined five goals he intends to move forward as the new principal at BHS.

- Develop programs that meet the needs of students: Create and improve on programs that reach the academic, physical, emotional and social needs of students in grades six-eight.

"In middle school you have fifth graders who are going through a big transition to sixth grade, and you have seventh and eighth graders who are on an island all in their own," said Hildenbrand. "It's important to make sure we take into account the baggage they carry with them, like hormones, size changes and family life."

- Improve the school improvement team: Look at data focused on SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely) goals that will align with the district's objectives.

"I want to ask the hard questions, 'What is working? What needs to be improved? What do we need to get rid of?' And then I want to do it," said Hildenbrand.

- Improve MCA II test scores.

- Vertical teaming: Actively support creating a smooth transition from middle school to high school. Vertical teaming involves teachers, counselors, and administrators from middle school and high school who work together to develop a curriculum that proves a seamless transition from middle school to high school.

"I want to extend this to the elementary schools, specifically in math and in reading," said Hildenbrand.

- Be a voice for alternative education students.

Students and teachers can expect to see Hildenbrand greeting them at the front door on the first day of school.

"You can solve so many issues before they become problems by talking to people," said Hildenbrand. "I want to greet everyone as they walk in."

Beyond school, Hildenbrand enjoys participating in activities such as weightlifting, basketball, volleyball and spending time with his family.

Hildenbrand is married to wife Lori Hildenbrand, a social studies teacher at Bemidji High School. They have four children: Brooke, 9, Lindsey, 7, Kate, 5, and Jack, 2.

"One of my children has already asked me about what happens if they get sent to the principal's office," said Hildenbrand. "It's going to be a fun challenge."