After 17 years, Dr. Karen Orcutt address Orono students for the final time at the 2021 graduation ceremonies on Wednesday, June 9. (Submitted photo)

She came to the Orono School District 39 years ago as a speech pathologist and on June 30 she retires as the school’s long time superintendent.

Dr. Karen Orcutt announced her retirement after 39 years working in the district with the last 17 years as Orono’s superintendent in December 2020.

“You name every emotion in the book,” Orcutt said about retiring. “I think back on all the years, I think about families and children. All the emotions are there.”

Orcutt graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Communication Disorders, received her doctorate in Educational Leadership from Saint Mary’s University, and also has an Educational Specialist degree in Educational Administration and a Masters degree in Speech Pathology and Audiology.

Orcutt started her career in 1976 as a speech pathologist and program coordinator in the St. Peter School District. She than came to Orono as a speech pathologist from 1977 to 1980. From 1980 to 1982, she was the coordinator of Early Childhood/Speech Services at Minnesota Valley Special Education Cooperative and also worked as speech pathologist at the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.

She came back to Orono in 1982 as the Director of Special Services, a position she held until 2000 when she was named the Assistant Superintendent of Programs before being named the superintendent in 2004.

“The opportunity in Orono just came to me and I feel honored the district gave me the opportunity,” Orcutt said. “I leave the school district grateful for all the opportunities Orono gave me. I’m exceptionally grateful to Orono”

Reflecting back on her time at Orono, Orcutt said her focus was always on what’s best for the children and that she is really proud of the character development program that has earned Orono numerous national and state awards.

“It’s a program designed around the pillars of character,” Orcutt said about the program. “Its embedded in our curriculum. Its as small as learning how to be good citizens in elementary to school to large scale ethics and dilemmas in high school.”

She leaves with the Richard Green Scholar Award from the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, the District Leadership for Excellence in Communication Award from the Minnesota School Public Relations Association. She also sat worked and sat on a number of educational boards and programs such as the Humphrey Institute, Reflective Leadership Program, Bush Public Schools Executive Fellows Program, Alliance for Renewal in Special Education Fellowship, Director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators Board of Directors, and Writer and Board of Directors of the Superintendency Institute.

For her time at Orono and her leadership for the past 17 years, Orono school board chairperson Bob Tunheim is grateful.

“ We will definitely miss you, you’ve such a wonderful superintendent and so meaningful to all of the kids in our district,” Tunheim said at the last school board meeting. “We cannot thank you enough. So thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Orcutt will hand the reigns over to Dr. Kristen Flescher on July 1.

Flesher has been the Director of Special Services from 2004. She started at Orono 26 years ago as school psychologist and holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Minnesota State University-Moorhead as well as Education Doctorate in Leadership from Bethel University and holds administrative licenses from Hamline University in both 2004 and 2016.

“She’s been an integral part of what we do,” Orcutt said of Flescher. “She is a leader of great intellect and leader of great strength and she will continue the good work that Orono schools is doing and I have no doubt she will do a great job.”

So what will you do in retirement?

“I need to rest for while,” Orcutt said. “My future plans is I’m still going to stay involved in the community and the schools.”

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