When one door closes, another opens

Posted 5/31/22

By Sarah Nigbor Mark Stoesz retires as EHS principal ELLSWORTH – Ellsworth High School will seem like a diuerent place next fall. Principal Mark Stoesz won't be there for the first time in 31 …

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When one door closes, another opens


By Sarah Nigbor

Mark Stoesz retires as EHS principal

ELLSWORTH – Ellsworth High School will seem like a diuerent place next fall. Principal Mark Stoesz won't be there for the first time in 31 years to greet students as they come through the door. He is retiring June 30. The days feel like they are spiraling quickly toward that last day, Stoesz said. He walks to work every day and last week, he had a surprise waiting for him Wednesday. The seniors had written mes – sages for him in chalk on the sidewalk the last half mile of his trek. "It was pretty impressive and very thorough, very well done," Stoesz said. "I only cried like six or eight times." During the EHS com –

mencement ceremony Fri – day, May 27, Superintendent Barry Cain heralded the prin – cipal, teacher, coach as his treasured colleague for more than 30 years, but more im –

portantly, his friend.

“He truly cares about them (the students)," Cain said.

Stoesz joked at the cere – mony that he applied to 64 diuerent schools for jobs and went 0-64 until he in – terviewed at Ellsworth. He came to EHS in August 1990 and taught history, social studies and psychology for 17 years. While teaching, he also served as athletic direc- tor for five years.

Stoesz taught in his hometown district, Butter – field-Odin (southwest of Mankato) for three years before jumping the border to Wisconsin. He attended Bethel University where he played football, but trans – ferred to and graduated from Minnesota State Universi – ty at Mankato. He earned a Master's degree in history from UW-River Falls in 1995 and a Master's in school ad – ministration from Mankato in 2002. After earning his Master's in school administration, he

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“sat on it a bit” before making the leap from the class- room to the principal's ovce. “I’d been the department chair and was always in leadership positions,” Stoesz said. “It was a natural progression for me to pick that up. But I love the classroom a lot. I sat on it a full five years before I went into administration. I really love the classroom and teaching.”

But an opportunity arose that he couldn’t pass up and he became the EHS assistant principal. He soon stepped in the principal role, one he held for 14 years.

What does a principal’s job entail? Stoesz characterized it as providing the educational leadership for the building, overseeing all the stau, supporting stau and performing stau evaluations. Because of his background, he helps with the budget. He also spends time guiding curriculum decisions, scheduling and determining which classes will be ouered, and supporting students.

It’s apparent watching Stoesz interact with students that the relationships he’s built with them (and stau) are the best part of his job. As students marched across the stage during commencement on May 27, they gave him many hugs and slipped notes and trinkets in his hands.

“I love to see kids in different spots and interact with them,” Stoesz said. “I’ve always loved that. Same thing with the stau. I love going in and seeing the diuerent things the stau are doing in their classrooms. It’s fun to see what’s going on and what they’re implementing.”

He focused on building day-to-day relationships with the kids; they want and need that influence and structure. “My sense is that we should be creating an environment they want to be at and instilling hope in kids,” Stoesz said. “I also feel it’s my responsibility, I’m called to love the kids who come into my building. It doesn’t matter what their background is, or their beliefs.”

The job didn’t come without challenges. Early on in his administrative career, the district went through some financial divculties in 2007-08. They had to make decisions on school budgets and implement cuts. He went from being in the classroom to telling colleagues that they no longer had a job.

“I hope this school district never has to go through that again,” Stoesz said.

COVID hit in March 2020 and brought an entirely new kind of tough to the forefront. He and teachers and other administrators spent hours trying to figure out how to keep student learning moving forward. While they did that, he’s concerned about the euects of the pan demic, which are far-reaching and not going away anytime soon.

"The euect on the men tal health of our students is profound and legitimate,” Stoesz said. “It will take a long time to work our way through that. It’s been really divcult for them to maneu ver through that.

“I try to look at things as opportunities. One of the things that came out early on was ways to communicate with kids so they get appropriate information. I regret not doing that earlier. I often email students directly now.” As one can imagine, working in education for 30+ years created a multitude of memories and special moments. Stoesz coached for many years and counts leading students to state competitions in football, girls basketball and girls golf in the 1990s as top-notch moments. He’s also proud of bringing the Advanced Placement (AP) program to Ellsworth and taught the district's first AP classes. He’s developed many friendships over the years with stau members and treasures those as well. But perhaps the most special part of his career has been working with his wife, Lesley, for 25 of his 32 years. Lesley teaches Spanish at EHS and will also retire this year.

Stoesz met Lesley while working for a US military recreational facility one winter season in the southern Germany in the Alps. She was secretary to the commander and processed work permits there. Lesley is British, but Stoesz convinced her to move to the United States.

“I taught for one year in Minnesota and then I talked her into coming here,” Stoesz said.

They were married and Lesley earned her teaching degree. They have two daughters, both EHS alumna: Courtney and Hayley.

So what’s the next big adventure for the Stoesz’s? He wanted to help get the district and school through COVID so the new person coming in could have a fresh start.

“It’s important for me to transition the building well to the next person,” Stoesz said.

He and Lesley plan visit her family in England, but they will stay local and be involved in the community.

“We plan on staying here,” Stoesz said. “This is home.”