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March 2, 2021

1/22/2021 1:22:00 PM
North Branch's longtime school board member stepping down

A career of service to North Branch Area Public Schools (NBAPS) that spanned over 20 years is coming to an end as the Board accepted the resignatioin of long-time school board member and current Chair Kirby Ekstrom last week. Ekstrom handed the gavel to new chair Tim MacMillan in the meeting at the middle school media center.

Ekstrom embodies all the qualities of a citizen servant. Born at Rush City Hospital, Ekstrom has lived in the North Branch community for 60 years. He grew up just south of the North Branch golf course, where his parents started their family together in the Blue and White trailer park.   Ekstrom attended, and graduated from, North Branch Area Public Schools. In 1981 he married Jan, his “junior high sweetheart,” and they raised their two sons on Branch Ave. Said Ekstrom, “as a third generation graduate I have deep feelings for ‘my’ school and the people involved in shaping me into the person I have become, North Branch will always be home.”

Ekstrom was first seated on the school board in 1999. He is passionate about the idea of “students first” and looks back with pride at some of the ways that philosophy benefitted local students, such as adding girls and boys hockey programs, dance, AFJROTC, robotics, STEAM, culinary arts, Chisago County Life Works Center, the school district’s coming FAB Lab, plus many academic programs that allow students interested in post-secondary schooling options to help attain credits while still in High School.

He also has great pride in how the school district engaged the community during his tenure. “Prior to my term as board chair, the community of North Branch Schools was engulfed in a negative workplace culture that was affecting employees, students and parents. With the help of the Superintendent and board members we started a process to express everything in a positive outlook, I knew it would take time, the expression ‘big ships turn slowly’ was always on my radar,” he said, adding, “We advocated for more funding and received it. We sent out messages and involved parents and community members in decision making efforts...with the help from staff we have made North Branch Area Public Schools a school of choice once again. This was done by board members, administrative staff, and each person in the district believing how great North Branch is.”

Due to COVID-19 measures NBAPS chose not to host a reception for Ekstrom at this time, but one may be held at a later date if restrictions allow. For those who would like to send Ekstrom a note of thanks for his decades of service, a Padlet has been set up. All are invited to add their thoughts at: https://bit.ly/38w0MiP.

The NBAPS school board will soon begin the process of replacing Ekstrom, which will be done by appointment. Anyone interested in serving on the school board can contact Arle Chambers at (651) 674-1011 for more information and an application. The appointed individual will serve the majority of Ekstrom’s 2021 term and stand for election in November of 2021.

Words of praise for Ekstrom:
School Board member Sarah Grovender: “I am so thankful that I was able to learn all about being on a school board with Kirby as my mentor. He helped me tremendously to learn the ins and outs of the role. Even more importantly, I truly appreciate his passion for the North Branch School District, MN School Board Association, and the MN State High School League. Almost every time I attended a North Branch sporting event, I could search the crowd and spot Kirby and his wife, wearing red, and supporting the North Branch School District. His leadership will be truly missed, as well as his positive presence. I wish him the best with his retirement and hope that he gets to spend lots of time with his grandchildren and that he finds plenty of time to relax on the beach in Mexico.”

School Board member Kevin Bollman: “Jack Lew once said ‘I think there's no higher calling in terms of a career than public service, which is a chance to make a difference in people's lives and improve the world.’  For over two decades Kirby has served the North Branch School District in pursuit of positive outcomes for students. I thank him for his service to the community and for the kind welcome I was offered when I joined the board two years ago. I wish him well in his new adventures and retirement.”

School board member Tim MacMillan: “I want to thank Kirby for his years of service and his unwavering commitment to offering the best educational opportunities for all the children in our district. Kirby wears, and has worn, many hats in his school board duties and roles and for that I and our community will be forever grateful. Congratulations Kirby on your retirement and your next chapter!”

Former NBAPS Superintendent Deb Henton: “It was common to meet with School Board Chair Kirby Ekstrom prior to a school board meeting to ensure the agenda was properly prepared. We would meet in the office of the superintendent and as the time of the meeting approached, we would head for the school board room. Once in the boardroom, Board Chair Ekstrom would calmly lead the meeting to its conclusion which generally would take 2-3 hours. Already a long day, one would think that he would be anxious to call it a day and go home, but not Kirby!  He would head to a field or gym to cheer on his beloved Vikings. Board Chair Ekstrom is a super fan of the red and white!”

MSBA Executive Director Kirk Schneidawind: “Kirby is indeed a terrific guy. He has been a true team player while serving on the MSBA Board of Directors.  He has demonstrated great leadership in representing his MSBA region which has 48 school districts.  More importantly, Kirby understood that his duties represented the interests of our 333 public school districts and 850,000 public schools. MSBA is an organization that represents all of our public school districts in the state of Minnesota. He has been the chair of our All-State School Board committee and a strong voice for our school board members while serving as the AA representative on the MSHSL Board of Directors. As I understand, he is known as Mr. North Branch which I have heard from other sources than Kirby himself. I have seen that same love he has for his community of North Branch replicated in the work that he has done for MSBA and our state.”  

NBAPS General Counsel Peter Martin: “Kirby has selflessly dedicated many years of his life to the growth and success of the North Branch Public Schools.  His legacy will endure far beyond the conclusion of his distinguished career as a Board member. He will be greatly missed.”

Close friend Charley Klopp: Kirby always was very passionate about North Branch Schools.  I would see him at all of the school functions from pre-school events to high school activities.  His foremost concern was the students we were serving and how better to service them.  Whenever he and I would talk the conversation always ended up about the well being of our school.  Being a volunteer in the school system for close to twenty five years, I have always appreciated the effort that Kirby has maintained in his championing North Branch Public Schools.  It the sports writing lingo, the term homer refers to a person who loves and supports the Home team through think and thin to almost a point of blindness.  That is Kirby.  We will all miss him, but now his children and grandchildren will be his new passion.

Former school board chair Kim Salo: Kirby will be deeply missed. I witnessed first hand the great service he has done for district #138.  If there was a meeting or a school activity, you could count on seeing Kirby there; he made it a priority to attend most everything! His countless hours of devotion is to be commended. Thank you, Kirby, for the many years of kindness, devotion and passion you gave to our district

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