Retiring after more than three decades of helping families

Photo by Robert Williams
Karrie Schultz is retiring after three decades of experience as part of the Early Childhood Family Education and School Readiness programs at the Frazee-Vergas School District.

By Robert Williams


Karrie Schultz is the third school district employee with more than three decades of experience to retire at the end of this school year. Schultz was the face of Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) and School Readiness (SR) since its inception in the district.

ECFE works directly with families and their children up to five-years-old. School readiness consists of preschoolers only, three and four-year olds.

“The parents that are in it have always been helpful and sharing what they would like to see, or trying to understand what’s going on here,” said Schultz.

Karrie Schultz

Schultz has been in the district for more than 30 years, the last 22 spent as coordinator. She, along with fellow retirees Brian Tangen and Doug Schwarzrock were recognized at the May school board meeting.

“Being 31 years in any position is a dedication to an organization that you believe in and a job that you believe in,” school board chair Thaddeus Helmers said. “I know that she’ll be very missed and she has done a great job for the school district. I know ECFE is one of the highlights I hear from people that I talk to throughout the community and other communities. We’re really going to miss her.”

Schultz began as a community education volunteer and substitute teacher in the late 1980’s working with general educational development (GED). Working in community education led to openings in the ECFE department.

In the early stages, her job was intended to be a stepping stone.

“I didn’t think I would stay; this is just nice to get my foot in the door,” she said. “I enjoyed what I was doing, but it just got to be that I enjoyed the people that work in this area.”

Schultz was born in Minneapolis and moved to Fargo in second grade. She graduated high school in the F-M metro, before earning her elementary education degree from Moorhead State University. She met her husband Arland visiting the lakes in the Frazee area and ultimately married and had two kids. The couple lives in Vergas.

“I came in here with an early ed degree, not a business degree, but it’s interesting to see what’s going on at the state and get to know people that work at the state. I had the best boss from my community ed director Sharyl Ogard and ECFE Coordinator Leann Grabow. Both were the most patient and knowledgeable mentors.”

Karrie Schultz

Schultz earned her parent education license and a master’s degree in family studies at St. Cloud State University and moved Frazee’s programs into the future.

ECFE and SR started in the old elementary school wing in the portable classrooms before moving to the new wing and grew from one to three classrooms. 

Like her workspace, the job itself morphed over the years.

“A lot has changed over the years with paperwork, expectations from the state,” she said. “It is a lot more paperwork, it wasn’t so detailed when I first started. Now we have formal application forms, registration, scholarships, free-reduced lunch. What’s been interesting about it is learning about these things and knowing more about what is coming from where and how the state works and what to expect.”

Her experience and ability to handle all that paperwork and reporting is going to leave a big hole in the district that was addressed at the May school board meeting.

“We’re trying to move our ECFE, school readiness forward,” said superintendent Terry Karger. “We need some entity to be the ones in charge of all MDE (Minnesota Department of Education) data submissions to make sure we are doing all of our compliance submissions and any type of reports that MDE needs as a reflection of ECFE and school readiness.” 

In other words, it would be very pressing for any current employee to take on the load of work Schultz has handled for decades.

The school board approved a motion to enter into an agreement with Freshwater Education District #6004, an agency that works with five other schools around the area to assess school readiness and ECFE needs.

“The one thing I’m excited about is the community needs assessment. Finding out what our community needs will be very important.” 

Kimberly Antonsen, Frazee school board vice chair

Schultz was frank when asked about the future of the program.

“I think it’s time to get some new blood in here,” she said. “Somebody younger.”

Community assessment is a key element to the job, something Schultz did at the ground level from day care visits to the classroom.

“You learn so much from the people in the field; the day care providers have been great and parents, in general,” she said.

Communication is key to success, along with working directly with the staff, especially when determining needs.

“I go to them and we watch the calls coming in, the numbers, the input from the parents,” said Schultz.

Schultz and her staff share that information at advisory council meetings to discuss what kind of needs are being asked for, a recent example, all-day classes for three-year-olds.

“We try to provide what is needed here,” she said. “Knowing that, we have to see who and what we have available. That gets to be a challenge.”

The program has plenty of challenges, one being misconceptions on what the program actually is. A big one is that kids are just playing.

“It is play with a purpose,” she said. “That’s the part where education comes in. Some people are naturally very gifted and know what to do with kids, but you start working with a group of them, how do you get them to be together so we can accomplish one thing here? I think the early childhood teachers are very misunderstood in that way. People don’t see the real work that goes on with these kids daily.”

Another misconception is that ECFE and SR are just daycare.

“Somebody might look and say this is just daycare, or isn’t a full day a little bit too much?” said Schultz. “If it’s done correctly it’s not. There are some similarities, but ECFE classes allow kids to experience the world in structured environments with kids their own age.” 

In essence, the programs allow kids a first look at “being in public” as a precursor to going to school.

“I think all parents do their best. There is something different about a group of kids the same age. Even when we look at the mixed ages from 0-5. We don’t stand there and say you have to do this. These are the things that make the day go better. They start to learn responsibility.”

Karrie Schultz

The ultimate goal is getting kids ready for kindergarten. That is far more than ABCs and naps.

“How do you define what that means?” said Schultz. “I feel like there is confusion, even within working with teachers and staff on what does that mean. What has been missed in a lot of this is the need to keep focused on social and emotional needs in these kids. Some people might say if they have their cognitive and reasoning abilities, they know their alphabet, they can count to 500, that’s being ready. But you have to remember that’s still a four-year-old mind. If we could all go back to when we were that age and think about it—you’re still vulnerable, you don’t know what to do. So much of this is in the daily, somebody might say to be able to get along. It’s much more than that. It’s being comfortable in approaching the teacher and saying I don’t like this or I don’t like you doing that. Not a lot of four-year-olds like to just stop if somebody is bugging them. You try to work with what is in their world. What makes sense to them, using their words.”

Neither program is mandated, but they are both options for parents and similar to how kindergarten began.

“I wouldn’t be surprised that in the future we become a preK-12 school,” said Schultz. “Kindergarten started that way in a lot of areas with half days. What we’re seeing is parents who want kids in the program. Especially, in a small school where you see kids start out here and are still here when they graduate, so they’re forming these friendships. What makes it so nice is they get used to the school right away. They know their way around. This is my school; they’re proud of it. They’re happy to be here.”

Future all-day classes would include lunches in the cafeteria.

“What a great segue for these kids going into kindergarten; they know the process and what to do,” she said. “One big change for us was going to all-day classes two days per week. That was a big leap to do that in the last 10 years. We did one classroom and were not sure how that was going to go. Now we’re up to four days.”

Initially, Schultz’s job was working with the kids, but it evolved to working directly with families and day cares.

“Trying to encourage the parents to interact with the kids and casually learning what they are doing, how to observe,” she said. “So often, parents may be intimidated by groups like these. Are they going to tell me what to do? It’s not that at all; it’s listening and everybody sharing and I might have some book knowledge, or background research things that could be helpful. Those were the things I loved, the day cares and working with the families.”

Boiling down Schultz’s job into a basic description is difficult. She does everything from making sure there are enough pencils to negotiating the hoops of acquiring state funding. Having aided so many families around the area, her retirement is going to be spent gardening and enjoying her own family, a son Nolan who lives Minneapolis and daughter Elizabeth, her husband Matt and their three kids, the Schultz’s next door neighbors in Vergas.

“The biggest thrill of all – of course, the grandchildren,” she said. “We have enjoyed every Friday with our twin granddaughters, Ellie and Eve (5-year-olds) and now looking forward to spending time with their new baby brother, Henry (2 months old).”