Chelgren began career as sub there

Laurie Chelgren is no stranger to Wyoming Elementary School.

“In 2002 I got a call from Mike Conway, who was the principal of Wyoming Elementary at that time, and he asked me to interview for a job as a long-term sub in sixth grade,” Chelgren said. “That’s when I got to know Kelly Schuder and Cheryl Runquist, who are both sixth grade teachers here. The other day Kelly teased me; she said, ‘I used to be your mentor, and now you are mine.’”

Chelgren will officially become Schuder’s boss on July 1, when Chelgren becomes the new principal at Wyoming Elementary. Chelgren will take over for interim Principal Kathy Ungerecht, who took over in November following the resignation of then-principal Curt Slater.

“I never would have thought, even in my wildest dreams, that I would have ended up here in this position,” Chelgren said. “But the stars have aligned, and I am back. And to me, this feels right.”

It has been a long journey for the transplanted Rhode Islander to return to Wyoming, the first place she taught after earning a degree in education from St. Catherine University.

After her time as the long-term sub at Wyoming, she took a call regarding another position in the Forest Lake school system. She got a call from Superintendent Steve Massey, then-principal at Central Montessori Elementary School.

“He said, ‘I’ve heard such good things about you, would you consider finishing the school year with another long-term [substitute] position I have here?’ The very next year I was hired full-time at Central Montessori,” Chelgren said.

Chelgren spent 10 years at CME while working on a master’s in education from St. Mary’s University and then receiving reading recovery training through the University of North Dakota. The reading recovery program is a specific intervention just for first graders in which teachers work one-on-one with students for 12-20 weeks.

“It truly is to support a ‘striving’ reader – I will never say ‘struggling,’ I will always say ‘striving.’ It was a very specific intervention,” Chelgren said.

For the past five years Chelgren, who also earned a K-12 reading license and administrative license from Hamline University, has served as the targeted services and tiered intervention coordinator for the Forest Lake Area School District.

“The targeted services [part of my title] is the summer school piece,” she said. “I coordinate working with the summer school principal, Kelly LaFean, to set up a comprehensive summer school program. The tiered intervention piece is me going around to different buildings and supporting classroom teachers and paraprofessionals with professional development. In other words, I wanted to help lift the level [of teaching] and support the instruction.”

While Chelgren officially takes over at Wyoming in July, she already is spending time in the school getting to know her staff. Her goal is to also connect with the Wyoming students, something that has been impossible since COVID-19 closed the building.

“With everything that is going on with the pandemic, I just want to have everyone back on site,” Chelgren said. “I’m a very ‘relational’ person, so my goal is to learn every student’s name and build a bridge with each student. I want to provide a safe and welcoming environment for all parents and families, and I want to build trusting relationships with the teachers so they feel empowered to do what they need for instruction.”

Chelgren said she has a lot of people to thank for her opportunity to rise to the principal’s position, starting with the staff at Wyoming Elementary.

“The teachers here have been very kind and supportive,” she said. “They’ve made me feel as if I’m a rock star. The welcome has been so warm, it is unreal.

“I also want to thank Dr. Massey and the school board for giving me this opportunity, and I want to thank the families here in Wyoming for trusting and supporting me. … And I thank Kathy Ungerecht, the current interim principal, for paving the way for me to start here.”

Chelgren also offered special thanks to her husband, Chad, who is the lead custodian at Columbus Elementary, as well as her daughter Delaney, a ninth grader at Forest Lake Area High School, and son Jack, a sixth grader at Columbus Elementary.

“Part of the reason I am who I am is my family and the values we share,” she said.

And the value Chelgren said is most vital to success in her new role is her ability to build relationships.

“I’ve been told I am a relational person,” she said. “And for me that is the foundation for making inroads with teachers to help them. They know I come from a K-6 background, so when I do professional development, I pull from all my experiences – and there’s credibility there, which is huge.”

It is credibility that was built, step by step, through a journey that began as the long-term sub in sixth grade at Wyoming Elementary.

“For me, this is completing the circle,” Chelgren said. “I truly feel as if I’m coming back home.”

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