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Continued: Anoka-Hennepin superintendent learns life lessons from kids

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY , Star Tribune
  • Last update: September 23, 2013 - 7:09 AM

Sprawling district

Anoka-Hennepin is spread over two counties and includes 13 cities. Carlson is not going to please everyone — and he’s not about to try. But he’s not afraid to offer his opinions.

On gay rights being this generation’s civil rights movement: “For all those people who want to separate our student body into sinners and non-sinners, that’s not what we do in public education. We accept anybody who walks through that door.”

On cyberbullying: “These people hide behind their computers and try to hurt students because of their race, sexuality, weight, disability, because of the way they look. And they’re not just doing it on Facebook anymore. There are apps that can be deleted in 3 seconds, but can cause a student a lifetime of pain.”

Federal Magistrate Judge Steven E. Rau oversaw 12 conferences that propelled the district to its landmark settlement. He describes Carlson as “a great advocate for the school district and for kids.”

Carlson takes the compliments and criticism in stride, yet is aware of it all. A huge music fan who plays the guitar and keeps a framed picture in his office of himself with Grammy-winning blues musician Keb’ Mo’, Carlson canceled his 25-year subscription to Rolling Stone after the magazine’s critical piece last year, “One Town’s War on Gay Teens.”

He seems more concerned with kids “who question what we do as relevant,” with recent college graduates who are drowning in debt, and, yes, with homophobic remarks made at open school board meetings.

He comes across as the affable farm kid from Aitkin, Minn., who met his future bride when both were 9; came to the University of Minnesota loving sports and the arts; adores his daughter, Annie, who’s living along the Hudson River in New York, and the daughter whose memory he cherishes every day. He and Edee hope to travel next year, when he is retired.

But for now, he knows where he’s headed.

“We’re like a huge barge rolling down the Mississippi, sometimes locked in the past,” he said of the district. “But I think we’ll get there.”


Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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