Henning principal is one of six in the state up for the honor

By Chad Koenen


Henning School Principal Thomas Williams is in a class of his own.

Williams, who is in his 16th year as prek-12 principal at Henning School, is one of six finalists for the title of Minnesota middle school principal of the year. 

“I am personally and professionally honored to be the recipient of the 2022 Western Division Middle School/Level Principal of the Year and to be one of six finalists for the 2022 Minnesota Middle School/Level Principal of the Year.  Being recognized is a milestone that communicates that I am doing my job at a level that can be respected,” said Williams.

The Western Division encompasses a wide swath of school districts ranging from as far north as Polk County to as far south as Big Stone County. The division also includes portions of Pope County to the southeast and some of Itasca County to the northeast. Each person is nominated for the award by other principals and a selection is made by a group of regional principals.

While the award recognizes the work that Williams has accomplished,the Henning School principal said it is also an award that honors the students, staff and environment that has been created at Henning School. 

“Being recognized is a milestone that communicates that I am doing my job at a level that can be respected.  To receive an  award in leadership is not just an award recognizing the person in that position, but it is a recognition of the institution as a whole,” said Williams. “This is an award that highlights all levels of our organization. It makes the statement that the Henning School is a great place to learn and grow. At our school, the Henning students are second to none. Our overall learning environment allows the majority of our focus to be on growth in instruction and student learning and not discipline.  

“I am surrounded by a strong staff of educators that are accepting and understanding of the focus we place on setting purposeful and appropriate goals in the growth of our rigor, relevance and relationships,” he said. “I have also been provided the opportunity to lead our school by the superintendents and school boards that I have worked with at the Henning School since I started.”

Williams also recognized his family, including his wife Tammy, who has been supportive of the long days and flexible range of responsibilities that are required of a principal. Both his children, Jake and Hope, graduated from Henning School and had the opportunity to have their dad be a part of their lives in school. 

“I also feel it is important to recognize my family. My wife Tammy knows the time that goes into the work that I do,” said Williams. “It isn’t always easy to deal with the long days and very flexible range of what ‘I will be home around 4:30’ really means.”

The longtime principal said he is excited to know his grandsons, Greyson and Carson, will also be starting school in Henning in the near future. After all, since Williams is the only principal at Henning School, he has the unique opportunity to interact and be a part of the lives of students from the time the enter school to the time they leave as high school graduates.

“I have the privilege to say I have been the principal from the start of preschool through high school graduation for the Henning students. I am also now the principal of many children that I had the privilege of being the principal to their moms and/or dads,” he said. 

Being the only principal in a small school does present some challenges as Williams is oftentimes on an island by himself when it comes to addressing concerns in a school district. Through the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals, Williams has a chance to collaborate with principals throughout the state. 

“As a preschool through 12th grade principal, I get the opportunity to work with the three different levels daily, but at the same time my time and efforts are pulled and pushed into the different levels and not being focused on one specific school level,” he said. “My day looks a lot different than a traditional middle school level principal, but my relationships and expectations are already established with students that reach the middle level well before they enter school in grades 6-8.”

Williams was nominated for the award back in April and was recognized as a finalist at a banquet in June. There are six finalists for the high school principal of the year, six finalists for the middle school principal of the year and six assistant principal finalists of the year. Each principal, regardless of size of the school, competes in the same category. 

In addition to Williams, five other people have been nominated for middle school principal of the year. The finalists include: James Schimelpfenig, Howard Lake-Waverly-Winstead; Brian Ingermann, Oak Grove Middle School (Bloomington Public Schools); Tom Brenner, Cloquet Middle School; Derek Gieseke, Grygla Public School and Michelle Larson, Mountain Lake Public Schools.

The local middle school principal of the year nominee said he has always enjoyed being an educator and has been fortunate to find a career and community that he enjoys being a part of every day. 

“I have always loved being an educator. I have been very fortunate to find a career and a community that I truly enjoy being part of every day. This is what I hope for each of the students that graduate from the Henning School—they too can find a pathway in their life’s journey to a career that they love and when they find that career, they do it with purpose,” he said.