With her nearly four decade long career in education coming to a close on June 30, Superintendent Dr. Nancy Rajanen said she will miss the people in Waconia but she is looking forward to what sounds like a busy retirement, as her plans include teaching and mentoring the next generation of school administrators.
Rajanen, who served as Waconia’s superintendent for the past six years, recently reflected on her career.
“I have been blessed to work in several Minnesota school districts, working in regular education and special education programs for 37 years,” she said. “In addition to my years as Superintendent in the Waconia Schools, I was the Assistant Superintendent and Executive Director in the Robbinsdale Area Schools.”
In that role, Rajanen oversaw all of the operational programs of the district, including human resources, finance, buildings and grounds, transportation, payroll, and child nutrition. She also served as chief negotiator for all employee collective bargaining agreements for the Robbinsdale district.
“I also spent 12 years in the St. Francis (Minnesota) schools, with six as HR Director and six as Director of Special Education,” added Rajanen, whose teaching experience includes special education instruction in Austin, Minn., and Anoka-Hennepin Schools.
Similar to comments she made in a heartfelt message read during her last Waconia School Board meeting on June 9, Rajanen contends that education is the most important work on the planet.
“No business, government, service, or any other entity can exist without a well-educated workforce,” she explained. “Over the years, I have led teams of teachers to provide instruction in various parts of the developing world. Those experiences really opened my eyes to the critical importance of education.
“Improving one’s life circumstances simply cannot occur if individuals cannot read and reason for themselves,” she continued. “On my own time, I am a volunteer teacher of English to refugees and new immigrants in Minneapolis. I am awed by the resilience of individuals who have literally sacrificed and risked everything to provide educational opportunities for their children.”
In one touching example, Rajanen told of seeing the tears of joy shed by one of her students, who was 67 years old and had passed a fourth grade reading exam. “She literally bowed down in front of me in a humble gesture to thank me for educating her, as this was the first time she was ever allowed to go to school,” she recalled.
As she heads towards retirement, Rajanen said she would will miss the people in Waconia the most.
“I have developed such wonderful relationships within the school community and the community at large. The community focus on education in Waconia is strong, and it is a privilege to keep our standards high,” she said.
In retirement, Rajanen plans to teach part-time in the graduate educational administration program at Hamline University.
“I look forward to mentoring the next generation of superintendents, principals, and directors of special education,” she said. “I will also do some consulting with smaller districts, providing human resources expertise or negotiations. I will also continue as a volunteer to teach English to refugees, and will also be teaching a citizenship class as well.”
Outside of those plans, Rajanen looks forward to traveling and spending time with her family.
“My husband and I live in southwest Minneapolis and we enjoy international travel,” she said. “Both of our two adult children live in Chicago, and we will be visiting them often.”
During the board meeting on June 9, Waconia School Board Chairman Brian Rothstein read a lengthy resolution that commended Rajanen’s work and achievements in Waconia.
Among the items he noted was Rajanen’s role in improving the district’s relationship with its staff and the community and Rajanen’s leadership in forging better communication and transparency from the district. Rothstein also commended Rajanen’s vision in creating a day of service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
During the applause that followed the conclusion of the resolution, Rajanen walked down the row of school board members to exchange a few words and shake hands with each one. It was an act that Rajanen herself had encouraged many others to do after they had been recognized by the board, only this time it was her turn.
The new superintendent of Waconia Public Schools, Patrick Devine, officially starts on July 1.