Carey offered Ely principal position

Iron Range administrator with Ely ties selected for the job

by Tom Coombe
A longtime Iron Range school administrator with ties to Ely is in line to become the Ely School District’s next high school principal.
Jeff Carey, former superintendent at Eveleth-Gilbert and a current administrator in the Rock Ridge district, will be offered the grades 6-12 principal post in Ely, following action by the Ely School Board at a special meeting on Wednesday.
Carey, the son of two Ely High School graduates, was picked over two other finalists to replace Megan Anderson, who resigned at the end of the school year and will return to a teaching position this fall.
The offer to Carey, which was approved unanimously by board members, came with one stipulation: that he decide by Friday whether he’ll take the job.
If Carey declines, the position will be offered instead to the board’s second-ranked finalist - Hibbing administrator Mandy Huusko.
The third finalist was Crystal Poppler, an Ely graduate who most recently taught at Northeast Range and is the new dean of student at the Northland Learning Center.
After separate, public interviews, conducted by the board with superintendent John Klarich, elementary principal Anne Oelke and an extended committee of school faculty looking on, the board quickly coalesced around Carey as their top candidate.
“Obviously he was a wealth of experience compared to the other two,” said board member Tony Colarich, citing Carey’s administrative background, which includes both the superintendency at Eveleth-Gilbert and principal jobs including in the neighboring St. Louis County district.
Board chairman Ray Marsnik agreed and said he liked not only Carey’s experience, but an interview answer he gave about reversing the district’s declines in student enrollment.
“I really liked his answer,” said Marsnik. “What he said was ‘we have to offer a good product, we have to have a good relationship

with the college, and we must have a positive environment in our schools.’ I think if we do all three of those things it can help us as far as increasing enrollment.”
Carey told the board he has a fondness both for the community and for small schools, citing his parents’ Ely roots and noting that he was born here and spent two years attending Vermilion Community College.
His teaching career started in the St. Louis County district and Carey said his first principal position was in Cotton.
“I spent the first two-thirds of my career in very small schools,” said Carey.
Carey said small schools offer administrators a better opportunity to know students adding “when you’re in a bigger area that’s hard to do.”
Familiarity with both students and staff are important, Carey indicated.
“Students need to know you’re there, know who you are,” said Carey, adding that it’s important for principals to be visible at after-school events and activities.
Carey described his leadership style as collaborative in nature and said he wasn’t someone who would force changes - and would instead strive to learn the culture of the district.
In some previous leadership positions, Carey said he used social media as a communication tool.
“Whether schools like it or not, it’s how people get their news now a days,” he said.
Carey showed familiarity with an assortment of issues ranging from school communication systems and behavior programs to budgeting.
Extended committee members also endorsed Carey for the job, including high school math teacher Tim Omerza.
“From my seat it seemed pretty clear he would be an excellent choice to offer the position to,” said Omerza.
Colarich offered the motion to hire Carey, and later amended it to name Huusko as next in line.
“I don’t think we’ll find another candidate as qualified as Jeff,” said Colarich.
Board discussion revealed some urgency in the district’s offer and members soon decided they’d give Carey roughly a day-and-a-half to decide.
Superintendent John Klarich said Carey, who lives outside of Eveleth, is likely to be interviewed for similar jobs at Chisholm and Grand Rapids.
The group showed comfort in offering the job to Huusko, who is seeking her first principal job, should Carey turn Ely down.
Elementary principal Anne Oelke said she was comfortable with Huusko.
I was impressed with how she was able to answer all of the interview questions by drawing back on experiences and what she has already done,” she said.
The new principal will replace Anderson, who stepped in as principal late in the 2015-16 school year and served ever since. Last month, she announced her resignation and her intention to return to the classroom. She will be part of the district’s middle school faculty this fall.