August 16, 2022 at 5:29 p.m.

An education career path

An education career path
An education career path

By Carol [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Superintendent Okerlund excited to cultivate Albany school culture

Albany Area Public Schools’ Superintendent Travis Okerlund kidded during an Aug. 4 Avon Chamber meeting that he has been in school since kindergarten.

That is a fun fact.

This Little Falls native, who started his new position as Albany superintendent July 1, has been in school more than 35 years, whether attending school himself, teaching or as an administrator. He is excited to start a new facet in his life, and that of his family – wife Teresa and daughters Elsa, 13; and Rowan, 11. 

Okerlund is a 1998 graduate of Little Falls High School, ironically the hometown of former Albany superintendent Greg Johnson, who left the Albany school district to take a position in Little Falls. Okerlund met with Johnson before he left the Albany school district.  

“Greg and I joked that the board was looking for another bald guy from Little Falls,” Okerlund said. 

Okerlund has a passion for education, mentored by his mother, who was a teacher. He started his education career, after earning a degree in elementary education, teaching kindergartners in Las Vegas, Nevada. Heeding advice from his principal, after he showed he had leadership skills, he earned a degree in administration, which led him to administrative positions in North Dakota, closer to his wife’s roots, and eventually in Minnesota.   

He never envisioned he would work in administration, after spending his career teaching in elementary schools. 

“When I was a middle school principal, I loved every minute of it,” he said. “Turns out I just love kids.” 

He brings a range of experiences to his position after working in three states, at six school districts, in multiple school buildings each time. 

“It’s interesting how much it (education) was the same when I went from Nevada to North Dakota to Minnesota,” he said. 

When he was assistant principal in the Moorhead school district, there was a connection to the old hospital, “just like here in Albany,” he said. 

Before taking the Albany position, he worked as a school administrator in St. Cloud, followed by a charter school in Otsego, both good fits for their young family. 

“My wife loves living in bigger cities, and I’m as rural as can be,” he said. 

Moving back to Minnesota meant, as a family, they could enjoy favorite pastimes, like sharing time in the outdoors. He smiles when asked how he and his wife met.

“Her sister, at the time, was dating my brother,” he said.

Brothers eventually married sisters. 

When he found out there was a superintendent position open in Albany he applied, knowing from other educators that it was a “very, very good position.” 

“I was confident in my skill sets but also knew they would get good candidates,” he said.

He was thrilled when called back for a second interview and overjoyed when offered the position. 

Okerlund sees his superintendent position as one where he encourages and coaches other school leaders. 

“My role is based on trust. If people don’t trust me or the school, we can’t get a lot done,” he said. “It’s important to build relationships and be present. To make sure you are listening, understanding and responding.”  

Being visible is important to him. So is being approachable. 

“We don’t know what we don’t know,” he said. “Sometimes we know problems exist, and sometimes there isn’t a simple solution.”

As superintendent, Okerlund answers to the school board who answers to school district residents who elected them. 

“You learn although you are responsible for everything doesn’t mean you are in charge of everything,” he said. 

He looks forward to frequent visits with school staff and students throughout the year.

“In my last position, I tried to walk into classrooms and leave a note identifying the positive things I saw and thanking them for what they do,” he said.

Okerlund admits he misses the teaching aspect of education, but as superintendent he can still be an effective educator.  

“I have to get out and be around kids to remember what the purpose (in education) is,” he said. 

Okerlund appreciates the “engaged and passionate” school staff, who have welcomed him, grateful he can draw upon their years of experience in this district of 1,777students in kindergarten through grade 12. 

“They are here for the right reason: for the kids,” he said. “There is trust and respect for the people in these positions and overall positiveness and optimism.”  

He appreciates the supportive community, which was indicated with the Aug. 9 passage of the $16,960,000 bond referendum. 

“We have a very positive school culture here,” he said. “You have to cultivate it, grow it and protect it and that takes effort.” 

And Okerlund is up to the challenge as he bleeds purple and white with plenty of Purple Pride.  


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