Residents and school staff members who have come to school board meetings in North Branch over nearly the past decade and a half have witnessed a constant during that time: They’ve seen Kim Salo making decisions, sometimes very tough ones, with her fellow board members.
Salo, the NBAPS Board chairperson, made an announcement at the Nov. 14 meeting that might have come as a surprise to some: She resigned from the board.
Those who know her well knew the decision was coming, though.
Salo said she wants to devote more time to family; she and her husband Jeff have five grown children — Jessica, 24, Nick, 22, Jeremy, 21, Kassie, 19 and Jaime, 18.
There are also two new grandchildren in the Salo clan: Dash, less than four months old, and Aria, about a month old this week.
Salo said she also wants to dedicate more time to her gymnastics business, Flyaways North, which has locations in North Branch and Pine City.
From accountant to community involvement
Salo is a 1984 graduate of Forest Lake Senior High School. She and her husband were high school sweethearts, meeting during their sophomore year. They were married in 1988.
After graduating high school, Salo attended an associated accounting school near the Mall of America, and shortly after completion of that schooling, she landed a job doing accounting for an auto business in their service department.
She then became an assistant finance manager for the business’s sales department and was then an office manager at a body shop for two years.
Salo said she liked the work, but she’d always had an interest in working with kids, so she took classes to become a preschool teacher.
When she and her family moved to North Branch in 1995 from Lindstrom, she ran an in-home day care for a time, but it didn’t take long before Salo became thoroughly involved in the community and then the school district.
“I took the kids to Trinity (Lutheran Church) on a Sunday to register them for Sunday school, and I ended up becoming a Sunday school teacher that same day,” she said with a laugh. “They were looking for a Sunday school helper for a class that day, and I just volunteered. I ended up teaching Sunday school for quite a few years there, and I ended up joining that church.”
That first year in North Branch was a busy one for Salo. She also got involved in POPS, Parents of Primary Students, and PIE, Parents Involved in Education.
Salo’s transition into local politics
Due to her involvement with both POPS and PIE, Dr. Jim Walker, the district superintendent at the time, asked Salo in 1998 to chair an operating levy campaign for the school district.
That levy passed, and that experience convinced Salo she’d like to continue to be involved with the school district in some way.
Her opportunity to serve came quickly when School Board Member Mark Jennings resigned. Salo was appointed to fill the rest of his term that year. Once that term expired, Salo ran unopposed for the seat.
In following elections, Salo had competition for the post. Campaigning was never her forte, however.
“It was hard for me to put out a sign,” she said. “I don’t like saying, ‘Vote for me.’
“I didn’t door knock or campaign. But, of course, I did the forums.”
In 2005, Salo was elected board chairperson when Mary Jo Ahlgren resigned.
Ahlgren had been working with Salo to transition her into the leadership role, an effort for which Salo was thankful.
Highs and lows
During her tenure on the board, Salo has witnessed and been part of many changes. Both the highs and the lows for her revolve around the district budget.
“I think the best changes were when we’d come up with innovative cuts that didn’t hurt the classroom, and at the same time (the district) added programs,” she said. “I’m very proud that we have Project Lead the Way (a technology in the classroom initiative), (foreign) language in all grades and all-day, every-day kindergarten.”
For years, North Branch has been a cash-strapped district, and the School Board has had to make tough financial decisions.
Salo said going from a five-day to four-day week was one of the toughest decisions she’s had to make as a board member; the other tough decisions involved district staff.
“My far greatest sadness was when those cuts came in the spring, especially with staff,” she said. “You cut dollars, but you know what those dollars mean — those dollars mean people’s names. Those cuts were hard.”
Remembering her father and what she’ll miss
On Oct. 26 of this year, Salo’s father, Mike Salo, died. He was one of Salo’s biggest supporters, and the two would often have passionate conversations about education and how much time Salo was dedicating to the school district.
“He always worried about how much time things took me, and he worried about me slowing down and not being quite so busy,” Salo said.
Salo said some people thought her decision to leave the board now was a result of his death, but that isn’t the case.
“I know people worried about my decision being made in grief, but it really wasn’t that – it was just a really good time to reflect on where I needed to spend my time now,” she said.
Even though Salo is ready to move on to the next chapter of her life, that doesn’t mean she won’t miss being involved with North Branch Area Public Schools in such an integral way.
“Bus drivers, custodians, paraprofessionals, teachers, administration — I’ve been blessed with so many friendships from each of those areas in that school district. That was the hardest part for me — to say, ‘I’m going to resign,’ because I think I’ll lose some of (those connections) over time without that constant contact and involvement.”
She’s looking forward to stepping away from such an active role in the school district, though, and during her future endeavors, she’ll keep in mind the lessons her father taught her.
“He really taught me to listen to people but stand up for things I really believed in,” she said. “He was proud that I was able to serve my community and stand up for what I believed.”