The quality of the education offered and respecting students and educators in the process have long been values for Freshwater Education District executive director Jerry Nesland. These values carried him to receiving the 2020 Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs educator of the year award, though he said the recognition should come to what Freshwater’s educators offer students.

“To me it’s a reflection of our staff,” Nesland said. “We’ve got some awfully dedicated educators, assistants and classroom teachers and a lot of folks that work with a lot of ALC (alternative learning center) kids in Central Minnesota here, and to me any success that I was granted for my recognition should go to them because they’re the ones that are hard working.”

Nesland has worked with educators to impact the programming and offer good educational spaces, making life easier for the students and teachers. The location space updates were from a garage to an elementary school wing and from an almost closed building to space at Central Lakes College Staples, according to Nesland.

“I’ve just been able to … be fortunate enough to get some opportunities to put our students in some good settings,” Nesland said. “Whoever the director was I’m sure would have done the same thing.”

The different collaborative community education, early childhood, special education and alternative learning center programs are also where Nesland sees the importance of respecting students and staff. With students, he finds trust comes before respect through openness and honesty as well as resiliency and thinking outside of the box.

“To me the bottom line is respect of others, that’s probably been the guiding light in my career,” Nesland said.

Nesland’s career began in 1970 as a teacher in Pierz leading to various principal, superintendent and executive director roles. He also won the 2020 Minnesota Association of School Administrators Region V administrator of excellence, the 2014 MASA Polaris Leadership award and the 2000 MASA Region IV administrator of the year.

This June, Nesland will retire from his director role at Freshwater after 10 years. From his time, he’ll never forget students' smiles on graduation day.

“There’s been many years where I end up with a tear in my eye when I watch these students graduate, that they’ve been given the chance, they’ve been given the resources and tools and support with caring staff from their ALCs to graduate … it’s huge to watch,” Nesland said. “I’ve watched some of these students go on to become successful members in the community, having auto repair shops, becoming police … We've got students all over in all kinds of fields from teacher paraprofessionals and you name it, so those success stories are huge.”