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Gov.-Elect Walz Announces New Education Commissioner at Farnsworth Aerospace 5-8


Governor-elect Tim Walz and Lt. Governor-elect Peggy Flanagan hosted a press conference at Farnsworth Aerospace 5-8 on December 20, 2018 to announce their new commissioners for the Department of Education, Department of Higher Education, and Department of Corrections. Our school was chosen because the newly-announced commissioner for the Department of Education, Mary Cathryn Ricker, began her teaching career at Farnsworth as an ELA teacher. Farnsworth Aerospace 5-8 was proud to host these important announcements in our flight simulation lab. Afterwards, aerospace teacher Andrea Appel and 4 of our student flight experts demonstrated the flight simulation system for Governor-elect Walz and Lt. Governor-elect Flanagan and explained its use in the education of our future aviation leaders. 


Press Release from the Office of Governor-elect Tim Walz & Lt. Govenor-elect Peggy Flanagan:


Walz-Flanagan Announce Commissioners for Department of Education, Office of Higher Education, and Department of Corrections

Walz-Flanagan Transition Team Received Nearly 500 Applications to Serve as a Commissioner

December 20, 2018

[ST. PAUL, MN] – Governor-elect Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor-elect Peggy Flanagan today announced Mary Cathryn Ricker as Commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Education; Dennis Olson as the Commissioner of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education; and Paul Schnell as the Commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

For high-resolution photos of the commissioners-designee visit For a recording of the press conference visit 

The Process

With nearly 500 applications received for the leadership role in twenty-three state agencies, Governor-elect Walz and Lieutenant Governor-elect Flanagan led a thorough and open hiring process. State Agency Hiring Directors fanned out to meet with over 1,000 stakeholders and community groups. Traveling across the state, the Directors surfaced candidates and issues that residents offered regarding the agencies. The Transition Advisory Board members have amplified this outreach in their own communities by networking and encouraging people to engage in the hiring process. Earlier this month, the governor-elect and lieutenant governor-elect held 23 public listening sessions across Minnesota. Traveling 2,100 miles, they asked Minnesotans what values, perspectives, and leadership characteristics they hope to see in their commissioners and encouraged attendees to apply to be commissioners themselves.

Walz-Flanagan Announce Mary Cathryn Ricker as Commissioner of Minnesota Department of Education

“Having taught in classrooms from St. Cloud to St. Paul, Mary Cathryn understands the shared challenges and diverse needs of schools across our state,” said Walz. “This teacher-governor is proud to put a teacher-commissioner at the Department of Education. I look forward to working together to ensure every child in Minnesota receives a high-quality education, no matter their race or zip code. I know Mary Cathryn is up for the challenge, because I trust teachers to get things done.

“Every student in Minnesota deserves the opportunity to learn in the best schools in the country with caring, qualified teachers regardless of where they come from,” said Flanagan. “Mary Cathryn understands the need to provide support to Minnesota students both inside and outside the classroom. We are thrilled to work with her to build a brighter future for all Minnesota students.”

“It is an honor to join an administration that sees a future of opportunity we can build on, where everyone matters,” said Ricker.  “This is a Gubernatorial administration that knows the invaluable expertise of our education professionals and families. I am excited to work together with students, families, teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, and school staff to build on Minnesota’s past innovations and reshape them to be truly equitable and intentional in meeting the needs of all Minnesota students.”

“Mary Cathryn is an exceptional leader who will put students and families first every day in every decision she makes,” said Kory Kath, Principal of Eagle Lake Elementary School. “I am excited to work with Commissioner-designee Ricker to advance a One Minnesota agenda.”

About Mary Cathryn Ricker

A native of Hibbing, Mary Cathryn Ricker, 50, is a National Board Certified middle school English teacher with over a decade of classroom experience. She has taught in classrooms from St. Paul to St. Cloud to Washington to South Korea to Yemen. She is currently the executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers and previously served as the president of the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 28. Her teaching and leadership skills have been recognized with a number of other honors, including receiving the Education Minnesota Peterson-Schaubach Outstanding Leadership Award, qualifying as a semifinalist for the NEA Foundation Award for Teaching Excellence, and serving as a featured contributor in the Annenberg Foundation's national professional development series, "Write in the Middle."

She earned her undergraduate degree in English with a mathematics minor at the University of Saint Thomas, and completed her graduate work in Teacher Leadership at the University of Minnesota. Ricker’s husband teaches English language learners in the St. Paul Public Schools, and they have two children.

About the Agency

The Minnesota Department of Education provides an excellent education for Minnesota students by striving for excellence, equity, and opportunity. They focus on closing the achievement gap, supporting high-quality teaching, using innovative strategies to improve educational outcomes, and ensuring all students graduate from high school well-prepared for college, career and life. The Minnesota Department of Education develops, builds, and maintains collaborative relationships with schools, districts, and other stakeholders through a wide variety of advisory boards, councils and committees.


In the interest of transparency, the incoming Walz-Flanagan Administration is releasing the names of the other finalists considered for the position. They are Sheri Allen, Rochelle Johnson, and Kate Maguire.

Walz-Flanagan Announce Dennis Olson Jr. as Commissioner of Minnesota Office of Higher Education

“I am proud of Minnesota’s strong tradition of valuing higher education and the opportunities it can provide,” Walz said. “With nearly a decade of experience at the University of Minnesota, Dennis will bolster our state’s commitment to higher education, innovation, and affordability.”

“We are excited to announce Dennis as the next Commissioner of the Office of Higher Education,” said Flanagan. “With experience from early childhood to higher education, Dennis understands the importance of working hand-in-hand with the Department of Education and important stakeholders to ensure every Minnesotan who wishes has the chance to go to college.”

“Education is my passion, and I look forward to building new relationships and strengthening current partnerships, with the ultimate goal of ensuring equitable access to higher education options for all Minnesotans,” said Olson Jr. “I’m most excited about the opportunity to work alongside state agency leaders to better align educational and career pathways, and provide new opportunities for all Minnesota students to realize their full potential.”

“I have witnessed firsthand Dennis’ commitment to serving students for over a decade. He brings an extensive understanding and appreciation of what Minnesota will need to do for all including those who have traditionally been underserved,” said Devinder Malhotra, Minnesota State Chancellor. “Dennis’ commitment to student success, equity, and inclusion will help Minnesota further strengthen our commitment to advancing access and opportunity for all students.”

About Dennis Olson Jr.

Born and raised in Cloquet, Dennis Olson Jr., 39, is currently the Executive Director of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council. In this role, Dennis works closely with tribal elected leaders, the state legislature, state agencies, and the governor to highlight and address issues important to all Tribal Nations and American Indian communities in Minnesota. Prior to his appointment with the Indian Affairs Council, Dennis served as the Director of the Office of Indian Education for the Minnesota Department of Education, working closely with Tribal Nations, urban American Indian communities, and multiple partner agencies and organizations to address key issues impacting Indian Education in Minnesota. Dennis has developed and led numerous policy initiatives designed to create equitable access and opportunity for American Indian students, including a successful effort which led to an historic state investment in ongoing Indian Education funding. Before joining state government, Dennis served as Commissioner of Education for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, overseeing operations of the entire Tribal education department from early childhood through post-secondary education. He also worked nearly 10 years in various capacities for the University of Minnesota – Institute on Community Integration, coordinating federally funded grant programs focusing on postsecondary transition for American Indian high school students, students with disabilities, and at-risk youth. 

Dennis is an enrolled member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in American Indian Studies, Sociology, and Communications.  He also holds two Masters degrees in Liberal Studies (MLS) and Education (M.Ed.) from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He currently lives in Hugo with his wife Shauna and their two children. 

About the Agency

The Minnesota Office of Higher Education is a cabinet-level state agency providing students with financial aid programs and information to help them gain access to postsecondary education. The agency also serves as the state's clearinghouse for data, research and analysis on postsecondary enrollment, financial aid, finance and trends. Through advocacy and action, the OHE works to achieve student financial access to postsecondary education, enable students to choose among postsecondary educational options, protect and inform education consumers, produce independent, statewide information on postsecondary education, and facilitate integration among and collaborate with organization that share responsibility for education in Minnesota.


In the interest of transparency, the incoming Walz-Flanagan Administration is releasing the names of the other finalists considered for the position. They are Terri Bonoff and Steve Kelley.

Walz-Flanagan Announce Paul Schnell as Commissioner of Minnesota Department of Corrections

“We are proud to announce Paul Schnell as the next Commissioner of the Department of Corrections,” said Walz. “I look forward to working with Paul as we seek justice, reduce recidivism, and ensure our state correctional facilities are safe for our officers and inmates.”

“Paul is a coalition builder and we chose him to lead the Department of Corrections because that is what our One Minnesota vision is all about,” said Flanagan. “We are confident Paul will continue to bring people together to ensure our Department of Corrections is efficient, safe, and just.”

“I am immensely honored to have the opportunity to serve Minnesota as the next Commissioner of Corrections,” said Schnell. “I look forward to engaging with all the Department of Corrections’ committed staff to enhance the safety of correctional staff and to seek creative partnerships to reduce recidivism. I am equally ready to build coalitions to make Minnesota’s correctional system a national model in fairness, efficiency, and outcome.”

“Paul Schnell is an incredible leader, effective communicator and strategic thinker on issues of law enforcement, corrections and criminal justice reform,” said Nora Slawik, Mayor of Maplewood and Metropolitan Council Chair-designee. “At his core, Paul is someone who can build bridges and community within the Department of Corrections. He is a leader who can help make crucial reform possible.”

About Paul Schnell

From a small farming community in Wisconsin, Paul Schnell, 57, has more than 30 years of professional experience in corrections and public safety. While completing his Bachelor of Social Work degree at the University of St. Thomas, Paul began an internship supervising adult male offenders in a St. Paul halfway house. This internship led to a ten-year stretch of work in a variety of community-based correctional programs in the Twin Cities. In 1993, Paul moved from his position working with youth offenders at Carver County Court Services to deputy sheriff for the Carver County Sheriff’s Office.  In 1999, Paul joined the Saint Paul Police Department where he served in a variety of assignments, including four years as the department’s spokesman. Over the past eight years, Paul has served as Chief of Police for the cities of Hastings and Maplewood and is currently police chief for the City of Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota. Long interested in effective intervention and prevention practices, Paul became an adjunct faculty member at the University of Saint Thomas and Metropolitan State University, teaching courses in criminal justice diversity, criminal justice ethics, restorative justice, and victimology.

Paul has held volunteer roles in a number of organizations: board member and chair - 180 Degrees (correctional services), board member - Tubman (victim services), board member Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, and board member - Minnesota Chapter – National Alliance on Mental Illness. Paul and his wife of 31 years, Julie, live in Mendota Heights, MN.  They have four adult children, including an adoptive son with significant physical disabilities.

About the Agency

The Minnesota Department of Corrections’ mission is to reduce recidivism by promoting offender change through proven strategies during safe and secure incarceration and effective community supervision. The Department values safety, research-supported practices, open and transparent communication with staff, offenders and stakeholders, a commitment to employee growth and development, culture of professionalism, organization development, and collaboration. By upholding these values, the Department of Corrections provides effective correctional services by holding offenders accountable and changing offender behavior, providing restorative services for victims, and engaging staff and promoting workplace safety.


In the interest of transparency, the incoming Walz-Flanagan Administration is releasing the names of the other finalists considered for the position. They are Booker Hodges and Brian Kopperrud.

For salary information visit