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CMS Principal Leaving for Roseau

Interview: Chad Gerlach, Cambridge Middle School Principal

“A school culture is built on supporting students and one another, and Cambridge Middle School is like that,” says Chad Gerlach, CMS Principal. That culture also makes it very hard to say goodbye. Mr. Gerlach will be moving to a new position as principal of Roseau High School beginning next year.

“As educational leaders, we need to be where the staff are, where the students are. Understand what’s going on in the classrooms, in the building. Know all the jobs. Help take the garbage out. When you have a culture in a building that is built on supporting students and one another, and of learning, it’s a great feeling. CMS is a truly great community that is kind, caring, and compassionate for students and their education.”

Mr. Gerlach began his career as a Health and Physical Education teacher at Cambridge Middle School 18 years ago, after earning his teaching license from the University of Minnesota—Duluth. He later earned his master's in curriculum and instruction and his K-12 principal licensure from St. Cloud State University. Gerlach worked as an assistant principal at Cambridge-Isanti High School for eight years, before eventually returning to his roots at the middle school level, where he has been principal the last five years. Coming back to Cambridge Middle School as a principal felt like coming home.

“Middle school is an interesting time in a student’s life. Students come in as young elementary students, and by the time they leave, they’ve grown a foot and they’re ready and excited for their high school experience. It’s a very influential time in a student’s life, and I’ve enjoyed the ability to support and guide students as they become themselves. Working at the middle level takes a special sort of passion—one I see every day in the amazing team members at Cambridge Middle School.”

Mr. Gerlach credits his own 7th-grade health teacher as the inspiration for his career. “She was inspiring, she was creative, and I became deeply interested in the subject matter. There have been so many influential people in my life, but I know that my passion for health education was instilled in me when I was a student. That passion for education sticks with me to this day.”

“His passion for education is evident in everything he does,” said Dr. Nate Rudolph, Superintendent of Cambridge-Istanti Schools. “Chad Gerlach has been an advocate for kids throughout his career. He prioritizes the well-being of his students and always makes decisions that are in their best interest. He’s made a positive impact on the lives of thousands of students and families over his 18 years in our school district. His compassionate leadership is deeply appreciated and will be missed.”

The Gerlach family considers the Cambridge-Isanti Schools community home, and Chad Gerlach knows leaving will be hard “We’re moving north to be closer to our own family. We wholeheartedly believe in the importance of family structure and support.” That belief system has led to many of the decisions Gerlach made to support his team at Cambridge Middle School. 

“Your staff need to be in a healthy place to support students,” says Mr. Gerlach. “To understand your team members, your need to take the time to know them. You can’t build culture with just one person—no matter how excited you are to come in and get started, a leader needs to first listen.” 

“Chad is such a thoughtful and caring leader and is always willing to collaborate with staff to solve problems,” shared Mr. Shawn Kirkeide, who has worked with Mr. Gerlach for years. “He has created such a positive culture at Cambridge Middle School. Our HR department even hears it from substitutes. It is such a great school to work in because of the positive vibe. He is truly a great leader and will be missed.” 

His advice to any new team members? “Get involved,” said Mr. Gerlach. “You may have a ton of content knowledge, but relationships are what’s important. My biggest advice is to get involved, and ask questions. There’s a big safety net out there for you. If you are willing to engage with staff, students, and the community, that will come back to you.” 

Ultimately, students are Mr. Gerlach’s favorite part of his job. “One day, early in my career, an 8th-grade student came to me during her lunch period with a question. She was going roller skating over the weekend, and she knew she would need to tie the laces, but she didn’t know how. She felt like she could be open and vulnerable with me, and asked me to show her how to tie her skates. Such a little moment became such an impactful moment for me. It was a reminder that students come into our schools with varying backgrounds, knowledge, and abilities. When we can build connections to build trust with students, when they can openly share a vulnerability, that’s a huge thing. For me, relationships matter. What we do in education is so much more than just content knowledge, it’s supporting kids across the board.”

Those relationships and connections are what Mr. Gerlach will miss most. “The Cambridge Middle School team is such a tremendous asset to the school district but has also been such a blessing to me personally. This community has wrapped its arms around me. Dr. Nate Rudolph always says you don’t hire for a building, you hire for a community. I’m so thankful to have been a part of this community.”

Chad Gerlach will finish the 2022-2023 school year at Cambridge Middle School and work collaboratively to ensure a smooth transition for a new principal, before his own family moves north to live closer to family. Mr. Gerlach has accepted a position as principal of Roseau High School, and looks forward to blending his knowledge of middle and high school levels to continue supporting student success.