Since her time as an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota, Shannon Tenner has been an educator.
The new principal of Justice Page Middle School at 50th & Nicollet has been a day care provider, an associate educator, a special education teacher, a dean and, mostly recently, an assistant principal.
Most of her 22-year career has been at next door Washburn High School.
About three weeks into her new job, Tenner spoke with the Southwest Journal about her career path, distance learning and her connection to the school’s namesake, Alan Page.
Page, a former state Supreme Court Justice, education advocate and Minnesota Vikings football player, has been a fixture at the school since it was named after him in 2017.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
What appealed to you about coming to Justice Page?
What appealed to me is that I have been on the South Side for over 14 years. Knowing the families, knowing the community, I feel like that’s my second home, and Page is right there.
What is most appealing is that Page is a [social-emotional learning (SEL)] pilot school. When the district first incorporated SEL as a priority, that was something I took on as assistant principal at Washburn. I’m excited to look at how SEL is done at Page and also how I can incorporate some of the things I’ve done to align different committees or whatnot with the SEL practices.
What’s it like to start a new position as a building leader and not be able to see the kids on the first day of school?
Oh my. It’s so weird. I go back and forth, like, “Did I make the best decision? Was this the right time?” It’s super weird. Even not being able to see your staff. Everything has to be done virtually, but I guess in a way it’s a sign of the times, and it’s an area that I just have to take the reins and do the best that I can.
What do you think kids’ social-emotional needs are going to be when they start school online?
It’s going to be super high, because we have a double-whammy in Minnesota. We had COVID-19 and we had the murder of George Floyd, and so that pushes the SEL levels super, super high. That’s something I’m fully aware of, and that’s why I believe we have to prioritize SEL first.
How do you expect to bring the conversation around George Floyd’s death into the school setting?
That is something that we will as a school discuss. I know [new assistant principal Kasie Tverberg] would like to do some book studies with our students. It probably will be a topic that comes up within Crew [the school’s daily advisory period]. That’s something I’m sure kids would like to talk about and … get it out into a trusted space how they were feeling during the intense moments.
What’s your plan for an in-person reopening?
That’s something I haven’t even thought about because we’re doing distance learning. There’s a five-phase plan that’s guided by the superintendent and district leadership of what that looks like. I have no idea when [in-person school] is coming, and that is not in my line of foresight right now. I’m setting up meetings with key [community] members and connecting with clerical staff and the engineers. Those are immediate things that are taking place to get ready to open virtually.
Do you expect many of your teachers to choose to teach out of the school building?
At Page, pretty much every teacher has their own classroom, so that will be enough social distancing space. I don’t know if it will be everybody, because I do have some staff who have health concerns or whatnot, but if they choose to go that route by all means they’re welcome to.
How well do you know Alan Page, and what do you think of being principal of the school that’s named after him?
I met Justice Page during my first couple years of undergrad at the University of Minnesota [in the late 1990s] when I was a recipient of the Page scholarship.
It didn’t come up [in the hiring process] until I sent a thank-you to the interviewing committee and said, “You know, due to my nervousness, I did not mention this in my interview, but I’m a past Page scholar.” Then I just mentioned how awesome would it be to come full circle of being a Page scholar and the principal of Justice Page Middle School.