Schwenns form father-daughter teaching duo at Hidden Valley
Kara Schwenn recently had her second “first day of school” at Hidden Valley Elementary, over 16 years after the first one. Her dad, Jeff Schwenn, was there for both of them.
Kara started kindergarten at Hidden Valley in the fall of 2006, on the same day Jeff, a 1992 Burnsville High School graduate, returned to District 191 as a fifth-grade teacher at Hidden Valley. In early February, Kara returned to Hidden Valley as a substitute teacher and reunited with Jeff, who's now in his 17th year at the school.
Kara, a member of the BHS class of 2019, graduated from college last fall with a degree in elementary education. She started looking for teaching jobs, and returning to the school where she spent six years and was familiar with the staff, including her dad, turned out to be a good, albeit surreal, option.
“Being at the same school was a little bit weird at first, I won’t lie. I think it’s just weird to be back in the same elementary school I went to and to see my old elementary teachers every day as well,” Kara said. “The feeling is always positive and I do feel a lot of support when I am at the school because I know a lot of the staff there and I have my dad there for support.”
The Schwenns cross paths in the hallways on a daily basis and have gotten to have lunch together a few times. Seeing Kara follow in his footsteps and flourish as a teacher is a point of pride for Jeff.
“Teaching in the same building as Kara has been wonderful. Seeing her grow as a teacher so quickly and develop her own identity as a teacher is something that makes me as a parent very proud,” he said. “Remembering her as a kindergartner and now seeing her teach in the same building is something that will rank right at the top for my career.”
Another of Jeff’s career highlights has been teaching both his daughters. Kara was in Jeff’s math class in fifth grade where she earned good grades but liked to doodle and “had a tendency to be chatty,” according to Jeff.
“I had her sitting up front, right in the middle so I could ensure she was focusing,” he said. “We would laugh at home about some class situations that year and still do. I used the line a few times that year, 'Do I need to call your mom?'"
“He treated me like I was another student and pushed me to be my best. Having him in the same school allowed me to be super comfortable at school and get to know all the teachers well. It also made it so it was difficult to slack off at school. I knew if I did anything my dad would be the first to hear about it that same day,” joked Kara.
Jeff majored in journalism in college and started a career in the business world before returning to school to earn a teaching license and eventually a masters in teaching from Hamline University. He credits his wife, Kelly, for encouraging him to pursue a career path he would find more challenging but also more rewarding.
“Without my wife giving me the push I needed to go into education, my life would be very different,” he said. “Teaching is the best profession because every day is different from the one before it. The feedback you get from kids is instant and you can see them appreciate the help you’re providing them. Even the tough days are still enjoyable because as an educator you need to reflect back on what you could have done differently to ensure the day had a different outcome.”
For Kara, seeing that dedication to students on a daily basis, not only from her dad but from other teachers in One91, was something that inspired her to become a teacher.
“Seeing my dad teach and come home every day from school was something that really did have an impact on me. It allowed me to see how even though teaching can be a stressful and at times very challenging career it is very rewarding as well. It allows you to find meaning and be more beyond yourself,” she said. Having those connections with students and having an impact larger than myself was something which guided my choice to choose to teach. I also had many great teachers growing up throughout my time at Hidden Valley and at other schools in the district which impacted my decision as well.”
Ensuring a positive experience for their daughters was one of the reasons the Schwenns, who live outside the district, chose to open enroll in District 191.
“The teaching staff at Hidden Valley Elementary was strong when I started there and remains strong to this day,” Jeff said. “I wanted my daughters to experience from the student perspective what I knew was a top notch staff who is caring, but at the same time provides an instructional level of rigor I as a parent was happy to see my daughters receive.”
Kara said she’s loved all her 191 experiences, from her time as a student at Hidden Valley, to the classes and activities she was able to participate in during high school, to her first few weeks as a teacher.
“I think this school district is unlike any other in the way that it has so many different opportunities and people who attend school here,” she said. “The opportunities I had to take college credit courses in high school were amazing and definitely helped me out when I went to college. I also really enjoy how there is an emphasis on the arts as well. I was someone who loved music and theater growing up, so having the opportunity to do that from elementary through high school was amazing. The approach to education 191 has is great and I do believe they want the best for every student who comes through those doors.”