Lindsey Schiffler’s steely determination will come in handy over the next many weeks.

A competitive swimmer since age 8, the popular teacher and yearbook adviser at Robbinsdale Cooper High School returned Aug. 6 from a long-planned girlfriends’ getaway to a sickening discovery.

Her small apartment in the Kenwood neighborhood of Minneapolis had been broken into, and more than $4,500 worth of items were gone.

Her iPad, laptop and TV, sentimental jewelry, a ceramic pot from China, pillow cases, even her Robbins­dale high school key card.

But nothing mattered more as she took in the chaos of open drawers and smashed doors than the status of a tiny black device costing about 24 bucks. “The first thing I thought was, ‘My flash drive,’ ” she said.

Aside from teaching English and coaching the high school swim team, 35-year-old Schiffler has been working for four years on her doctorate in leadership from the University of St. Thomas.

This summer, she has put in six hours a day doing research, adding to thousands of hours devoted to her study of classroom management.

Just before she left for Las Vegas with two fellow teachers, Schiffler wisely e-mailed a rough draft of her dissertation — 125 pages in five chapters — to her adviser, Don LaMagdeleine.

She saved her far harder to re-create raw data and personal observations — collected in nearly a dozen classrooms — to her desktop, portable hard drive and two flash devices.

Also on the flashes: Nine years of high school curriculum, five years of swimming workout data and many student reference letters.

“Basically, my life,” Schiffler said.

Before leaving town, she put the flash drives, along with canceled credit cards and ID cards, into a baggie and tucked it into a drawer.

Then it all got stolen.

The police filed a report, but she hasn’t heard anything. Her older building has no security cameras.

“In their defense, it does seem so low on their priority list,” said Schiffler, who fortunately does have renter’s insurance.

She hopes her story is a wake-up call to others. “I’m kicking myself for not also saving everything to the cloud or Google Drive,” she said.

Since the break-in, family members have hunted pawnshops and Craigslist looking for the lost items.

A few former students are trying to help, too, by reaching out to the news media to get the word out about the theft.

Zach Croonquist, who graduated in June, calls Schiffler “a wonderful teacher … well-known for her inspiring dedication to the profession of teaching. We would love to see her items returned.”

Two weeks ago, a woman tracked down Schiffler by phone after finding her ID cards strewn on Ramsey Hill near the University Club in St. Paul. Schiffler made a beeline over there and scoured the hill, the water grates and under cars, but no flash drive.

(By the way, it’s a black SanDisk Cruzer, Micro 4GB. There is a reward for finding it, as well as for finding her laptop and external hard drive; no questions asked.)

Schiffler will spend the next several weeks trying to catch up.

“The end of September is the next deadline,” she said, “so I’ll work eight to 10 hours a day. I’m not the emotional type, but this has definitely tested my resilience.”

Advisor LaMagdeleine is confident that his student will be fine if she stays the course.

“It’s not ideal, but she’ll be able to do what she needs to do,” he said. “She’s not that far behind, but you’ve got to back up everything every day — even if it’s doing something as simple as sending an e-mail to me.

“They used to tell people to stash a hard copy of your dissertation in the freezer,” he added, “but that probably sounds old-fashioned.”

Schiffler will shift to part-time teaching in the fall, in hopes of graduating from St. Thomas in December.

“I’m crossing my fingers, but I am going to proceed as if I’m not going to get any of it back,” Schiffler said.

She pauses, then adds pensively:

“You want to believe that somebody has a soft spot for a teacher.”

 

Reporter Kelly Smith contributed to this column.