Mike Hamernick, Director
Mike Hamernick was born in Arizona and partially raised in Wisconsin. After moving to Minnesota, one fateful day in his 8th grade advisory, Mike took a career aptitude test that said he should be either an actor or a teacher when he grew up. Since he was afraid he would never be able to memorize his lines, Mike chose the less scary option and went off to college to become an English teacher.
Karen Fleming, Middle School Advisor – Language Arts
Karen grew up in Alaska and moved to Minnesota with her husband Neil, and two sons, Jason and Travis in 1991. She began working in education as a paraprofessional at an alternative program (MALC) in Grand Rapids. In 2000 Karen earned her Associates Degree at Itasca Community College, and Bachelor of Science Degree in 2002 from Bemidji State University. Karen is one of the co-founders of Northern Lights Community School. The concept for the school began in 2001 while she was working at the Middle Area Learning Center in Grand Rapids. Before NLCS, she taught middle school Language Arts at the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig school on the Leech Lake Reservation.
One of Karen’s favorite parts of her job is leading groups of high school students through Europe as they experience real world learning. The freedom to be creative and the ability to know each student well, are two of her most important advantages to working at NLCS. She also enjoys camping, geocaching, and writing.
Donna Hanson – Advisory, PE Specialist
Donna Hanson is in her 12th year of teaching. She started off her teaching career at the Cass Lake-Bena Area Learning Center where she taught physical education for eight years. In 2007, she and her partner, adopted three “special needs” children; Nathan (15), Emily (13) and Adrian (9).
Donna’s heart and dedication is to her students especially those with extenuating circumstances, At-Risk Youth, which is why Donna has always taught in the alternative education setting for her entire career and has become very compassionate and dedicated to students. “Our job as a teacher is not an 8-4 job, we work round the clock and make ourselves available for these kids.” She prides herself in maintaining a very close working relationship with her students and their families via weekly monitoring letters, texting, phone and email.
Donna is a licensed Physical Education and Adapted Physical Education (DAPE) Teacher and holds a coaching licensure. She wears a variety of hats around NLCS, for example; MAAP Stars, Teambuilding Expert, Continuing Education Representative, Title IX, and serves on the Wellness Committee and Leadership Team.
When she is not dedicating her time to her students Donna enjoys spending time at her cabin with family and friends, making a variety of arts and crafts, and loves fishing in her spare time.
Becky McCauley, Business Manager
I was born and raised in the Center of the Universe, beautiful Warba Minnesota, and was lucky enough to attend Warba elementary school, where I met my husband. After marriage, we lived in Minneapolis and then south of Chicago. We were able to move back to this area in 1986 and I love being back home. I graduated from Bemidji State University with a B. S. in Business Administration (Finance emphasis). After college, I worked as an accountant at Itasca Medical Center and proudly served on the Warba City Council for 7 years and as the Secretary for the Warba-Feeley Cemetery for 13 years. I have two wonderful adult sons and an adorable grandson. I used to love softball, volleyball, bowling, and golf, but am now old, so I enjoy reading for my book club and am writing a book about my Irish ancestors. I spend my free time, on our pontoon boat or in a kayak, hiking, vacationing or spending time with my friends and family. I was thrilled when Dave Hagman and Karen Fleming started the innovative project-based school in the old Warba School and was proud to be the first employee. Students learn differently, and some of us learn better with a hands-on approach. I look forward to presentation nights to see the terrific projects the students have created and look forward to Halloween and spirit week so I can create a new persona – like Zombie-Becky!!!!!
Benita Hassell – Project Manager
Benita lives in Warba on a small hobby farm. She is married and the mother of three. Her youngest son attended and graduated from NLCS. In 1983 she received her A. A. degree in Child Development and also a Child Development Certificate from a Vocational school. She is very involved in her church. When time allows she enjoys doing crafts of many types. Benita is very excited to be involved with students and watch them succeed.
Don Vidal – Project Manager – Music Teacher
Growing up on the east side of St. Paul, Don’s first musical encounters were at the young age of 7 when he began taking organ lessons from longtime Twin Cities Polka aficionado and musician, Ed Lewendowski. At age 8 he began singing in his church choir under the direction of Robert Kaiser, giving him the opportunity to perform at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and sing on the Musical Heritage Society’s album, Benjamin Britten’s, “Mass of Saint Nicolas.”
After grade school Don continued to perform music playing saxophone in the high school band. He then joined the U.S. Army. Upon arrival in Anchorage, AK, Don was accepted into the 176th Light Infantry Brigade Band where he played lead alto saxophone. The band performed music at civilian and military functions throughout the state. He was awarded the Alaska Gold Pan Award, for loyalty, devotion and contributions to the Band.
When he was discharge from the Army, Don joined the Minnesota National Guard spending time serving with the 136th Mechanized Infantry out of Bemidji and the 47th infantry Brigade Band (The Governors’ Own) in St. Paul, MN. The highlight being a trip to Vaxho, Sweden, where the band, the first uniformed American Military Personnel in Sweden since WWII marched in the Vaxho Military Tattoo, performed for Minnesota Days and attended the first European exhibition pro football game in history between the Vikings and the Bears.
Don attended Bemidji State University where he studied saxophone under Dr. Steve Konecne. While attending BSU he was a three time recipient of the Joe Plumer memorial Jazz Scholarship. Graduating cum laude in 1991 with a degree in Music Education.
He has had the opportunity to perform with talented artists and bands such as Captain Jack McDuff, Willie Murphy, Jim Miller, Spider John Koerner, Bill and Judy Hinckley, Richard Street of the Temptations, Frank Mantooth, Wayne Newton, Big John Dickerson and Downright Tight, Prudence Johnson, Renee’ Austin, Frankie Avalon, Booka Michel, Carl Michel, R.C. Banks, Bobby Rydell, Dick King Classic Swing Band, Tommy Dorsey Big Band, Blew Monday, 5 on the 4, Conga Se Menne, Mr. Pumpkinhead, Ruby Sky, Sam Miltich and the Clearwater Hot Club, The Incredible Ides, The Cab Calloway Orchestra directed by C. Calloway Brooks, Big Walter Smith and the Groove Merchants, Annie Humphrey, Ginger Commodore, Gary Hines, Greg Kaczor, Jimmy Thackery and of course NLCS staff Matt Alleva and Annie Humphrey.
In this spare time Don volunteers for the M.S. Society and as an on air host for KAXE 91.7 FM, a community radio station where he has programmed many shows and interviewed over 28 jazz and blues artists. For this he received the Bill McKeever Award for creativity and excellence in on air artistry. Don also keeps busy recording in his studio, Mr. Pumpkinhead Productions. With regards to “Some Of These Days,” an album Don recorded and played on with Sam Miltich and the Clearwater Hot Club, the January 2008 issue of Vintage Guitar Magazine states, “Sammo joins forces with Don Vidal, an experienced reedman who’s been around the block a few times. Together they’ve crafted a stellar collection of classics reborn with stylish playing and eloquent solos. Vidal moves between soprano, alto, tenor saxophone and bass clarinet on his arrangement of Duke Ellington’s ‘The Mooch.'”
Don has been teaching music at Northern Lights Community School for the last seven years and has been quoted as saying ” I enjoy performing music with my students as much, if not more than some of best in the music business and sometimes I learn more from my students”. In his spare time he enjoys camping, fishing, hunting, hiking, snowshoeing and cross country skiing.
Jackie Esler – Office Assistant
I grew up in Warba and still enjoy the simple pleasures this aras has to offer. When I’m not spending time with family and friends you can find me gardening, bird watching or walking through the woods. My husband and I spend a lot of our leisure time fishing.
After graduating from high school I spent several years working and raising a family in Minneapolis. We moved back to this area in 1994; and I was fortunate to begin my association with Northern Lights Community School in February 2007. I enjoy the enthusiasm and energy of the students here at NLCS and look forward to seeing them succeed.
Jill Hawk – Project Manager & Special Ed. Para
My name is Jill Hawk and I work as a project manager and special education paraprofessional at NLCS. I have worked with students ranging from ages six through eighteen in various schools over the past twenty years. I like keeping the students motivated, enthusiastic, and curious about their surroundings. I’m married with three children and like to do a variety of activities such as swimming, biking, and skiing. Reading book is a favorite past time of mine along with cooking and playing with my pets.
Lori Hamm – Project Manager
I grew up in St. Paul, MN and graduated from Johnson High School. Prior to moving to Warba, I managed an Ax-man Surplus store in Fridley for 13 years. I then was a store manager for Only Deals in Elk River for two years until my husband got a job at National Steel in Keewatin. My husband Dave grew up in Warba and always wanted to move back, we ended up on the farm he grew up on. I have two daughters Cassie and Ashley that I stayed home with until they went to school. I volunteered for the Warba/Feeley Recreation Board for 12 years. I wrote grants and helped with getting the playground that is in Warba. This is my sixth year working at NLCS. I worked 2 years as a AmeriCorps worker, two years as a Para (after I passed my Para test). I now work as a Project Manager in Rachel’s advisory. I love working with the students at NLCS as it is great seeing them succeed and grow in this nourishing environment.
I enjoy spending time with my family camping, four wheeling, and bike riding. I also love going to the beach with my girls, reading, doing crafts, and drawing.
Christel Rowe – Special Ed. / Project Manager
Christel Rowe grew up on Swan Lake in northeastern Minnesota. During those years many hours were spent in the woods and lakes of the area. Her family grew its own food in large gardens and preserved it for the winter. Berries and mushrooms were gathered from the woods to supplement the home grown fruits and vegetables. Making fire wood and hay was also an integral part of the summer season.
After graduation from high school, Christel attended Augsburg College. The summers of her junior and senior years she worked at a Youth Conservation Corps camp. Christel earned a BA with a major in biology and minor in chemistry from Augsburg College. She went on to receive a BS and 7-12 teaching license from St. Cloud State University. At that time she began working on her special education licensures. Her first teaching assignment included teaching 7th, 8th, 9th grade sciences and high school chemistry in a small town in southwestern Minnesota. After her first year of teaching, she spent a few years substitute teaching and working with the developmentally delayed adult population. She also participated in training for Project Wild.
In 1986, she moved to the Grand Rapids area and received special education licensure in learning disabilities and mild to moderately handicapped (DCD) from Bemidji State University in 1990. Over the following years, Christel substitute taught at grade levels 1 through 12 and also worked as a science teacher in a middle school alternative program. She began teaching on a part time basis at Itasca Community College in the early 1990’s and spent ten years teaching environmental science and human biology at Hibbing Community college before coming to Norther Lights Community School. While teaching at HCC, Christel work on master’s degree courses. Some of the master’s courses she had taken include: wetland ecology, wildlife conservation, ecology, evolution for teachers, mammalogy, and Minnesota terrestrial plant identification.
Christel has been teaching at Northern Lights Community School for two years. During that time she has had students planting trees each spring and led the construction of a flower garden. She has also done Project Wild and Wet activities with groups of students as well as taken students on hikes teaching them about native trees and plants. She hopes to continue to connect students with the wonders of the environment they live in and encourage them to be good stewards of the Earth.
Henry Chung – Technology Coordinator / Project Manager
Henry was born in Hong Kong, immigrated to Canada at the age of 2 and grew up in a suburban area of Toronto, Ontario. Growing up in multicultural environment has allowed Henry to experience various cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds.
After high school, Henry attended Seneca College’s Law Enforcement program. After working in the security field for a year, he returned to school to Tyndale College & Seminary for a BRE (Bachelor of Religious Education) majoring in Youth Studies/Work. In 2001, he headed off to Grand Porage, MN to serve as a youth pastor/leader and to work with the local church. During his time there, Henry volunteered as an EMT and served as a Wildland Firefighter.
In 2001, Henry married Amy. They have 3 kids: Emily (9), Katie (7) and Ethan (4).
2009 The Chung family relocated to Grand Rapids, MN and found work with Northern Lights Community School. He applies his skills as a technology guru, unofficial school nurse, relationship counselor, project manager and many other talents to help students “be” all that they can be! 😉
Henry enjoys baseball, hockey, volleyball, dodgeball, video games, paintball/airsoft, LARPing and various physical activities. He also does woodworking, tinkering, origami, building scale models, watching anime and is a connoisseur of various meat jerky.
Matt Alleva – Advisor – Science
Matt grew up in the St. Paul suburb of Roseville, Minnesota. While in High School Matt developed a strong interest in the sciences. After High School Matt attended the University of Minnesota, Duluth and earned a B.S. degree in Hydrogeology. After working as a scientist for 15 years, performing groundwater and soil sampling, eventually managing a multi-million dollar contaminated superfund site, he decided it was time to follow his dream to teach, making science accessible to all students. Matt earned a Masters of Education degree, in science instruction, from the University of Minnesota graduating magna cum laude. Course work included; child psychology, child development, educational psychology, teaching special education, teaching English language learners, learning and cognitive assessments, school in society, developmental differences, gender differences is learning, technology for teaching, teaching culturally diverse students, ecology for educators, cooperative learning strategies and many more. Matt has developed curriculum for and taught environmental science, earth science, astronomy, oceans, geology, geophysics and many more. Making a positive impact on the lives of children and teaching has always been a passion of his. After teaching Earth and Space Science in the Farmington district for two years, Matt jumped at the chance to move to the North Woods and work at Northern Lights Community School where he felt he could maximize the student centered approach for student success.
Matt’s son Cody is a sophomore studying finance, at St. Cloud State University. Some of the interesting extra-curricular activities Matt enjoys or has enjoyed are skydiving, running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, performing at First Avenue playing drums with his rock band, moonlight back-country snowboarding in Colorado, and “reportedly” danced one time with Fox news anchor Robyn Robinson. Matt is looking forward to hunting, fishing, hiking, and camping in beautiful Northern Minnesota. Matt delights in helping students become successful and catching big fish (see picture).
Gail Otteson – Title 1 Specialist
I’ve been teaching for 25 years in northern Minnesota with 4 years in New York City and 1 year in Minneapolis. For the last 2 years I have been teaching at Northern Lights Community School. This year I will be the reading and math specialist.
I love the freedom we have to be creative learners and teachers at our school. Every day is an adventure discovering our interests and ways of pursuing them. Our school is the perfect place for my curiosity!! Last year I went on a zip line for the first time when traveling in Costa Rica. You know what I was thinking while I was flying through the trees 50 feet above the ground? Wow! We should build one of these at NLCS !!!
Josie Pitts – Special Education
Before joining NLCS I worked for many years as a wilderness educator in California, Minnesota, Maine, and Wisconsin. I enjoy spending my time outdoors climbing, hiking, cross country skiing, and canoeing. I received my Bachelors degree at St Cloud State University in Community Psychology, my Masters Degree in Experiential Education at Mankato State University and my Special Education license at Bethel University. I have previously taught for 4 years at a project based charter school in the Twin Cities, and this is my second year at NLCS as a Special Education teacher. I enjoy working at NLCS because of the flexibility our program gives for both students and teachers, and the small community we have that helps foster strong relationships with students and parents. I live in on the St Louis River in Floodwood with my 2 dogs, 15 chickens, 5 guinea hens, and my partner Mike.
Heather Bunes – Para-professional
Aimee Love – School Social Worker
Aimee grew up in Southern Illinois, spent some time in North Carolina, before calling Northern Minnesota her home in 1998. She and her partner enjoy the gift of raising two amazing children, a very fuzzy guinea pig, and a spoiled furry baby dog.
Aimee was added to the Northern Lights Community School staff in November of 2013 as the School Social Worker. She works with Special Education, Truancy, Homeless Liaison, as well as addressing other needs that may arise for the NLCS student or their family. She has worked in the Social Service field since 2001.
Outside of the NLCS walls you may find Aimee reeling in the walleyes, taking camping adventures with her family, or preparing meals or baked goodies in her kitchen.
Bill Lah – AmeriCorps Promise Fellow
Bill Lah is serving at Northern Lights Community School as an AmeriCorps Promise Fellow with The Minnesota Alliance With Youth. Bill is earning his degree in History and Social Studies with a minor in Women’s Studies at UW – Superior. He spent 25+ years in Information Systems Management before returning to college to pursue a career in education, and, as a single parent, raised two sons, now ages 23 and 29. Bill has been active in Scouting, Community Theater, Hibbing City Band, and a few choirs, as well as volunteering with the Hibbing High School Band. Bill currently lives in his hometown of Hibbing.
Lori Hutchins – Special Education Teacher
Lori has worked in several capacities as an educator throughout her teaching career. She started working as a Physical Education and Health Teacher. She also spent time coaching in the sports of volleyball, basketball and track and field.
Lori got her Bachelor of Science Degree from Bemidji State University and was a four sport athlete while at BSU. She had a very successful athletic career competing in volleyball, basketball, track and field. She also competed in swimming for one year. She enjoyed competing most in the sport of basketball.
Lori also has a Master of Science Degree in Elementary Guidance and Counseling and in Special Education from the University of Wisconsin, Superior. In addition to PE and Health Lori also worked as an elementary counselor for three years. She has been working as a special education teacher since 2007. She has enjoyed her time at Northern Lights so far and is extremely proud to be a part of such a talented and dynamic staff of educators.
In her leisure time, Lori trains her Golden Retrievers and competes with them in agility, obedience, conformation and is hoping to add field work to that list. Her dogs often come to school to help bring joy, comfort and pleasure to those students and staff members who enjoy the therapeutic gift only an animal can bring. Lori also enjoys gardening, bird watching and hiking.