Sanford E. Nelson
Rossman Elementary School
Detroit Lakes No. 22 School District
Detroit Lakes, Minnesota

Sanford Nelson has led four elementary schools to greatness in his 22 years as a principal. The first two schools he headed earned Minnesota Elementary School of Excellence awards. The next won a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence Award, and his current school was recognized as the first Groundwater Guardian Elementary School in the nation, among other distinctions. Nelson has been principal of Rossman Elementary School since 1999. Set in a rural area, Nelson’s current school houses 564 kindergarten through grade 5 students. Nelson says he considers his most important role as a school leader “to do what it takes to enhance the abilities of educators in my school by allowing them to build an outstanding learning environment that is child-centered.” Working as a teacher for 12 years, he says, helped him appreciate the value of hiring and supporting a quality staff. In leadership assignments beyond his school, Nelson has assisted student learning throughout his district. His district work includes service as Title I director and facilitator of a task force on gifted education. Looking back at his successes throughout his career, Nelson credits colleagues who shared their “leadership expertise to enhance my own knowledge and skills needed to be a quality principal.” He earned a B.A. from Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota and an M.S. from St. Cloud State University in Minnesota.