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.

After graduating from Bethel College (prior to the name change to Bethel University) in Arden Hills, MN, Mike spent a couple of years paying the bills as a licensed retirement account manager at American Express Financial Advisors (prior to the name change to Ameriprise). Again, one fateful day while sitting in his cubicle on the 16th floor of an office building in downtown Minneapolis, Mike received a phone call asking if he was interested in a teaching job working with “at-risk” youth in the White Bear Lake school district. A simple “yes” answer led to a sixteen year teaching career in alternative education.
During his tenure in White Bear Lake, Mike earned his Masters degree from Saint Mary’s University. In his first Masters class, the professor had the class do some goal setting based on a leadership profile the class had taken and Mike made it a goal to continue his education after the Masters courses were completed and earn a Minnesota principal’s license. Four years later, with a Masters degree in Education and a fresh principal’s license in his hand, Mike set out to find a job as a school leader in a small, innovative school that valued individualized student learning.
A fateful, forwarded email ended up in Mike’s inbox one afternoon that said a small charter school in Warba, MN, was looking for a director. A quick Google map search indicated the school was just a short three hour drive from White Bear Lake so Mike took a chance and responded with his resume and other required materials … and the rest, as they say, is history.
Mike is married to a science teacher who teaches in the Stillwater school district. They have a small, white dog who refuses to walk on wet grass, but will leap into the nearest swamp without hesitation. Mike and his wife like to camp, travel, hunt (more Mike than his wife), fish, ride their motorcycles, and watch way too much Netflix.


Karen Howell, Middle School Advisor – Language Arts

Karen grew up in Alaska and moved to Minnesota with her 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.


Benita Hassell – Project Manager

Benita_2013Benita 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 – 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.

Jill Hawk – Project Manager & Special Ed. ParaJill_2013

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

Lori_Hamm_2013I 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.

Henry Chung – Technology Manager

Henry_pirateHenry 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.

Amanda Hakala – Advisor – Social Studies

New Staff Bio to be Posted

Josie Pitts – Special EducationJosie

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.

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.

Lori Hutchins – Special Education TeacherLori_Hutchins_bio2

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.

Heather Bunes – Project Manager (Amanda’s Advisory)

Heather grew up in Grand Rapids, moving away a few times only to find her way back. She is married and has a teenage daughter. Heather and her family live on a small, 80 acre hobby farm with 4 chickens and a sassy cat. For fun, Heather travels; taking road trips, tent camping, fishing, hunting, kayaking, and of course, shopping. She loves to head over to Lake Superior and explore, especially when she can hunt for her favorite treasure, agates. In the spring Heather likes to find delicious wild asparagus. 

Heather has worked at NLCS since 2013, starting out as a one-on-one paraprofessional, and she is now a Project Manager in Amanda’s Advisory. She serves on the NLCS Emergency Action Team as well as the treasurer for her local township.

Favorite food: Mexican or Japanese food.

Most disliked food: Mushrooms.

Favorite pop: Cherry Coke.

Favorite coffee: Iced Americano with caramel and cream or cold foam.