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Paynesville Press - June 22, 2005

Principal retiring after 25 years at PAHS

By Michael Jacobson

For the first time in a quarter century, Paynesville Area High School will have a new principal next year. Principal John Janotta - after 36 years in education, including 25 years at PAHS - is retiring, effective at the end of the month.

janotta A retirement reception will be held by the school board for Janotta on Tuesday, June 28, at 7 p.m. in the media center at Paynesville Area Elementary School. The school district has hired Lorie Floura, currently the K-12 principal in Truman, to be Janotta's successor.

Principal John Janotta served for 25 years at Paynesville Area High School and for 36 years in education (8 as a teacher/28 as a prinicpal).

When he was hired, Janotta was told by a school board member that "when you move here, you'll like it and you'll want to stay." Janotta thinks he told every new staff member that, but for Janotta it proved to be true.

What has kept Janotta here for 25 years, he said, was "the type of community. The type of school. I think this is the ideal size." Having 100 students per grade allows for multiple sections, a wide variety of electives, and advanced offerings, he said. Teachers at PAHS typically have two or three preps (for different classes), much more manageable than having to teach five different courses and having five preps, a situation Janotta saw at Chokio-Alberta, where he served as principal for three years before coming to PAHS.

"It's a nice place to bring your kids up because if they want to be active in something they can," said Janotta, comparing the activities at PAHS to Edina, where he did his student teaching. At Edina, a 6' 10" boy played only intramural baskeball team because he was not good enough for the varsity.

He also liked that Paynesville is supportive of education and is a rural farming community, like his hometown of Morgan, with an ideal location close to lakes and to St. Cloud and the Twin Cities.

A principal is responsible to facilitate the entire building operation, said Janotta, everything from supervising teachers and extracurricular programs to being the contact person with parents and setting the class schedule.

His duties varied from day to day depending on need. "That's what I like about the job is there is no typical day. You can walk in every morning and deal with something unexpected," he said.

"That would drive some people nuts, but I enjoyed it," he added.

Teaching science and math - subjects heavy on routine and repetition - for seven years actually prompted Janotta to go into administration because he did not like the day-to-day routine.

He liked the challenge of having a problem and finding a solution, he said. Being principal was different from math and science because the answer is not always cut and dried. He had to discuss situations and maybe have to compromise. His general problem-solving pattern was to get the necessary information, sit back, and make a decision.

Janotta worked with six superintendents in Paynesville: Don Torbenson, Russ Laposky, two interims, Howard Caldwell, and Todd Burlingame.

He credits his calm demeanor from Wally Behm, the principal at Morris when he was at Chokio-Alberta. Janotta called Behm, then a 25-year veteran, along with the counselor at Morris, frequently for advice and still considers Behm to be his mentor.

For most of his tenure, he served as the high school principal only, but in the last few years his responsibilities changed with the elimination of the middle school principal position. For the last two years, he has handled student discipline at the middle school. This year, he became the 6-12 principal, supervising the middle school building, staff, and students.

That would have been impossible without the help of some good people, he said, namely teachers Randy Ziemer and Wally Erickson, who helped to handle discipline issues at the middle school and high school respectively.

Two of the biggest changes that Janotta has seen during his education career are the introduction of athletics for girls in the 1970s and the advance of computers.

With girls now participating in sports as well as boys, their time is divided, and they are much busier. But, most students are busier today than years ago. Part-time jobs for students used to be somewhat rare, recalled Janotta; now teenagers have jobs in addition to school and their extracurricular activities.

Schools first access to computers was over a phone line to a real computer at a distant location. Now, computers are in every room at school and integrated into every class. Computers "truly have changed how we teach and how we learn," said Janotta.

They also have changed aspects of his job. In recent years, he would send and receive 75 or so e-mails per day. Since staff now have to enter attendance on their computer every hour, most check their e-mail regularly. So Janotta uses e-mail instead of inter-office mail. He used to write 15 notes to staff per day, but they did not reach the recipient until they came to the office for their mail. Instead, he just zaps them an e-mail.

Kids, though, largely have stayed the same, said Janotta. They might be busier, they might have more entertainment options, but they mostly have the same virtues and vices of previous generations.

"By and large, they were driven by the same things we were driven by," he said.

He is pleased that a majority of PAHS students - traditionally 70 to 75 percent - pursue further education after high school.

Having a principal serve 25 years in the same school is not common, said superintendent Todd Burlin-game. "You don't find that too often. That's pretty remarkable," said Burlingame. "We will miss him, and we wish him well."

Janotta has served a total of 36 years in education. Trained as a math and science teacher, he taught for a year in Lamberton, joined the Marine Corps for two years, taught for seven years in St. Clair (when he also earned his master's degree and specialist degree in administration), and was the principal in Chokio-Alberta for three years before coming to Paynesville in 1980.

He was named the Principal of the Year by the Central Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals in 1987.

Among his community service, he spent 17 years on the golf board as president of Koronis Hills, including when the course expanded to 18 holes in the 1990s.

Janotta reached the Rule of 90 two years ago but stayed on the job. "I just wasn't ready to retire," he said. "I just wanted to go a little longer. It just seemed like it was time (now)."

The longest Janotta has been away from his job as principal at PAHS is one week, so retirement will be a big change for him.

In retirement, he plans to play more golf, to hunt and fish again, to continue to work out at the fitness center, and maybe to do some traveling, though his wife Mary plans to continue to work. He also will officiate basketball and football games, will attend high school events, and may try substitute teaching.

"I'll miss kids," he said. "Mentally, just being around people keeps you from getting old."

In the fall, he thinks he may go golfing on the first day of school. "I've heard other people say it's awful fun to be up on the golf course, looking down at the school," he said.

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