Mike Pagel is beginning his 11th year in the Red Wing School District with a new job title: principal. Pagel has taken the leadership reins at Sunnyside Elementary School following the resignation of three-year Principal Jeremy Sorenson.
A Minnesota native, Pagel spent his first years of teaching in southern California in the mid-1990s. While teaching there eight years, Pagel met his future wife, Robin, who oddly enough also was a native Minnesotan.
After starting a family, the Pagels knew their home state was calling.
"Both of our families were here and we wanted our children to start school in Minnesota," he said.
Robin works in the district as a counselor at Twin Bluff Middle School. Daughter Grace will be starting her first year of college at the University of Wisconsin this fall, while sons Calvin and Max attend Red Wing High School.
Landing in Red Wing in 2004, which served as a middle point between Mike's and Robin's families, Pagel accepted an education coordinator position at a day treatment facility in Ellsworth, Wis.
"Some of those kids were really struggling with so much beyond education, it really opened my eyes and gain different perspectives," he said.
Becoming a Winger
Joining the Red Wing School District in 2007, Pagel served as a K-5 computer teacher before transferring to a fourth-grade classroom at Burnside for several years. He then tested the administrative waters as a Title 1 math coordinator for the district.
"In the classroom I was able to affect a lot of change on a smaller group of kids each year, but I found myself wishing that I could help make more kids' lives better," Pagel said.
After a year in the Title 1 coordinating position, Pagel was approved to transfer to the student support coordinator role at Sunnyside.
"Our students at Sunnyside are coming in at an age that is not far from toddlers. A lot of brain development goes on at this age," Pagel said. As the student support coordinator, he dealt with behavioral issues in some cases.
"With these young students, we have so many teachable moments in regards to discipline," he said. "Whether it's negotiating over a toy or a behavioral manner, we try to teach kids what would be a better option to deal with a situation."
While growing into his roles outside the classroom, Pagel completed a principal licensure program.
As strategic planning efforts develop a longterm vision for the district continue, Pagel said the timing could not be better to step into a leadership role.
"I think we're on the cusp as a district to implement some great changes," he said.
Pagel said he feels his experiences in and out of the classroom on the California coast and here in Red Wing have taught him a simple central value.
"At the core of any school, it comes down to every teacher and staff member believing fully that every single student is capable of achieving wonderful things," he said. "We have to be willing to do the work to help each individual student.
This mentality, Pagel said, led him to turn down a teaching opportunity in a gifted and talented program earlier in his career. "My strength has always been as an advocate for the struggling students, doing everything in my power to determine how do we help students with individual needs."
Pagel knows his Sunnyside staff are up for the challenge of the new school year, and said he is anxious to get to work.
"Education is all of us," Pagel said. "We are uniquely positioned at Sunnyside that these are the ages where, for many of our parents, it's their first exposure to school."
Pagel said one focus for his first year as principal will be exploring family and community engagement.
"We are doing a great job of this already, but I really want to embrace the community and be open to more ways to get ourselves involved in the community and the community involved at Sunnyside."