MORRIS - When recently-retired Morris Area Elementary School principal Brad Korn showed families the old elementary school building, the deterioration of the building was constantly apparent.
"When we'd give tours [of the old building] to new families or potential new families, they'd often make comments while going up the steps because the tile floor was worn through to the concrete," said Korn.
Since moving to the new elementary school building, getting to the show off the facility has become a much more enjoyable experience.
Although the new elementary school building may be the most visible change to the district since Korn joined the district in 1991, the last 21 years have offered many more under-the-radar challenges and improvements to the education that students receive.
Korn announced his retirement to the Morris Area School Board in April, and finished his last official day on the job at the end of June.
Korn began his career in education 35 years ago, first as a Title I teacher in Granite Falls, then as a teacher in Breckenridge and Appleton. His first principal position was in St. James before accepting the principal job in Morris in 1991.
"When I went through my master's program, I got to meet a number of the teachers here in the district and was impressed with their professionalism and integrity," said Korn. "It seemed like a place I wanted to apply."
The University of Minnesota, Morris was also a draw for Korn and his family. His wife, Judy, was able to go back to school and complete a degree at UMM where she currently works in the registrar's office. Korn's three children are also graduates of the Morris district.
Over Korn's time in the district, enrollment, facilities and increased accountability provided challenges for district staff and students.
In 1991, the elementary school served more than 600 students. Enrollment eventually dropped to around 350 students, but has been slowly increasing since. Korn credits both the teachers and the Morris community for offering a quality product that families seek out due to open enrollment.
Today, MAES is home to more than 500 students and starting to reach the limits of what the elementary school building can handle, making it a challenge to fit everyone into a facility that some considered too big when it was built in 2005.
As principal, Korn worked with the community steering committee to envision the needs for the new building, then helped organize the transition from one building to another.
"Clearly, it's not a 'me' thing, it's a 'we' thing. A lot of people put in a lot of time and effort and made it happen," said Korn.
Korn is also pleased with the decision to build a single-site campus, despite some community concerns about mixing elementary and high school students. The single site improved busing and opened up opportunities to share staff and services between the schools.
"It facilitates and really accentuates the space that we have," said Korn.
Korn is also proud of the work the district has accomplished in strengthening special education and Title 1 offerings and reading interventions for elementary school students.
"I think we really strengthened reading support for kids," said Korn. "There have been lots of things that have been positive, and I can't say that they're because of me, but I've been a part of some of those things."
Although Korn doesn't have any definite plans for his retirement yet - other than spending more time with family and eventually moving out to live by a lake - he hopes to be able to be involved with kids again soon.
"There's something to be said for when you're having a real challenging day, some student will make a comment that just is a day brightener," said Korn. "I'm not sure what I'll be doing, but working with kids and teaching and educating kids, it's hard to find a job that valuable, I think."