There may be no small jobs in education, but there sure are big ones, including being principal to an elementary school of almost 900 students and 100 staff. That describes Tim Brown’s role since September 2015 at Rush Creek Elementary in western Maple Grove. Being a Rush Creek parent himself (Brown has a third grader at the school, plus a child in middle school and one entering Maple Grove Senior High) has helped. “I already knew the building, and many of the families and staff,” he says.
Nonetheless, a significant challenge of the job is getting to know everyone in the building. “The days are busy and hectic,” he admits. “I’m trying to connect with each adult and kid.” He likes to meet kids in their natural habitats “lunch and recess,” he says, and is often rewarded when they approach him and say “Hi!” Brown says he now recognizes almost everyone by sight but won’t rest until he “knows their names, and their stories.”
While the school’s size may be an ongoing challenge, Brown says there are plenty of joys as well. “Rush Creek is really special,” he says. “We attract and retain high-caliber people...teachers and non-licensed staff who are grateful to work here. Plus, we have a really deep bench of parent volunteers.”
Brown, who has a B.A. in special education from the University of Minnesota, a master’s in education from Penn State and an Ed. D. from the University of St. Thomas, says his special education background has also been useful. “The principal attends all I.E.P. meetings,” he explains. “I still find myself as a kind of translator. I read families pretty well. Sometimes I say, ‘Let’s hit the pause button,’ and I stop the meeting to explain to parents exactly what is being said.” He estimates that 10 percent of the student population at Rush Creek qualifies for some kind of special education.
Another 18 percent are children of color. Brown says. “A big strand of district work the last few years has been in equity.” In this regard, his Ojibway heritage (his mother was Ojibway and his father Norwegian—he calls himself “Ojibwegian”) has had special meaning. “When I was a kid in fourth grade, the only book I saw about a person who looked like me was a biography of Jim Thorpe,” the famous Native American athlete and football player of the first half of the 20th century. “I checked that book out of the library every week for a year. Every kid is looking for his Jim Thorpe book.”
Brown feels that the primary responsibility of any principal is to keep everyone in his or her building safe. A close second responsibility is “to communicate to everyone what we’ve got to be doing,” he adds. This kind of collaborative spirit is especially appreciated by Sally Hansen, PTA president and the mother of a fifth grader at Rush Creek. “Tim is a very thoughtful leader. He considers everyone’s ideas and requests with an open mind. His bottom line is always, “How will this play out for the students?’” She finds him especially helpful in connecting parents to teachers.
Long-term and recently retired Rice Creek secretary Char Squire agrees, and says students find principal Brown approachable as demonstrated by the amount of student-made cards and artwork that he receives and hangs in his office. "Being a photographer and artist himself,” she says, “Dr. Brown has provided drawing lessons to classrooms when requested.” She cites his consistent availability to staff, parents and students alike.
That Brown considers himself part of the Rush Creek team was clear to Squire during a recent downpour at dismissal when he was seen outdoors with students "wearing a yellow school patrol slicker!”