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From sheriff to playground monitor: Wright County's former top cop loves new elementary school job

Joe Hagerty traded his badge for a paraprofessional position at St. Michael Elementary School.

ST MICHAEL, Minn. — Before he retired, Wright County Sheriff Joe Hagerty oversaw 150 deputies.

Now, he’s supervising the elementary school sliding hill.

“Friday comes, I can’t wait for Monday,” Hagerty says about his new job.

When he took off his badge in 2019, Hagerty said goodbye to a 33-year-career in law enforcement, as he said hello to a paraprofessional position at St. Michael Elementary School.

“It's kind of like being a traffic cop in the middle of an intersection where there's five roads coming in,” Wright County’s former top cop says of his career transition. “I always liked it busy, so this is busy here.”

Hagerty starts his days toting a red flag and stopping traffic as he helps school children cross the street. 

Credit: Devin Krinke, KARE
The former sheriff of Wright County, Minnesota works crossing guard duty at St. Michael Elementary School.

Five hours later, the former sheriff wraps up his workday maintaining order as kids hop on saucers to slide down the snow-covered hill next to their school.

In between, Hagerty can be found inside the school filling a variety of roles, from first-grade classroom helper, to reading tutor, to substitute teacher.   

“Some of the kids here know what I did before, most of them maybe don’t,” Hagerty says. “And if they ask, I’ll tell them what I did, but otherwise it doesn’t really come up.”

St. Michael school principal Corey Lahr didn’t waste time bringing Hagerty aboard when he learned of the former sheriff’s interest.

“We scooped him right up,” the principal laughs.

Lahr says Hagerty has a knack for connecting with kids, especially the students who need it most. “Some of those kids who might have trouble, or might have behaviors, he knows how to relate to those kids and communicate with those kids.”

Credit: Devin Krinke, KARE
Joe Hagerty, former Wright County Sheriff, shares a moment with a student during passing time at St. Michael Elementary School.

Outside on the sliding hill, several kids vie for Hagerty’s attention. He gently asks for patience. “I’ve just got to get Karen buttoned up here,” Hagerty tells the children as he zips up a young student’s coat.

“Hopefully they look up to me as an adult they can trust,” Hagerty says. “I had experience doing that same thing with the sheriff’s office when I was there. You can only operate if people trust you.”

Hagerty’s new career path was influenced by his family. All four of his siblings – and three of their spouses – are either current or former educators. His son Ryan is a teacher, and his wife Sue is a preschool paraprofessional.  

“So, I was probably the only one in the family that worked in the summers,” Hagerty laughs.

Credit: Devin Krinke, KARE
Retired Wright County Sheriff Joe Hagerty monitors the sliding hill at St. Michael Elementary School.

He started substitute teaching while he was still Sheriff. Now, Hagerty reports every school day to the same building in which he went to high school.

On a recent Tuesday morning, the former sheriff sang happy birthday to one student and played a card game with several others to help them with their counting skills.

“It’s nice to be recognized and feel special. He really makes the kids feel special,” first-grade teacher Anne Pearson says. “They just love him. Out on the playground, recess — they want to play with him and have him around.” 

Credit: Devin Krinke, KARE
Former Wright County sheriff Joe Hagerty helps out in the first grade classroom at St. Michael Elementary School.

Meantime, Hagerty brings to the job the perspective of a former law man.  

“You just hope to have a little part in making them turn out,” he says. “Because I’ve certainly seen the other side of people that, for whatever reason, didn’t turn out.” 

Whether in the crosswalk or on the sliding the hill, Joe Hagerty has found continued opportunities to protect and serve.

“This is the best job I’ve ever had,” the former sheriff says.

Credit: Devin Krinke, KARE
Former Wright County Sheriff Joe Hagerty is surrounded by students on the St. Michael Elementary School playground.

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