MASON CITY | As classes begin Wednesday, Mason City Schools is welcoming a number of new teachers and administrators.
First-year teacher Nicole Hunter is among 33 new educators hired for the 2015-16 school year following a record number of early retirements this spring. She will teach fourth grade at Roosevelt Elementary.
Hunter, a Creston native, graduated from Iowa State University in December 2013, working more than 100 hours a week in the recruiting department for Cyclones football before transitioning to subbing.
Wanting to leave her comfort zone of Ames and Des Moines, Hunter chose Mason City, a school district where she's found enthusiastic, energetic co-workers and a variety of educational programs and strategies in place.
She credits a social studies teacher as inspiring her to become a teacher. She initially pursued teaching history before shifting gears to elementary.
"I want to make all children grow up loving school and feeling the same way," she said.
One way she plans to do that is by using hands-on, real-life activities, like using fractions in a recipe.
Hunter, a state champion in 100-meter hurdles, is also coaching volleyball and boys' track.
After teaching in eastern Iowa, social studies instructor Bryan Bjorklund will be starting his fourth year in education at Mason City High School.
An Armstrong native and Waldorf College graduate, Bjorklund and his wife, Bethany, chose to return to her hometown. She is an immunization nurse for Cerro Gordo County Public Health.
"She really believed — and I do, too — that she received a quality education here," he said. "Since being in other numerous places and living here, this is a community that is striving to improve."
Bjorklund says his initial impression of Mason City is a community that cares about its school, which he says has a supportive, welcoming staff.
Supportive educators are the reason Bjorklund says he pursued a career in teaching.
"The biggest influences in my life have been people associated with the school, whether they were coaches or positive teachers," he said.
Bjorklund was drawn to social studies, particularly economics, due to big decisions high-schoolers will soon be facing — college, personal finance and renting a home or apartment.
"High school is where, for me personally, where I really blossomed or grew and things started to click more," he said. "I wanted to be that person to make it happen for kids, too."
Bjorklund is also an assistant varsity coach for football, a team he said is showing great improvement from a year ago.
A Mason City High School graduate, Lori Cooling has returned to her hometown to work as dean of students at John Adams Middle School.
Cooling previously spent the past 12 years working in Colorado Springs school system, six of which she spent as high school dean of students, overseeing 1,600 teens in one building.
Her middle and high school-aged children, Mike, Katie and Josh, will be attending Mason City.
"There's something about raising kids in a small town," she said. "Mason City is home and we have a lot of friends here."
As dean of students, Cooling will work with student behavior, discipline and attendance, assisting with student schedules and teacher evaluations.
Previously a health and wellness and physical education teacher with experience in fast-pitch softball, volleyball, basketball, track and other youth sports coaching, Cooling said she chose the administrative route to be able to work with more students.
“I’m looking forward to all of it,” she said of being in Mason City. “I hope to jump on our current successes and make things better.”
Human resources director Jodie Anderson and business manager John Berg began their positions in July. They succeed Hal Minear and Ramona Jeffrey, who retired this summer.
Anderson, who has lived in Mason City for 25 years, most recently worked as Mitchell County Health’s HR director. She and her husband, Jon, have two children, Kyle and Kaylee.
"I think it's a great school system," she said. "When the opportunity came up, it was something I had always been interested in."
Berg, who has lived in Nora Springs for 15 years, most recently worked as an accountant for Mason City Schools. He and his wife, Jackie, have three daughters, Mayce, Alyssa and Emma.
"I enjoy the accounting field, which is where I have been since day one," he said. "Work with the school is enjoyable — I like that we have the ability to provide the community with information about how the school is handing their tax dollars, and be open about it."
Berg is looking forward to overseeing the district's annual budgeting process this spring.
"I love budgets," he said. "They're one of my favorite parts."
Anderson, who has stepped into a role that hasn’t existed for at least seven years, has had a bigger learning curve learning the complex requirements for school employees while hiring a sizable number of teachers.