4/25/2014 7:20:00 AM CFHS class of 1997 grad, now principal at Menahga Elementary
by Sue Sullivan
From music teacher in Belle Plaine for 10 years to principal at Menahga Elementary School just south of Park Rapids, 1997 Cannon Falls High School graduate Ariana (Anderson) Wright has made the transition from southern Minnesota to the north with great delight.
"I thought I'd miss so much about southern Minnesota," she said. "I knew I'd love being a principal - that's what I have worked and prepared for - but it really surprised me that I love being a 'northerner!' There are the lakes and pine trees, the river we live on and swans outside my window. The community has been so welcoming and supportive. I love it better all the time!"
The daughter of Kathy and Brad Anderson (a Cannon Falls school board member for 12 years) of Cannon Falls, Ariana is married to musician Jason Wright. They have two daughters, eight-year-old Greta and six-year-old Marin.
Her father modeled for Ariana just how rewarding public service can be.
Ariana's grandparents John and Rosemary Jansen live in Red Wing. Her grandmother, Glorian Anderson, a Cannon Falls resident who passed away just last year, taught in a one-room schoolhouse in Goodhue County. "Her passion for education definitely inspired me," reminisced Wright.
"When I began my job search, I had the opportunity to look in most areas of the State. My husband was very supportive and willing to move giving me the opportunity to go where I can grow in this position. I researched the districts looking at the talents and values that fit with my own."
This is Wright's third year as a principal, having started in fall, 2011. Ariana enthusiastically stated that the student population has grown by 100 students since she became principal. "It's so exciting to help shape the school and hire more staff - just so rewarding!"
Her previous experience included two years at St. Michael Catholic School, and nine years teaching music at Belle Plaine Elementary teaching around 450 students. "I was inspired by my St. Michael School principal. She was a wonderful professional coach, helping me quickly improve as a teacher in my early career," explained Wright. "After my first few years of teaching, I knew I wanted to become a principal someday and help teachers grow like she helped me."
Following four years of additional schooling nights, on weekends and summers, Ariana graduated with her Masters degree in Teaching and Learning from the St. Mary's University of Winona, and an Educational Leadership Specialist degree from Minnesota State University, Mankato.
"It was meaningful for me to earn these degrees at a time in my life where my two young daughters could attend my graduation ceremonies. I want them to grow up knowing that they can have their dream job!" she exclaimed.
Wright appreciates the small town of Menahga, having come from Cannon Falls, and attributes the education and inspiring teachers from her Cannon Falls school days as having helped her to become the educator she has become.
Her most fond memory of Cannon Falls Schools was learning about manners with Miss Sandy Finnerty.
"Teachers ate with their students and she made a point to ensure her whole class modeled good manners at lunch." She continued, "Her approach was kind with high expectations, and I work each day to emulate her spirit."
Wright now works with 40-50 teachers who teach 500 students, doing her best to put all of her energy each day into the development and management of her school. Her mind is open to new ideas and she stays focused on what her students need to succeed.
"The students are smart, sweet, wonderful, well-behaved, inquisitive and outdoorsy," beamed the principal. "There is a pride in Menagha and big families are moving back to live and educate their kids here.
"I truly believe that I was meant to be in Menahga as a new principal - it is so rewarding."