BEMIDJI -- Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Bemidji High School assistant principal Jill Walter missed out on attending a national convention of assistant principals as Minnesota’s Assistant Principal of the Year for 2019.

But, it seems she could get another shot.

Walter was recently selected as the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals Northern Region Assistant Principal of the Year for the second year in a row.

She’s still pretty humble about it.

“My thought is that there aren’t very many assistant principals in northern Minnesota, so that’s just kind of how it happened,” she said, laughing. “It’s a nice compliment regardless.”

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BHS principal Jason Stanoch refutes this claim.

“It is rare for our colleagues to be recognized two years in a row and even fewer can be called the best in the state. Jill is deserving because of her superior ability to build relationships with others,” Stanoch said. “She is a servant leader that is student-centered in all that she does. Her work with our families is a key to our success.”

Walter is going into her third year at Bemidji High School after having moved from Sebeka, Minn., with her family. Along with her husband, Craig, she has six children. She credits coming from a big family for sparking her desire to go into education.

Prior to becoming an administrator, Walter was a high school English teacher. A negative experience with her own childhood English teacher inspired her to listen to her students and teach with kindness.

“I went home crying one day because she had put my paragraph up for everyone to see, and she just ripped it apart with a red pen. I’m kind of a tough person so going home crying was a big deal,” Walter recalled. “That was sort of an ‘I’m never going to do that to anybody ever in my life’ kind of thing. There were no red pens in my world as an English teacher.”

After finding success as a teacher, her former superintendent encouraged her to learn more about administration and take a leap. Now years later, the accolades for Walter are piling on. Her key to success comes from being genuine and listening to student and staff concerns, she said.

“I think there’s a lot to be said for taking the time to listen to what the situation is,” she said. “They just want to be heard and they want to know that somebody hears their story and that somebody has their back.”

Through the COVID-19 situation, Walter is learning how important it is to say, “I don’t know, yet.”

“In my entire life I don’t think I’ve said ‘I don’t know’ more than I have in the last six months,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t know and I’m done, it means I don’t know and I’m going to find out. We’re just doing the best that we can with what we know at the time, and we never know enough.”

Going forward, Walter hopes to see more of a focus on the culture of the high school, she said.

“I really think that having a culture that focuses on equity and that focuses on willingness to hear everybody’s stories and accept other people for who they are and where they come from (is important),” she said. “We’re all a part of this great big scheme of so many things and we have opportunities to learn from one another and to look at it in that view, I think that would be a wonderful goal for our district.”

In a typical year, Northern Region Assistant Principal of the Year award winners would be recognized at a few conferences, but due to COVID-19, Walter and other winners will be recognized in a celebratory video.