The sight of a school bus on the road stirs up emotions in Sheila Beckner.
"These buses bring kids in, and everyday we get this gift," Beckner said.
"We are delivered this group of people that are ready to learn. For six hours a day, we get to mold and inspire these kids."
Today, as Red Wing students head back to school, someone will be missing — Beckner.
After a 30-plus year career in the Red Wing School District, the Burnside Elementary School principal announced her resignation last spring.
"It's a good time to go," she said. "We have put some incredible systems in place with our interventions and standards based grading. We are on the cusp of really big academic leaps, those are in place and happening."
Newly hired Jennie Bordonaro has replaced Beckner as principal of the school nearing 600 students.
"Burnside is an incredible place, which made it hard to leave," Beckner said, "but the strength of that building is the staff. It's such a powerful group of people. If you build a good system, the system continues on and is not dependent on you."
A principal not only at Burnside, but also Jefferson and Hancock elementary schools in the 1990s, Beckner's leadership has touched many generations of students and families. Her love and passion for her work is as recognizable as the bright yellow of a school bus.
"Sheila is well known for her work ethic, relationships with students and their families, and positive attitude," said Red Wing Superintendent Karsten Anderson. "My lasting memory is her inspirational leadership for Burnside and the entire school district. She had a way of working with her team to do absolutely amazing things that will have an everlasting impact on students, parents, staff members and the community."
Beckner's career in Red Wing began in 1986. In her second teaching position after college, she was hired for a special education role. Interviewing for the position on a whim, Beckner said she was youthfully optimistic about her future.
"I didn't think much about, was just open for the opportunity," she admitted. "I didn't know I would stay here for years, find my husband, get married and raise our boys here."
Her first administrative role came from developing the Colvill Family Center, expanding services provided beyond education to include a public health nurse, social worker and more comprehensive special education instruction.
"At the time, it was really revolutionary for a school to be doing that — creating an early one-stop spot," Beckner said. "We were one of the first in the state."
It was Superintendent Clayton Hovda who pushed Beckner to realize her potential in leadership and toward completing the appropriate master's programs.
"I think he saw things in me that I necessarily didn't see myself," she said.
Beckner's first run as principal at Jefferson and Hancock, she said, was a time she truly cherished.
"We had two really strong neighborhood schools in Jefferson and Hancock," she said. "They both had unique personalities and were so dearly loved by the families they served."
As the district fell into declining enrollment, a shift toward grade centers was made.
A new Burnside Elementary School opened, while first Hancock, then several years later Jefferson were closed.
During that same period, Beckner was forced into a tough decision of her own concerning her young family and an arduous schedule between her full days as a principal and her husband Bruce's long trips as a pilot.
"It was really tough with two small boys at home," Beckner said, recalling when their sons Meyer and Asa were young.
An agonizing decision to make, she said, Becker resigned as the Jefferson principal before the school was closed.
"There is no greater gift than to be able to be a principal in the town where you live and to be able to see families and kids all throughout the community and see them growing up," Beckner said.
"To leave that gift was incredibly hard, but my husband and I knew it was the right thing for our family."
Beckner said she thought any future opportunities of being a principal in Red Wing would forever escape her. Several years later however, opportunity knocked at the former principal's door again.
Beckner slowly worked her way back into the district as her sons entered school. First as a substitute teacher, then part-time in special education. Superintendent Stan Slessor asked Beckner to return to the principal's office, this time at Burnside Elementary.
"To let go of a job I loved so much, then to be blessed with the opportunity to return, made me realize the importance of those relationships and connections with families and the trust that you build over time," Beckner said.
Over her 10 years at Burnside and earlier years at neighborhood schools, Beckner said many things have changed while some remained the same.
"Families are under more stress than they used to be, so we have seen a shift in what we do during the day, and in our afterschool programs as we know families' time is limited," she said. "I think that parents love for their children has not changed over time, although sometimes we think it has because we have more families under stresses that don't allow them to show their love in a way that many of us would see."
Housing, food and job security are among those chief stressors, Beckner said.
"Gaps in income levels have changed dramatically from when I started," she said. "It doesn't matter what happens prior to walking into the door, that will not stop our expectations of a student. We will love you and care for you, our goal is to lead you, inspire you, to push you. Your life outside of school is not something that will diminish our belief in you."
The new Red Wing
Beckner said Burnside's diversity is the biggest change she has witnessed.
A favorite school event of the former principal's was the elementary concerts.
She said she enjoyed the students' music, but the melodies were not what she cherished most.
"When all the kids are up on the bleachers, I am looking at this snapshot of the new Red Wing. It is the most beautiful face of our community and face of America because it has changed so much. You can't help but stand back in awe at our diversity," Beckner said. "It is so rich to have kids coming with different experiences and different languages, and even students with disabilities. It is not that long ago that students with disabilities did not go to regular elementary schools. That richness has made us so much better, our kids so much better and has broadened our world and the way we think."
Beckner admits that the first day of not going back to school will be emotional.
"I might be a little weepy," she laughed, "but I will be thinking about the staff and kids."
Beckner said she now will have more time for her immediate and extended family. She is open for whatever opportunities may come her way.
"To have two nonconsecutive principal jobs — Is there anything more I could ask for?" Beckner said. "I have been extremely blessed along this path. It's truly been a gift."