An educator in two countries, Udupa is new NEMS principal


Padmini Udupa Padmini Udupa, Northeast Middle School’s (NEMS) new principal, has a long list of academic credits and experience.

She was named Assistant Principal of the Year by the Minneapolis Public School district in 2005. She has 25-plus years of experience in education and worked for the last eight as an assistant principal, seven years at NEMS and one year at Nellie Stone Johnson (2005-2006) in North Minneapolis.

Udupa said she originally intended to be a scientist, and obtained a master’s degree in science in India, where she is from. However, she was also interested in education.

“My mother is a professor back home,” she said, “and I became fascinated in studying how kids learn.” In India, she taught at the high school and university level. She came to Minnesota in 1984 and taught science at Washburn High School in South Minneapolis. Meanwhile, she earned a second master’s degree and a PhD in education psychology from the University of Minnesota.

Udupa recently attended the Minnesota Principal’s Academy, an 18-month course run by the state. The academy helped her get a feel for “the big picture” in education around the world, she said. “We have to prepare our kids to compete with other countries, now.”

She added that she thinks NEMS is on the right track; it is becoming an International Baccalaureate school and has a rigorous curriculum with high academic standards. The AVID program, which encourages first-generation, potentially college-bound students to take advanced courses, has been especially successful, she said.

Udupa said she brings a global perspective to NEMS, having worked as an educator in two countries. What is different, she said, is that “all students don’t go to school in India, and not everybody goes to college.”

All schools, she added, are competing with the top 25 percent of students world-wide. “We have to prepare. We will continue the initiatives we have here.”

She said she applied for the principal job after former NEMS principal Ben Perry accepted an administrative job, because she feels at home at NEMS. “People said to me, ‘We have you here and we’d like you to continue.’ I felt welcomed. Parents and staff have said if I needed any help, they’d be there for me. It is like a family here to me. So I said, ‘Why not?’”

This year’s enrollment at NEMS is projected at 500, although she added that they might get more students after the recent North Side school closings. “A lot of Northeast kids are attending our school,”

Since the school decided to tighten its standards and adopt the IB curriculum, she said, she has seen a remarkable turnaround in students. “They get to the classroom on time. They are doing well with a rigorous curriculum. We can see their smiles. They feel like this is a safe, nurturing place.

“We value every student’s culture here,” she added. “We are lucky, in the stability of our staff, good community participation and a supportive parent group. It’s a nice feeling. We’ve come a long way. I want to keep up the vision and move forward. I want this to be the best school in Minneapolis. Or in the world, for that matter. That’s my passion.”

Udupa describes herself as a “very organized” person. “I listen to the kids and all the stakeholders. I think people consider me very fair.”

She said that in 2004, she added the debate program to the school’s after-school activities. “We have around 15 kids, and we are part of the National Urban Debate League. It has worked out very well, and the kids love it. We also have a spelling bee, which we will continue. One of our students went to state. Our chess club wins all the time, as well.”

The school is adding a seventh and eighth grade advanced science class to the curriculum this year, Udupa said.

Northeast parent and co-founder of PEN, Public Education Northeast, Dean DeGroot, said, “I think most of us are very pleased that she is the new principal at Northeast Middle School. She brings a lot of stability to the school, having served as assistant principal there for seven years. I see her as having a good work ethic and being very responsive to our ideas.”

Udupa’s first day as NEMS principal was July 1. Lloyd Winfield was recently hired as NEMS assistant principal. A veteran assistant principal with six years’ experience, his last assignment was at W. Harry Davis Academy in North Minneapolis, one of the schools the school board closed last year.