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New principal at LP-A High School

Avon, Minn., native Mary Merchant officially became the new principal of Lake Park-Audubon High School on July 1, after 10 years as principal at Bertha-Hewitt Public Schools. She said she and her husband Chuck are looking forward to making their home in Lake Park full-time once they have sold their current home in Menahga. DETROIT LAKES TRIBUNE/Vicki Gerdes

Though Avon, Minn., native Mary Merchant worked for Holy Spirit Catholic Schools in Fargo for 21 years, she and her husband Chuck never quite made the move across the border, maintaining a home in Moorhead while raising their two daughters, Lindsay and Ashley.

“We’re diehard Minnesotans,” she says. “They could not get us across that (state) line.”

Merchant, who officially became the new principal of Lake Park-Audubon High School on July 1, started her career out as an elementary teacher before switching over to school administration about 15 years ago.

She says LP-A “is a school district I’ve always had my eye on,” and had in fact sought the elementary principal’s position a decade ago, before Sam Skaaland was hired for the job in 2006.

“I was looking for a full-time principal’s position,” she said.

Serving first as a kindergarten teacher, and later teaching physical education, she spent her last two years at Holy Spirit as a half-time teacher, half-time elementary principal, after earning her master’s degree, and later a specialist’s degree as well, in education administration. She obtained both degrees from Minnesota State University Moorhead, while continuing to work at Holy Spirit.

Merchant ended up taking a full-time position as high school principal in Menahga, working there for three years before taking a job as high school principal (grades 7-12) at Bertha-Hewitt. Eight years ago, it became a K-12 principal’s position.

All the time she was working at Bertha-Hewitt, however, she and her husband Chuck continued living in Menahga – something that she doesn’t intend to continue doing for long after taking the position at LP-A.

“We’ll be moving here as soon as we can sell our house in Menahga,” she said.

Merchant is currently a member of both the American Legion Ladies Auxiliary and the Lions Club in Menahga, and is actively involved in the Catholic church there as well. But she’s looking forward to becoming acquainted with Lake Park and its residents in the future.

“I want to be rooted, grounded in the community where I work… to be an active part of the community,” she said. “I really want to get back to that.”

Merchant also believes in being a regular attendee at high school extracurricular events, and plans to become an avid supporter of the Raiders in the coming school year.

“I try to attend as many activities as I can,” she said. “It’s important to show that support to the kids.”

In her “spare” time, Merchant also says she intends to continue her fishing hobby, and spending as much time with her grandkids as she can.

“We have seven grandkids age five and under, with another one on the way – including one set of twins,” she said.

As for making the move to Lake Park, Merchant said she and her husband are eying one of the city-owned lots near the school – where for now, she says, she hopes to concentrate on maintaining the high educational standards set by her predecessor and the teaching staff at LP-A.

“The students here are very fortunate to have as many concurrent enrollment (i.e., college-level) classes as they do,” she said. “I hope to continue the high academic standards and outstanding level of student participation in extracurriculars.”

She also hopes to expand the role of the district’s professional learning communities (PLC’s) and peer mentoring for teachers, “so they are challenging themselves to grow and learn along with their students.

“This is an outstanding school,” she said. “I’ve heard nothing but great things about the staff, the students, and the community, and in the short time I’ve been here, it’s lived up to my expectations and then some. You can see the support and the pride they have in their school. It’s terrific.”

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 18-plus years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Detroit Lakes School Board. 

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