Detroit Lakes' new community education director is 'loving it so far'
Daniel McGonigle began work as Detroit Lakes' new community education director on Oct. 4. Since then, he has been enjoying the opportunity to get acquainted with the community he serves. "Detroit Lakes was a great fit for me and I'm loving it so far," he says.
Detroit Lakes is a long way from International Falls, Minn., but Daniel McGonigle is enjoying the transition to his new home.
"I was looking to get into a bigger (school) district and be more challenged professionally," says McGonigle, who started work as Detroit Lakes Public Schools' new community education director on Oct. 4. "Detroit Lakes was a great fit for me and I'm loving it so far."
Though his family hails from the Austin, Minn., area, McGonigle himself has been something of a traveling man through much of his life.
"My dad worked for Hormel, and we moved around a lot," he says. "I grew up all over the place. I've lived in South Dakota, San Antonio (Texas), the Quad Cities (located on the Illinois-Iowa border)."
After growing up and earning his bachelor's degree at Southwest State (now Southwest Minnesota State) University in Marshall, Minn., McGonigle started his professional career as a writer, and continued his traveling ways, working for newspapers around Minnesota.
While working in Caledonia, he began coaching soccer and directing the one-act play team for the local school district — and discovered that working with kids was a true passion.
"The coaching experience just really resonated with me," he said. "I knew it was time for a change."
So he went back to college at Minnesota State University Mankato and sought a master's degree in educational leadership, with a community education licensure.
"My first job after getting my master's was at International Falls," he said.
McGonigle ran the community education program there for several years, and his family — including his wife, Emily, and their eight children — settled at a home on Rainy Lake.
"It's beautiful," he said of the family's lake home, noting that they have no plans to give it up, though they are in the process of transitioning to Detroit Lakes. "We're doing the things we need to do (to have homes in both communities)."
Currently, his wife works as a director of mental health at Range Mental Health Center in Virginia, Minn.., while their three youngest children attend school at International Falls (their other five sons are grown and living on their own).
McGonigle added that he has one son who is a junior in high school and the two youngest are twins — a boy and a girl — who both started seventh grade this fall.
"My youngest son is looking forward to playing soccer here," he said, while his daughter is more theater and arts-oriented.
Currently, McGonigle spends his weekdays in Detroit Lakes, and his weekends in International Falls. While some might find his current lifestyle "non-traditional," he says his wife has been very supportive.
"We're both very career driven people," he said. Because his wife's current job allows her to work from home much of the time, they have been able to make this new challenge work.
"It's been quite a change for me," said McGonigle. "I was the one with the more flexible career. I worked at the same school where my kids were at, and coached my son in soccer for many years."
The transition has been challenging, but rewarding, he added. "I'm excited to be part of such a forward-thinking, student-focused school district. Everyone on the team has been so supportive. Mark Jenson, the superintendent, and the school board are strong leaders who empower their people."
McGonigle says he's still learning the ropes of his new job.
"I didn't really have a background in early childhood (education) before I came here, so I've spent some time being brought up to speed on that," he said. "Lately, I've been immersed in getting the (winter program) catalog out."
McGonigle praised his predecessor, Annmarie Lacher, saying that she "has done a great job" in leading the district's community education department for the past several years.
He doesn't feel the need to dismantle any of the great programming that is already in place, but rather, to look into what areas could be strengthened, or expanded.
"I'm feeling my way through what community education could truly look like here in Detroit Lakes," he said. "One of the biggest areas I've seen is that we could provide some more opportunities for people with special abilities. We had an outreach program like that at International Falls."
"There are also several other things in the works behind the scenes," he teased, adding that he has a "phenomenal" support team, both from the administrative and the educational side.
"There are so many passionate and caring educators here," he said. "When I first got into this field, I had one of my professors tell me that as long as any decision I made began with what's best for the students, or the community, then I couldn't go wrong — and I believe that's true. I always try to do what's best for the students, and from everything I've seen from the staff here so far, they do too."