Moving on to Otter Tail County Soil and Water District

Contributed photo
Heart of the Lakes Elementary School’s Dean of Students Scott Bjerke is retiring from the education field to take a position with Otter Tail County Soil and Water District.

When Heart of the Lakes Elementary School’s Dean of Students leaves on April 30, Scott Bjerke will be saying goodbye to a storied career in education that lasted more than 33 years. Bjerke has had an impact on current students, former students, faculty, and everyone he has worked with during his time with Fergus Falls and Perham Public Schools.

The past few weeks have been emotional for Bjerke with students and coworkers asking him how many days he has left. He will take one final walkthrough on April 30 and will be sent off in style before he starts his new career with the Otter Tail County Soil and Water District.

His impact stretches beyond Perham, but also in Fergus Falls where he kick-started a lengthy career in education. Bjerke started as a 10th grade Health and Physical Education teacher, before becoming a Dean of Students at Fergus Falls. He also spent time as a varsity hockey assistant coach, a Legion Baseball Head Coach, and a Soccer Head Coach before coming to Perham in 2006. He is remembered mostly for his time with Prairie Wind Middle School where he served as Principal but has left an impression on people in Perham High School and Heart of the Lakes Elementary with his short stints there as well.

Perham Superintendent Mitch Anderson said Bjerke was able to create an environment where students and staff wanted to be there.

“His commonsense approach to solving issues was appreciated by so many,” Anderson said. “His connection with all students was clear. Few kids passed by without a high five or a creative nickname shout out. He provided everybody in his building with a sense of comfort, ease and most importantly appreciation.”

HOTL Principal Mike Kunza echoed the statement from Anderson. Bjerke transitioned from middle school to elementary school and became a major source of knowledge for Kunza, who is a first-time principal with the school district.

“Bjerke is all about relationships and grand expectations with students, staff, and parents. Students at HOTL absolutely loved Mr. Bjerke. Regardless of the situation or the student, Bjerke always tried to make sure that students knew that he cared for them and would always be there for support,” Kunza said. “For us to have an adult like Mr. Bjerke in a position to positively affect so many kids daily, our school is a better place for everyone. His impact on the lives of so many students will be missed at HOTL.”

Bjerke said Perham has been an unbelievable place to end his career in education, after beginning in Fergus Falls.

  “I was offered a job here in Perham and I was not really looking to leave Fergus Falls. It was a big move to make at the time. I had about 15 years under my belt but when I came here it was an amazing place to be. This has been the best part of my career by far,” Bjerke said. “I’ve collaborated with some impressive people at the middle school and have worked with some great people at the elementary school.”

One of the things Bjerke is going to miss the most from his time in education will be the bonds he made with students and staff members during his career.

“I’m going to miss all the relationships I have built with the kids,” Bjerke said. “Fortunately, in this profession, you form lifelong relationships. Even if I am not present, I will still have those memories of great relationships with kids and adults, obviously. The last day here is going to be, I do not know. I am at the age where if I do not do something different, it might be difficult to do something different. The relationships are No. 1 in everything you do is building relationships with people and I am going to really miss that.”

Bjerke was grateful that Tamara Uselman, Fred Sailer, Tom Tomporowski and John Rutten, members of the interview committee when Bjerke applied, took a chance on him. Bjerke knew the competition was tough for the job offered in 2006 but was grateful for their support as well as the support he has received from the ISD 549 School Board during his tenure as principal as well.

“I have been fortunate that I have worked with a school board that has been so supportive of me and it continues today,” Bjerke said. “They have been so supportive and have not been a micromanaging outfit. They have trusted me and that has helped me kind of do it the way that worked for me. I did it the way that I felt would work for me and they let me do it. I am very appreciative of that.”

Bjerke was quick to credit the great staff he inherited and was able to build upon during his time as principal with the Prairie Wind Middle School. He compared it to being a general manager of a sports team and being able to assemble his team. He took immense pride in building upon the wonderful team that was there when he took over and being able to hand it off to Mr. Jim Kennedy, current principal at PWMS.

“A chance for you to form your team and find those people that have not the same skills you have but the skills that you lack. That was a fun part of the job, and I left that building in a good place for when Mr. Kennedy took over,” Bjerke said. “That is what I would be most proud about. It was handed over to me in a good state and I was able to hand it off to someone else in a good place and I am happy about that.”

Bjerke loved the mindset that comes with the Perham community and its belief of not settling for average, whether it is in the classroom, in the athletic world, or in the business community.

“One thing that I have found about Perham that is so cool is that it is such a same page philosophy from the business to the schools to the community. Everyone is on the same page. This is not a criticism of Fergus Falls, but I did not feel that there,” Bjerke said. “I just love the approach. The one thing I have picked up is there is a philosophy, or an attitude and it is not written anywhere, but I just sense that in anything Perham does, average is not acceptable. If it is a business downtown, the school, an extracurricular activity or an athletic event, average does not seem to be acceptable here. We always do whatever it takes to be better than average. That has been the best part of this half of my career, and I have loved every minute of it.”

While his career in education will be ending, the mark Bjerke left on Perham and Fergus Falls will continue well beyond his 33-year career in education.