Bruce Novak has had 53 first days of school. This September, he will not have one.
Novak is retiring June 30 after serving as superintendent of the Cambridge-Isanti School District for eight years, logging 37 years altogether in education.
“Education is something I’ve committed to and have been passionate about, and it’s been something near and dear to my heart,” Novak said. “It was a huge decision to walk away from this, and it was a decision that was made after a lot of conservations with my wife, Louis. The timing seemed right, and my own children are scattered from Wisconsin to Colorado, and I have nine grandchildren I don’t get to see that often.”
As superintendent, Novak feels he always did what he thought was best for the district.
“The district offers attractive programs and services to our parents and children,” Novak said. “Also, I feel the location of the school district is beneficial as it is in close proximity to the Twin Cities and St. Cloud, and Duluth is only a couple hours up north.”
Administrators feel they have had a good relationship with Novak.
“Bruce has excelled as a teacher, coach, principal and superintendent for the past 37 years,” Athletic Director Mark Solberg said. “He has been responsible for the education of thousands of students over those years and has taken this role very seriously. He has devoted his life to educate students, teach life lessons and help develop future leaders.”
Novak always provided support.
“Bruce was never too busy to help or lend support,” Solberg said. “It could be July 3, with the offices closed, and I would call his cell phone and he would pick up on the second ring. As our superintendent, he has supported and given great advice to administrators, teachers and staff.”
Novak highlighted the district’s year-round education program and kindergarten options as unique opportunities available for students. Another benefit is having the Anoka Ramsey Community College Cambridge Campus in the community.
“In a sense, Cambridge is really a regional center, and we draw from all around the area,” Novak said. “I’ve always said the schools can only be as good as the community, and we have great business and parent support from the community. The district has also formed great partnerships with the Community College.”
Novak said the district also prides itself on keeping up with the latest in technology, with iPads available to every staff member last year. Energy efficiency has also been important, with the district receiving awards due to its energy conservation. Keeping class sizes low has also been a priority for Novak.
Novak said a personal goal he accomplished in April 2012 was the formation of a parent advisory group.
“This is a group of parents who are focused on the lack of state funding and funding inequity,” Novak said. “My only regret is not forming this group earlier. They have been instrumental in grassroots efforts at the State Capitol and have organized different legislative forums. This is a group of individuals and parents who feel they can make a difference and can’t afford to wait for someone else to do it.”
Relationships fostered in district
Novak said he feels he’s always had a positive relationship with the school boards.
“I’ve always appreciated the efforts of the school board and getting to know all of them personally,” Novak said. “I think I’ve worked with 17 or 18 school board members over the eight years I’ve been here, and they’ve always had the best interest of the students at heart.”
The district is filled with dedicated staff, he said.
“It always amazes me on the first day of school, and how chaotic it is, that our students are able to find their classrooms and education takes place,” Novak said. “This only happens because we have quality and dedicated people working in our district. After I participated in commencement ceremonies June 2, the next day I was walking around our buildings and just thinking that every employee in our district — from our bus drivers, to custodians, to teachers, etc. — all have a vested interest in our district and our students’ education. All of our district employees have the best interest of our students at heart.”
Novak said one frustrating part of his job was having to discontinue programs and services due to lack of funding.
“I’ve been here for eight years, and each year we’ve had to reduce the budget and make reductions,” Novak said. “That has been very discouraging because I believe in creating a positive program for our kids based on what our parents want for their children. When you have to keep dismantling programs and letting good people go, it doesn’t align with your philosophy and it becomes difficult.”
Novak said he has a good administrative team with him in the district office.
“I have always said you need to hire people smarter than you to do their jobs,” Novak said. “You hire competent and smarter people, and you let them do their job. If you do this, the education machine will function just fine. I just always told them to keep me informed, and they made me look good. Our goal has always been to provide the best programs and opportunities for our district.”
Tough decision maker
Tim Truebenbach, director of teaching and learning, and Robyn Vosberg-Torgerson, director of finance, said they have enjoyed working with Novak in the district office.
“Bruce has made some tough decisions that has allowed this district to ‘weather the storm’ through some difficult financial times and has worked tirelessly to maintain and build strong relationships with those around him,” noted Truebenbach and Vosberg-Torgerson. “He always put the students first and always asked the question, ‘is this what’s best for kids?’”
Solberg said Novak taught him lessons over the years.
“At one of his first administrative meetings he told us, ‘Doing the right thing is not always popular, and doing the popular thing is not always the right thing.’ At another meeting he told us, ‘We as administrators have a responsibility to educate, serve, and protect our students. We also as administrators have the responsibility to serve and protect our employees,’” Solberg said. “Both are great lessons for any profession.”
Novak said he found his “calling” in education after dislocating his right arm as a wrestler in college at the University of Morris.
“I had intended to go into food service or restaurant management, but after dislocating my right arm, I met with my English professor to talk about how I would do my assignments and he told me the programs I wanted weren’t available,” Novak said. “I remember walking out of his office, packing my bag and hitchhiking home. I met with my parents to discuss things, and when I went back to college, I met with my adviser, who said I would be a great teacher. I ended up with a physical education degree, K-12 health degree and elementary certification.”
Novak met his wife in college, had two children before graduating college and a third child before getting his first job.
“Getting married and having children changed my focus and perspective on life,” Novak said. “For the first time in my life, I had to start thinking about others.”
Supporting students was always a priority for Novak, Solberg said.
“We have a tradition at Cambridge-Isanti High School that when teams qualify for state competitions, we have a state send-off in our gymnasium,” Solberg said. “Bruce is a very busy guy, but he would make the time to come and honor our students. His speeches were always well prepared and done exceptionally well. As a superintendent he came to support students, advisers and coaches and help supervise many athletic and activities events each year he was our superintendent. He will be missed.”
Novak feels he has had a good career.
“Out of all the years I’ve been teaching and in education, I’ve never felt like it was a job,” Novak said. “This has been my vocation, my calling and my passion. It’s amazing the impression you can leave on kids. The superintendent position has been challenging but also rewarding. I’ve always tried doing the right thing and doing this job to the best of my ability. I’m going to miss this, but also looking forward to the next chapter in my life.”