Jason Kuhlman, Valley View Elementary School’s new principal, had a goal when he was studying to become a teacher in college: He wanted to affect as many students as possible.
“Those kids are going to be going out into society, and they’re going to be affecting other people,” Kuhlman said. “It’s a cascading snowball effect.”
Kuhlman recalls seeing one of his first students bring her niece in to register for school. While catching up, he learned she became a social worker in Minneapolis. Seeing this, he realized the impact that he and all teachers could make.
“That’s why I do what I do, because now this person is affecting all those other kids,” Kuhlman said.
Kuhlman is taking over as Valley View’s principal for the 2019-20 school year. He’s bringing his passion for being involved with local communities and experience working in diverse school districts to Valley View.
Kuhlman said being hired by Columbia Heights Public Schools feels like “coming home.”
Although he isn’t from Columbia Heights, Kuhlman is from a small town of 144 people where he felt a sense of belonging and support from his neighbors.
That’s the feeling he gets in Columbia Heights and at Valley View Elementary.
He said this feeling of community pride and involvement makes him excited for Columbia Heights football games.
“You have people there who don’t have kids in the game, but are coming because it’s Columbia Heights,” Kuhlman said. “That’s what I remember most (from growing up), you’d have the stands full. There would be old-timers there that were just coming to watch the game because they were involved in the school and had pride.”
Starting college in Duluth, Kuhlman was originally an economics student. He took business classes for two years before he realized he wanted to switch to something else.
“It didn’t feed my soul,” he said.
So Kuhlman switched to an elementary education major. He’s worked for a variety of schools in the Twin Cities, including Sheridan Elementary, where he taught for 11 years before it closed.
Most recently Kuhlman worked as an assistant principal for St. Paul Music Academy.
There he had a great relationship with the school’s principal, Barbara Evangelist. They shared leadership at the academy, he said.
Kuhlman looks forward to developing a similar relationship with Leslee Sherk, Valley View’s assistant principal.
Sherk said she and Kuhlman are already working well together and she’s excited about the things he has planned for the upcoming school year.
“He’s someone you want leading your school,” Sherk said. “He has a clear vision so that we can set Valley View on a path of continuous improvements.”
Kuhlman’s attentive listening skills and passion for teaching students will help him succeed at the elementary school, Sherk said.
At St. Paul Music Academy, Kuhlman got experience working with a highly diverse population of students.
This experience helped him realize his privilege as a white man, he said, which helped him better understand his students and their families.
His co-teacher when he started student teaching there was a black man who gave Kuhlman a fresh perspective.
“The insight I gained from him, being a white male, really drove me to stay in St. Paul,” Kuhlman said.
Celebrating Valley View’s diversity is important to him, so he wants to make sure to celebrate the different cultures in the building.
“That’s one way ... for parents of the students to be the teachers,” Kuhlman said. “They’re going to want to bring in their culture. They want to bring in that food. They want to bring in that dance that they do. They’re going to want to have that in here.”
As Valley View’s principal, Kuhlman plans to build relationships and focus on academics.
Additionally, he wants to work on teaching behavior to the students rather than punishing it, he said. He wants to emphasize what the students should be doing, rather than what they shouldn’t.
Integrating parents into their children’s school lives is important to Kuhlman as well. He wants parents to have transparency when it comes to their kids’ educations.
Part of this, Kuhlman said, is creating a welcoming atmosphere at Valley View to ensure the community, students, staff and families feel safe and accepted.
“We want to partner with our community,” Kuhlman said. “But we want to make sure we’re also reaching out to them and making them feel welcomed here.”