Jeff McGonigal began his career substitute teaching in Anoka-Hennepin School District, and after nearly 35 years in education, he will retire from the same district at the end of the month.
McGonigal, now associate superintendent for high schools, did not plan to become an educator.
After growing up in Brooklyn Center and graduating from Park Center High School, McGonigal aspired to study political science and eventually attend law school.
Instead, he studied social studies education at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.
McGonigal first discovered he liked working with kids when he coached youth sports.
“My sisters were some of the first girls to benefit from Title IX,” McGonigal said, and when local girls teams were in need of coaches, he stepped up.
After graduating, McGonigal started substitute teaching in the Anoka-Hennepin School District. He was working in a Coon Rapids classroom when he got a call from the district and was hired on the spot to work with homebound and special education students.
After one year in Anoka-Hennepin, McGonigal worked as an administrative assistant in the Osseo School District and began working toward his master’s in school administration.
A short time later, McGonigal became activities director in Princeton.
As a student himself, he never participated in varsity athletics. But he was an accomplished trombone player who earned a spot in the All-State Band.
“They were pleased with my background in music,” he said.
He also served as activities director in Lakeville and attended St. Mary’s University to collect his principal and superintendent license.
McGonigal became an assistant principal in White Bear Lake and associate principal in Roseville before accepting a position as principal of Robbinsdale Cooper High School, a role he held from 2005-2007.
From there, he became principal of Coon Rapids High School, a role he held for four years.
When Charles Briscoe, McGonigal’s predecessor as associate superintendent for high schools, became ill, Dennis Carlson, then superintendent, asked McGonigal to fill in while continuing his duties at Coon Rapids High School.
McGonigal worked both jobs for the 2010-2011 school year and permanently moved into the associate superintendent role in 2011.
McGonigal boasts many accomplishments in the associate superintendent role, including increasing high school graduation rates and opportunities to enhance college and career readiness.
Bridge to College, a program launched during the 2014-2015 school year that readies high school freshmen and sophomores for concurrent enrollment courses, has helped more students get ahead in English and math.
Naviance was fully functioning in 2014-2015, allowing students to plan for life after graduation.
The expansion of the STEP program on the Anoka Technical College campus has opened doors for students to pursue careers that don’t require a four-year degree.
Jobs in manufacturing, for example — “those jobs are not just waiting for them, they’re crying to get them,” McGonigal said.
McGonigal also saw the former Crossroads West Alternative School program move to the Anoka Technical College campus in 2015 and become Anoka-Hennepin Technical High School.
There, students have easy access to STEP and Anoka Technical College courses.
“We’ve really increased what’s available for them,” McGonigal said.
McGonigal will be remembered for all of this work and more, according to Superintendent David Law.
“He will leave a legacy for college and career readiness in our school district,” he said.
A retirement celebration was held in McGonigal’s honor May 16, but he will continue to be a familiar face around the district.
His wife, Jerri, will continue to serve as principal at Anoka Middle School for the Arts, and his son, Michael, will begin his freshmen year at Anoka High School. The family lives in Ramsey.
“It’s really important that I get to my son’s games and his concerts,” McGonigal said.
Michael plays the trombone like his dad, though McGonigal hasn’t taken his out of its case for years.
“In retirement, I’m thinking about pulling it out again,” he said.
McGonigal would also like to find another less strenuous paid position or volunteer in some capacity with children. Getting involved with the Minnesota Historical Society particularly appeals to him.
He will continue to cheer on the Gophers with season tickets to the team’s football games, and he does plan to travel more. He will head with his son’s band next year to Austria, the Czech Republic and Germany during spring break.
Dr. Timothy Gadson will take over as associate superintendent for high schools, officially beginning work Aug. 1, according to Law.