Retiring Lakeville South principal put students first

  • Article by: ERIN ADLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 24, 2014 - 3:00 PM

Scott Douglas, Lakeville South’s inaugural principal, helped open the school a decade ago and has tried to help students reach their full potential ever since.

In his 10 years as Lakeville South High School principal, Scott Douglas has made students the focus of nearly every decision, from choosing a mascot and school song when the school was new to implementing a policy to give students more chances to make up homework and tests.

“I think that one of the things I want to be known for is helping every student reach their full potential,” he said.

Douglas helped open Lakeville South in 2005 after a year working on its launch. Now, he’s retiring at the end of this school year, hoping to spend more time with his family and volunteering in the community.

But his other family, made up of students and teachers, will never be far from his mind, he said. “I’m a highly interactive, social person and I know I’m going to miss the daily interaction with students and the family relationships I have with my teachers,” he said.

Douglas has spent 40 years working in education and 36 years as an administrator. He began as a social studies teacher in Red Wing, and then moved on to principal positions in Lake City and Hutchinson. While in the Hutchinson district, he was named 2004 Minnesota High School Principal of the Year by the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals.

Douglas then had the chance to come to Lakeville to help open a brand-new high school. He spent the next year making various decisions about the school, from what furniture and textbooks to buy to overseeing aspects of construction.

Douglas also made a few “pretty innovative” decisions related to technology that paid off, he said. He recommended installing wireless Internet in the school when the technology was new, and chose laptops rather than desktop computers.

But just as important were choices affecting the school’s culture and identity, he said.

He interviewed 750 people for jobs at the school, seeking out staff who were excited about interdisciplinary teaching and who wanted an active role in coaching and extracurricular activities, he said.

In the months before and after the school opened, he surveyed students about a variety of topics, down to the mascot, the school colors and the school song. “We think it’s very important [to ask students about those decisions] because we want students to identify with their school,” he said.

‘Students at the center’

Douglas’ time at Lakeville South hasn’t been without challenges, he said, including years of budget cuts. The school now has more students and fewer teachers than it did several years ago, and making sure teachers are still effective in classrooms of more than 40 kids is difficult. “We continue to battle the class-size issue,” he said.

Despite an enrollment of more than 1,800 students, Douglas tries to connect one-on-one whenever possible, hanging out in the lunchroom with students and popping into teachers’ classrooms to sing “Happy Birthday” to a student or teacher, he said. “I’m out all the time,” he said. “I’m very seldom in my office.”

Earlier this month during “Teacher Appreciation Week” he spontaneously sang “You Are My Sunshine” to every single teacher in the building, and then praised them in front of their students. Students clapped and cheered, he said.

And Douglas has tried to cater to students’ individual needs in other ways. This year, he instituted an “academic seminar” period every Tuesday, allowing students to catch up on late work, get homework help and retake tests at least once, he said.

“It’s important because not all students learn on the same time line,” he said. “It takes some students longer to learn a concept.”

The goal is to reduce Ds and Fs by 60 percent. Though grades aren’t in yet, there was a 30 to 40 percent reduction in the number of Fs given first semester, he said.

After he retires, Douglas plans to “cleanse myself and take a break from the demands of the job.” Then he wants to begin volunteering, hoping to “make the world a better place.” That was also his goal as principal, he said.

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