After starting his career in the corporate business world, Cliff Skagen decided he needed a change. He asked himself, “What do I love?”

“I knew I loved kids,” he said, which led the Crosslake Community School director to a long career in education, where he especially enjoys helping students.

He joined the charter school in Crosslake in late January, and worked there for just five weeks before COVID-19 hit and forced all schools into distance learning.

Despite the challenges the coronavirus pandemic has caused, Skagen remains committed to his students, whether they’re grade K-8 students who normally attend school in person or high school students who attend classes online.

“I love working with kids. It doesn’t matter if they’re 4 years old, 18 or 19 years old, I just love working with kids,” he said.

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“I love working with kids. It doesn’t matter if they’re 4 years old, 18 or 19 years old, I just love working with kids.” - Cliff Skagen, Crosslake Community School director

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Skagen grew up in North St. Paul, a small, tight-knit community, and attended Macalester College in St. Paul after graduating from high school. He earned a degree in economics and business in 1986, and went on to work for Target stores in management and in opening new stores.

He and his wife, Betsy, moved to Eveleth where she worked for the daily newspaper in Virginia and he continued to work at Target. They later returned to the Twin Cities, living in south Minneapolis.

That’s when Skagen decided it was time for a change. In the early 1990s, he obtained his teaching license in social studies from Augsburg University in Minneapolis by working at Target during the week and attending college on weekends. In 1992, he landed a paid internship at Chaska-Chanhassen schools and discovered he loved teaching.

He taught social studies for a few years at Robbinsdale Middle School, where he started an afterschool program to help kids. Eventually, he earned his master’s degree in teaching administration, and in 2002, he obtained his K-12 administrative license.

That led him to the Lakeville School District in 2003, where he became program director in the district office, working with before and after school programs, intervention programs and with area learning center students. He’s proud of the vast improvements those at-risk students made in test scores.

“They just needed a second chance,” Skagen said, noting he’s had students return from college to thank him for saving their life. Another student who was bullied joined the Army Reserve and now works in management. Yet another at-risk student attended college and now does trading on Wall Street.

As Skagen shares these stories, he still easily recalls each student’s name.

“What can we do for individuals - it’s looking beyond the big picture of how well are all my students doing, to how well is each individual student doing,” he said.

Skagen also started a K-12 online program in Lakeville, saying that’s another way to reach kids. He worked for the Lakeville School District until 2017, and then spent a year and a half as director of teaching and learning at Twin Cities Academy, a charter school in St. Paul.

“My passion really is teaching, learning, instruction,” he said. “How do we get student improvement?”

Skagen’s goal is not only to help kids who are struggling, but also those who are exceeding standards because he doesn’t want students to be bored in class. Another goal is to get schools to function in a way to raise student learning.

“How do we get students to learn more?” he said, reiterating the need to “help kids both on the low and high side, and support and challenge kids in the middle, all while following the mission and vision of the school.”

At Crosslake School, that mission and vision is environmental with Osprey Wilds (formerly the Audubon Center of the North Woods) as the school’s authorizer. Skagen and his family - which includes two children in college - love the outdoors, including walking their two golden retrievers. They’ve had a cabin on Lake Mille Lacs for 30 years and now live in Outing.

“We love the environment. We love the non-hustle and bustle of the city,” he said of the area.

Skagen also loves music and the grand piano he has at home. And, of course, he loves kids.

“I found a passion for kids. I didn’t plan it, but it’s just right,” he said.

Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at