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Columbia Heights Public Schools Welcomes New Superintendent

Zena Headshot 2020 Columbia Heights Public Schools (CHPS) welcomed Zena Stenvik as its new Superintendent last month. Stenvik – formerly the District’s Executive Director of Educational Services – assumed her new role July 1, taking over for Kathy Kelly who retired after 13 years in the position.

Stenvik first entered the field of education as a bilingual homeschool liaison and educational assistant where she supported Spanish-speaking students and their families. She spent a decade serving Saint Paul Public Schools, and eventually joined CHPS in 2007 as the English Learners & Equity Coordinator. Throughout her tenure with the District, Stenvik has also served as Staff Development Coordinator/AVID District Director, and the Director of Teaching & Learning.

“This job is about building on the strengths of teams and community, and bringing folks together with a laser focus on doing what is right for all kids,” Stenvik said. “It's about listening and seeking to understand our customers and holding the highest expectations for professionalism and quality education regardless of where a person comes from, what life experiences they have had, the kids deserve the best.”

In these unprecedented times due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Stenvik’s immediate goal for the District is that each staff member, student and family is prepared for school this fall so student learning can continue to advance.

“Zena is a passionate advocate for equity in CHPS!” said American Indian Mentor Valerie Larsen. “As staff, I’ve had the privilege of being supervised by Ms. Stenvik who is committed to improving the educational experiences for children of diverse backgrounds that make up our school community.”

Stenvik shared her philosophy as being multi-faceted, citing priorities such as customer service, connections to staff and community, being open to listening and seeking multiple perspectives, clear and timely communication and processes and structures to provide clear expectations. “My perspective is that each person, program, school plays an important role in the organization and in fulfilling our mission,” she said.

Stenvik’s personal vision statement are a testimony of her dedication to education: To create learning environments where all students thrive, have access to well-rounded high-quality learning opportunities, and are valued for the unique assets they bring to the learning community.

“Zena leads with passion and integrity,” said Director of Teaching & Learning Tara Thukral, who has worked alongside Zena for over a dacade. “She makes decisions based on each and every student in our district.  It will be exciting to watch Columbia Heights continue to succeed and grow with her leadership.”

“I am excited for Superintendent Stenvik's leadership and am especially eager for our work together to build equity in our District,” said Columbia Academy Principal Duane Berkas. “I have no doubt that in this work she will prioritize student achievement and provide strong leadership to our district. We are in unprecedented times but with the many challenges come new opportunities as well and I know she will help us to seize them.”


The School Board unanimously approved the appointment of Stenvik as the Superintendent at its Dec. 17, 2019 Regular Business Meeting.

“It is both comforting and encouraging to have Zena Stenvik begin as our new Superintendent during this unprecedented and trying time,” said School Board Chair Naty Severson. “Her experience in and knowledge of the District will continue to be extremely valuable while we navigate the remainder of 2020 and beyond. Her commitment to our students, staff, and community has been apparent throughout her many years in CHPS, as is her commitment to equity and quality education for all students. “

Stenvik and her husband have five children. In her spare time, she enjoys the outdoors and cooking. Stenvik is also fluent in English and Spanish.