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Farmington Community Ed director retires

Heidi Cunningham, director of Farmington Community Education, has built relationships and seen the growth of educational programs to meet continuing needs of youth and families. She said she will miss the community as she retires. Kara Hildreth / contributor

Editor’s note: Brianna Ostoff will be the new Farmington Community Education director. Read about her in the July 5, 2018, edition. 

FARMINGTON—Community Education Director Heidi Cunningham will soon begin a new chapter in life.

Because she has written many pages within this community, she will leave her mark of leadership with a veteran staff and growing programs when she retires this week.

"We try to do things in the K-12 system that you might not be able to do," she said.

"We have created over the years a really good group of people—both at work and throughout Community Education in Farmington—and what I really appreciate about them is people who work in community ed really love what they do, they care and they are creative and nurturing people who get to be the entrepreneurs," Cunningham added.

Leading a staff greater than 100, Cunningham took over the role in July 2007 when the community education budget was $2 million. Now it exceeds $5.2 million to cover cradle-to-grave educational programs. Programming has grown as Farmington's population has grown.

"When you think about it, we help those who are going to have baby and all the way through lifespan for the child, parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents," Cunningham said.

"In District 192, we always talk about the spark and the passion and how we can increase that, and that is what we are trying to do, too, outside the school day and how are we helping all people learn based on what is meaningful to them," she said.

Cunningham joined Farmington School District after holding teh same position for more than a decade in Albert Lea.

"I have been blessed with a profession which enabled me to serve community members of all ages — I look forward to transferring my skills into volunteer opportunities in the future," Cunningham said.

During her tenure, Cunningham has watched Farmington grow and evolve. She supported and led additions and changes in programming, staffing and helped coordinate a strategic planning process alongside other district leaders.

Beyond a catalog of classes

As a member of the Minnesota Community Education Association, she served as its 2010 board president. She also served as chair of the National Community Education Administration Endorsement Committee and served on review program teams across the state. Cunningham said she also has enjoyed serving as a mentor for pre-licensure community education candidates in Minnesota.

"People think of us as our catalog, because that is how we are identified, but looking beyond that our staff is very active in the community," she said.

Community Education partners with the city to host the annual Halloween Walk, the Expo and some Dew Days events.

"We do the preschool screenings before kindergarten and we have very large Wee Tigers Preschool program, and Kid Connection before-and-after-school program with 1,000 students a year for the school year and summer," Cunningham said.

In regards to early preschool screenings, Cunningham said, "We can have our staff find out where the weaknesses are for a child, and then look at what we can do as teachers to help them be ready for kindergarten."

She explained that community ed staff take students where they are and build their skills. Children get help where they need it— academically and socially.

"I think what people don't realize in the state of Minnesota is we are very fortunate to have one system for community education that covers so much and is governed under the school district," she said.

Moving on

Cunningham has big plans. She soon will fulfill her dream to move to Sedona, Ariz., where there are four mild seasons. That will help once her husband retires from teaching.

"What I look forward to doing is being outdoors a lot more and hiking in the surroundings, and I hope to be a volunteer in areas that are related to community education," she said.

Cunningham specifically hopes to make a difference in the Native American community.

"I would love to volunteer and help them with adult basic education as they get ready to take GED classes and think about the opportunities that may arise."