HOPKINS — Hopkins Public Schools is bringing in a new face to Eisenhower Elementary and XinXing Academy this fall — Melissa Ness will take over as principal of the joint schools.

“Hopkins appealed to me because of the strong diversity and because of the equity vision. Equity is really part of my core and part of who I am,” Ness said. “I have lots of professional and personal experiences where I’ve experienced marginalized people being unseen or unheard and one of the reasons I want to become a school leader is to give all students an opportunity for equitable education.”

Ness is coming from Richfield Public Schools, where she was an instructional coach who worked with teachers and other staff on curriculum and best practices. She was also the district coordinator for targeted services, overseeing summer school.

She has a long history as an educator in the Twin Cities, starting her career as a paraprofessional, then working as a teacher in both North and South Minneapolis, later becoming an instructional coach and going back to school to get her license to become a school administrator.

Ness is coming into a unique position as the Eisenhower Elementary and XinXing Academy principal. Ness said she doesn’t believe the immersion school presents any particular challenges, just a different approach.

“An effective leader of an immersion project needs to understand language acquisition and needs to be able to advocate for the unique needs of immersion programming,” Ness said. “So sometimes the resources look different and someone who is able to understand that is really important.”

Ness doesn’t speak Mandarin Chinese, the immersion language at XinXing, but she was an immersion student herself and is now bilingual in Spanish and English. She believes this gives her a unique perspective on what the students are doing day-to-day.

“I encourage a culture of learning and growth and taking risks,” she said. “I believe taking risks is crucial to learning, and in order to take risks you to have a strong, trusting culture.”

There are no big plans in the works for Ness in the coming year; she doesn’t plan to shake things up. She has spent her summer months preparing for the year and building relationships with her staff and the families and students of the Hopkins Public Schools District by holding community meet-and-greets.

“The staff has been very welcoming,” Ness said. “I’m thrilled to be here. Families have been very supportive and very welcoming.”

Ness is from the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, area. She went to the University of Minnesota for her undergraduate degree. She got her master’s degree from St. Mary’s University and her educational specialist degree from Minnesota State University-Mankato.

This summer, when Ness wasn’t settling into her new position, she has been traveling with her 17-year-old son to look at colleges and prepare for his higher education.

Frances Stevenson is a reporter for the Lakeshore Weekly News, covering the communities around Lake Minnetonka.

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