Friday, May 21, 2010

Minnesota principal prepares to teach in Kuwait

BRAINERD, Minn. — Harrison Elementary School Principal Jeff DeVaney knows it'll be an emotional experience for him to say goodbye to his friends and colleagues in the Brainerd School District, where he's worked for 32 of his 34 years in education. He officially retires on June 30.

But DeVaney, 58, isn't actually retiring. He has accepted a two-year assignment as principal at an elementary school in Kuwait City, Kuwait. He leaves Minnesota Aug. 14 and begins his new job Aug. 22.

DeVaney will serve as principal of the first- through fifth-grade elementary school for boys for the American Creativity Academy, which is a kindergarten through 12th-grade campus. He'll be responsible for 550 students. A similar girls' school is located six blocks away. English is the spoken language at the school, but 96 percent of the students are Kuwaiti and Islam will be practiced there. He said many Kuwaiti parents send their children there to become fluent in English. The instructors are all American or Canadian.

"At Lincoln, we had a sign that said, 'Learning for Life,'" said DeVaney, who served for 12 years as principal of the former Lincoln Elementary School. "I believe in that. I am forcing myself into a learning for life mindset. I'm very, very, excited about that, about not knowing what's out there."

DeVaney grew up in Austin — and proudly displays Spam memorabilia in his office. Starting around the age of 10, he began working at his grandfather's fine dining restaurant, The Lobster House, where he worked throughout his teen years. Because he was so busy after school and on weekends at the family restaurant, he was never able to participate in extracurricular school activities. When he began school at Austin State Junior College, he became involved in drama and choir and discovered a creative side that he never knew he had. He was a pre-architecture major and was required to take an introduction to design class. His design teacher, the late Ione Bell, opened his eyes to the world of art. Her encouragement and guidance changed his career path forever.

After attending the junior college, he transferred to St. Cloud State University and majored in art education, to become an art teacher like Mrs. Bell.

In August of 1975, DeVaney traveled to Brainerd to interview with former Superintendent Bob Gross. Before he left that interview, Gross offered him the job. He went home to Austin, packed his bags and found a place to live in Brainerd.

He taught art at five Brainerd elementary schools — Nisswa, Harrison, Lowell, Edison and Whittier — for eight years before he was laid off due to budget cuts. He then spent two years teaching restaurant management food preparation at the former Brainerd Area Vocational Technical College before being hired back into the district when an art teaching position opened up due to a retirement. He taught art at Washington Middle School for 12 years before he returned to St. Cloud State to earn his graduate degree and administrative license. In 1997, Gross asked DeVaney if he would serve as principal of Lincoln and Whittier schools, which he did for one year, then become principal at only Lincoln for 12 years.

"I loved Lincoln," DeVaney said. "I worked hard to turn it into a caring family of learners."

DeVaney also spent his summers working in the local...... More

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