Anxious for BEA school to start
Little did the Blue Earth Area School District know when they were looking to hire a new elementary assistant principal there was already someone out there looking for them.
Conan Shaffer, his wife Melissa and their family, were living in the St. Cloud area but were interested in relocating.
“We wanted to be in a small community and had researched the southern part of the state from Rochester to the South Dakota border,” Shaffer says. “Blue Earth was on the top of our list.”
So when the job of K-7 assistant principal opened up at BEA and Shaffer was hired, he could not have been happier, but it was not just because of the job.
“I want to be more than just a principal,” he comments. “We want to be part of a community.”
And he is already liking what he sees.
“I cannot tell you the difference taking our young family out on a bike ride here in Blue Earth as opposed to St. Cloud,” he remarks. “It is much more relaxing biking with the family in Blue Earth.”
Shaffer’s family includes a daughter, Airyana, who is off to college in Colorado and three youngsters, a boy, Aiden, in second grade and twins, one boy, Aaron, and one girl, Addison, who are starting kindergarten this year.
Shaffer is a native of Illinois but his family moved to Colorado when he was 12. He lived in the Colorado Springs/Denver area and graduated from high schoolin Denver.
“I was originally working in the criminal justice system in Colorado Springs and then at a juvenile corrections facility in Larkspur, Colorado, for two years,” he explains.”
Working at the corrections facility brought about a change to Shaffer’s life.
“I started to get a passion for working with kids,” he says. “I wanted the chance to work with young people to keep them out of the criminal/legal system.”
He was able to see first hand some of the repercussions impacting young people’s lives.
“There were juvenile sex offenders, kids eight years old, making choices that would affect the rest their lives,” Shaffer comments.
It was while he was in Colorado he met Melissa, who was a native of North Branch, Minnesota, and they began dating. Together they decided to move to the North Star state in 2007 and were married in 2008.
“I worked at the correctional facility in St. Cloud and went to school at St. Cloud State University,” he says. “I got my bachelor of science degree in special education in December of 2012. I also am licensed in emotional and behavioral disorders.”
He achieved his masters degree in special education in 2018.
“I began to understand I wanted to do more than just teach in the classroom,” he explains. “I knew I would need to climb the ladder to be able to impact more than just the kids in my classroom.”
With his background in the juvenile justice system and his experience in teaching, Shaffer has strong feelings about the challenges some students face.
One of those major challenges is trauma.
“Trauma is what keeps kids from being able to focus and pay attention and maintain appropriate relations,” he comments. “And the trauma can have many different causes, some of which may have occurred while the child was in the womb, such as fetal alcohol syndrome.”
“The ability to learn is different for someone who comes from a loving, nurturing environment versus someone who comes from a stress-filled home,” he adds.
Which is why he is so passionate about his job.
“It is important all students should have equal opportunity and access to high quality education, Shaffer says. “It starts with relationships, both at home and at school.”
It is part of the reason he is excited about the ACEs (Adverse Child Experiences) program being implemented at BEA.
“The ACEs program helps educate the educators on how to help plan curriculum to better be prepared to help support the student’s emotional needs in the classroom,” he remarks. “And the goal is to improve the social and emotional being of all the kids, not just those who are struggling.”
Shaffer knows it is a process which will not happen overnight.
“We are teaching the kids of today to handle the stresses their parents were not trained to handle,” he explains.
While Shaffer’s job has led him to work with children facing difficulties, he has also had to deal with a tough situation of his own along the way.
“I was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2015,” he comments. “It was an acoustic neuroma tumor which is a benign tumor that develops on the balance and auditory nerves leading from your inner ear.”
The doctors were able to successfully remove the tumor but it changed Shaffer’s life.
“I had to learn to walk again because they had to cut the balance nerve,” he says. “I spent a lot of time in physical therapy. It also taught me to be thankful for every minute you have on this earth.”
He was an avid snowboarder but the opportunities to partake in that sport in Minnesota are not the same as they were in Colorado.
“Our family loves to hike, fish and go boating in addition to biking,” he says. “I can’t be quite as active as I was prior to the surgery.”
With his youngest children heading to kindergarten this year, Shaffer says Melissa has been thinking about reentering the work force.
“Melissa is an optometrist and she has some interest in exploring what work options might be available in the area,” he explains.
With school right around the corner, Shaffer shared his goals for the upcoming year.
“We have a lot of great teachers in this building and we want to create an atmosphere of success and trust,” he comments. “I want students and teachers to have a sense of belonging and I want to see the building of solid teacher-pupil relationships which will help improve the student’s academic achievement.”