New W-K principal always up for a challenge

Please welcome Justin Hanson as the next principal at W-K Elementary

Justin Hanson says that jumping into anything new has its challenges. 

He should know. 

He was a 29-year-old single parent when he decided to go back to school to pursue an education career. He became a teacher for the first time at 35. He then earned a master’s and administrative degrees while working and raising his children.

His latest challenge? On Friday, Hanson started as the principal of Washington-Kosciusko Elementary School. Hanson replaces Dawn Waller Lueck, who took an administrative position with Stillwater Public Schools in September.

“Becoming a principal will be a challenge, especially since the school year is already underway,” Hanson said. “I have learned through all of these obstacles that growth begins at the edge of your comfort zone. I am looking forward to all of the growth and learning that will happen throughout this school year.

“I am really excited to get started.”

Hanson comes to W-K from the Lewiston-Altura School District, where he has worked as a teacher since earning his degree from Winona State University. But he’s hardly a newcomer to Winona or Winona Area Public Schools. 

He has lived in Winona for 23 years. He remarried this summer and is now the father of three children — two of which are WAPS students with another in college. He even has teaching roots at W-K; he did his student teaching there in the spring of 2014. 

Hanson said he went into education to make a difference in the lives of children. He didn’t always take his own education seriously, but later in life he realized he wanted a career that was more purposeful, one where he could be a positive influence. 

That led him down the road to become a teacher.

“I am grateful to have a career where I can teach children about the importance of their education, and the transformative opportunities that education can create,” he said. 

Even then, the road wasn’t straight. As Hanson learned more about himself and the teaching profession, he thought he wanted to become a college professor to train the teaching workforce of tomorrow. 

“One of my professors and mentors, Dr. (Robert) Howman, saw something in me that I could not see in myself at the time,” Hanson said. “He said that I would be a great school administrator, and that planted the seed in my mind.”

That became his new goal … a goal that he has now achieved

“Becoming principal is a way that I can create a wider positive impact in the education and lives of children,” he said. 

The road doesn’t get any easier now that Hanson has reached his goal, and he’ll be the first to recognize it. He’s still excited to roll up his sleeves and get to work.

“My initial goal is to begin building quality relationships with all of the staff, students, and families,” Hanson said. “I believe that relationships are the foundation of a positive and welcoming school culture.

“I would like to support the teachers any way that I can in order to help them improve their practice. Teaching is challenging each and every year and is ever evolving. Staff support will always be a priority.”