White Bear superintendent Wayne Kazmierczak, “Dr. K,” previews changes ahead for White Bear Lake Area Schools.
Even as the superintendent of a large Metro school district, White Bear Lake Area Schools’ Wayne Kazmierczak, Ph.D., never forgets his roots. “I had teachers and coaches growing up who provided a safe place for me and encouraged me to push myself beyond what I thought was possible,” Kazmierczak says. “To my core, I believe that’s why we’re here.” Even though his title isn’t “teacher” or “coach” any longer, he says the passion to make a difference in students’ lives is at the heart of his job. “That’s why I went into education in the first place,” he says.
If you’re chatting with the modest Kazmierczak, known throughout the district as “Dr. K,” he probably won’t mention his own accolades—like being named the 2021 Minnesota Superintendent of the Year. Instead, he likes to focus on community and his singular focus to create a great experience for every student in the district.
Kazmierczak grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, a small town in the northwest corner of the state. “I followed a fairly traditional track in the field of education,” he says, starting as a teacher and coach and then moving into administrative roles. In 2014, Kazmierczak accepted a position as assistant superintendent for finance and operations for White Bear Lake Area Schools (WBLAS); three years later, Kazmierczak became district superintendent, overseeing thousands of students and staff.
His most important title? Dad. “My kids are 18, 15 and 9, so I get to experience the district from the perspective of a parent, too,” Kazmierczak says.
The district has experienced significant changes during Kazmierczak’s tenure—changes that would feel huge in any decade, let alone in the midst of a pandemic. As students returned to in-person school, the district increased mental health support, implementing a peer support program that’s been popular. “We strive to make sure all students can succeed, regardless of their background,” Kazmierczak says. “They need academic skills but also critical-thinking skills and enrichment activities.”
The most visible changes on the horizon for WBLAS are literally the size of buildings. Every facility in the district has been improved or will be improved in big or small ways. Among other changes, Sunrise Park Middle School will become Mariner Middle School when it moves into the former high school South Campus, and a new K–5 elementary school in Hugo, named North Star Elementary, opened to students in 2022. Next fall, the North and South Campus high school student bodies will merge at a new unified White Bear Lake Area High School—the first time grades nine through 12 have shared a building in 40 years. “The 2023–24 school year is the final year our high school will be split,” Kazmierczak says. “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring schools together …. We have an opportunity to get it right.”
The high school unification is one example of a longtime community desire that Kazmierczak has helped make real. One of his first priorities as superintendent was to gather community input to develop the district’s strategic plan. “It’s important that we understand the hopes and dreams of the community, versus any individual or small group,” he says. That plan has guided the administration’s priorities in areas like diversity and equity, facilities, staffing and more. Kazmierczak says, “To live in a community that supports its school district, that’s the kind of community I want to live in and work in. And that’s the kind of community that White Bear Lake is.”