Prairie Profiles: A ‘bridge’ for teachers

Published 8:18 pm Monday, February 18, 2019

Teacher steps deeper into Albert Lea district leadership role


After several years implementing district curriculum, an Albert Lea teacher is now making sure that curriculum is doing its job.

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Julie Eaton, most recently an interventionist at Sibley Elementary School and the district’s Alternative Teacher Performance Pay (referred to by the state as Quality Compensation, or Q Comp) coordinator, took on a new position created in an administrative restructure that began with the new year. Eaton is training under Executive Director of Teaching and Learning Mary Jo Dorman toward Eaton’s role as a teacher on special assignment: teaching and learning coordinator.

“I’ve always been interested in district-level curriculum instruction,” Eaton said. “… This position seems like a good next step using my background and experience that I’ve had at Albert Lea.”

Her work as a teacher on special assignment will include working with the Minnesota Department of Education to ensure the district is following state regulations and is in compliance with testing protocol, working with and accompanying consultants — like the phonics consultant the district is using to implement new curriculum — supporting teachers and making certain the curriculum is being used with fidelity, Eaton said. Her role is also about digging into district data and verifying instructional decisions are made based on what that data has to say.

Dorman said while Eaton is focusing on testing this spring, their two-person department is also responsible for state and federal grants based on teaching and learning and the pair will begin divvying those up in the coming year.

The job is also about building community relationships so the district and community can learn from each other, both Eaton and Dorman said.

“There’s a lot of different pieces that fall under teaching and learning,” Dorman said. “So we don’t have the role like ‘You’re doing this and I’m doing this,’ because it’s a lot of just collaborating with each other as well to make sure that we’re doing the best we can for the district.”

Eaton has also worked as an instructional coach at Southwest Middle School and a teacher at Sibley. Before leading the district, she was a Q Comp coordinator — working with teachers, who meet weekly in professional learning communities, to improve instructional practices and student achievement, supply professional development and encourage teacher collaboration — at the building level. Eaton also taught in Bloomington before coming to Albert Lea. She will continue as the district teaching and learning coordinator through the end of the school year.

She said her work as the district Q Comp coordinator means she has experience working closely with district administration. Additionally, her master’s degree in math complements Dorman’s in reading, and the pair can support each other that way, Dorman said.

From an administrative perspective, Eaton was a good fit because of her prior district leadership experience, her strong instructional background, her experience with different grade levels, her work ethic and her integrity, Dorman said. She said these things prepared Eaton well for an easy transition into the new role.

Dorman noted the district had other good candidates for the position.

“(Eaton) is just really well respected by her colleagues — teachers,” Dorman said.

Outside of school, Eaton doesn’t sit still.

“I have three young daughters, so they rule my life,” she said.

She said she is always reading, either for professional reasons or for fun, and seeking out new things to learn and do. She travels when she can, and she owns and runs Eat’n Ice Cream Shoppe with her husband, Jeff Eaton.

She said she wants to continue learning how to best support teachers and students and meet their needs.

“I just want to continue to be that bridge, you know, as a teacher in the district office: really supporting teachers, coming with that mindset of, ‘I’m a teacher first,’” Eaton said. “‘How would I tackle this sort of situation, this obstacle, and how can I get administration — you know, principals, directors — how can I be that bridge between them and the teachers?’”

Julie Eaton

Age: 36

Address: Albert Lea

Livelihood: teacher on special assignment — coordinator of curriculum and instruction

Family: husband, Jeff Eaton; daughters Jaycie, Brityn and Rowan Eaton

Interesting fact: Julie Eaton has been to almost every Major League Baseball stadium. “It’s just been a bucket list of going to all of them,” she said

About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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