Though the start of the 2019-20 school year is still more than a month away, Paula Henry has already started work as the new superintendent of Lake Park-Audubon Public Schools.
Henry, who grew up in St. Cloud, has a teaching degree from St. Cloud State University and a doctorate from St. Mary's University. Her career has included stints as a teacher, teaching and literacy consultant, and school administrator, most recently in the West Fargo School District, where she served as principal of Eastwood Elementary School.
She attended her first meeting as LP-A superintendent on Monday, and updated the board on her first 14 days on the job.
"We've gotten a lot done in 14 days," she said, noting that her early focus has been on "building relationships and getting to know the people here," as well as "looking at the bright spots in our district."
Henry, who is now living in the district, at a home in the Cormorant Lakes area, said in an interview with this newspaper that she originally got into teaching because she "wanted to do something to help people."
She said that the impulse to help others first began when she was a young girl, growing up in a family that didn't have much in the way of material possessions, with a mother whom her peers often mocked for being different.
"My mother was handicapped," Henry said, adding that she walked with a noticeable limp. "People made fun of her for that."
Because of that, and the fact that her family was quite poor, "I didn't always feel welcome — and I wanted to make sure that others did," she added. "I wanted to make sure that kids could do whatever they wanted to do in life."
After graduating with a teaching degree from SCSU, Henry said, "My first job was as a kindergarten teacher, and I loved it."
Over the years, she also taught students in all the elementary grades. "I've taught in St. Cloud, and also worked with other schools through the University of Minnesota's reading literacy projects."
She also did some educational consulting work before deciding to pursue her doctorate in school administration.
"My whole life has really been about working with kids," she said. "I got my doctorate so I could learn more, serve even more."
Her first job as an administrator was in the St. Cloud school district, first as principal at Madison Elementary School, and later at Madison’s Guang Ming Chinese Academy.
"Being a principal was a wonderful opportunity," said Henry.
She decided to take the job as Eastwood Elementary principal in West Fargo for a little change of scenery.
"I wanted to try something new," she said.
After spending some time there, however, she decided she was ready for a new challenge, and applied for the job at LP-A this spring. Though much of her time is currently being spent learning her new duties, Henry will soon begin to turn her focus toward mentoring other teachers and administrators.
"You can learn a lot, but there comes a time when you are ready to mentor others ... to help them see their strongest leadership qualities," she said. "That's my focus now. I like to mentor others. It's really rewarding."
She's also enjoying life in the Lake Park-Audubon community as a whole.
"The people here are terrific — so kind and friendly," said Henry. "It's lovely here."