A career of service to North Branch Area Public Schools (NBAPS) that spanned over 20 years is came to an end on Jan. 14, as long-time school board member and current Chair Kirby Ekstrom stepped down.
Ekstrom embodies all the qualities of a citizen servant. Born at Rush City Hospital, Ekstrom has lived in the North Branch community for 60 years. He grew up just south of the North Branch golf course, where his parents started their family together in the Blue and White trailer park.
Ekstrom attended, and graduated from, North Branch Area Public Schools. In 1981 he married Jan, his “junior high sweetheart,” and they raised their two sons on Branch Ave. Said Ekstrom, “as a third generation graduate I have deep feelings for ‘my’ school and the people involved in shaping me into the person I have become, North Branch will always be home.”
Ekstrom, who was first seated on the school board in 1999, is passionate about the idea of “students first” and looks back with pride at some of the ways that philosophy benefitted local students, such as adding girls and boys hockey programs, dance, AFJROTC, robotics, STEAM, culinary arts, Chisago County Life Works Center, the school district’s coming FAB Lab, plus many academic programs that allow students interested in post-secondary schooling options to help attain credits while still in High School.
He also has great pride in how the school district engaged the community during his tenure. “Prior to my term as board chair, the community of North Branch Schools was engulfed in a negative workplace culture that was affecting employees, students and parents. With the help of the Superintendent and board members we started a process to express everything in a positive outlook, I knew it would take time, the expression ‘big ships turn slowly’ was always on my radar,” he said, adding, “We advocated for more funding and received it. We sent out messages and involved parents and community members in decision making efforts...with the help from staff we have made North Branch Area Public Schools a school of choice once again. This was done by board members, administrative staff, and each person in the district believing how great North Branch is.”
Words of praise for Ekstrom
Ekstrom’s dedication to NBAPS, both in his service on the school board and in his allegiance to his alma mater, has been greatly appreciated by his friends and colleagues.
“I want to thank Kirby for his years of service and his unwavering commitment to offering the best educational opportunities for all the children in our district,” said Tim MacMillan, who takes over as board chair. “Kirby wears, and has worn, many hats in his school board duties and roles and for that I and our community will be forever grateful.”
“Kirby always was very passionate about North Branch Schools,” said good friend Charley Klopp. “I would see him at all of the school functions from pre-school events to high school activities. His foremost concern was the students we were serving and how better to service them. Whenever he and I would talk the conversation always ended up about the well being of our school.”
“I witnessed first hand the great service he has done for district #138,” said former School Board Chair Kim Salo. “If there was a meeting or a school activity, you could count on seeing Kirby there; he made it a priority to attend most everything! His countless hours of devotion is to be commended.”
Will still be around
While he has officially retired from the school board and is moving away from North Branch, nobody should be surprised if they see Ekstrom around town, or especially at a school event.
“I have no intention of disappearing,” Ekstrom concluded in his letter of resignation. “Even though Jan and I will be in Cromwell, you just might see me at a game, concert, play, or senior awards night. SKOL Vikings!”
Due to COVID-19 measures NBAPS chose not to host a reception for Ekstrom at this time, but one may be held at a later date if restrictions allow. For those who would like to send Ekstrom a note of thanks for his decades of service, a Padlet has been set up. All are invited to add their thoughts at: https://bit.ly/38w0MiP.
The NBAPS school board will soon begin the process of replacing Ekstrom, which will be done by appointment. Anyone interested in serving on the school board can contact Arle Chambers at (651) 674-1011 for more information and an application. The appointed individual will serve the majority of Ekstrom’s 2021 term and stand for election in November of 2021.