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Principal resigns for new position, Dowling takes charge

By Miranda Holloway
Editor-in-Chief|
Principal Kurt Laakso resigned from his  position to take on a new position of interim  associate superintendent of human resources  at Forest View Educational Center.
The the 214 Board of Education approved this  decision Thursday night after the resignation  of Todd Colvin, who left his position for  personal reasons. In Laakso’s place Associate  Principal Michelle Dowling has been chosen to  take over as the school’s  interim principal.

 Laakso and Superintendent Dr. David Schuler  made the decision to appoint Dowling from “several qualified people” in the district and school.

“We ultimately decided that Ms. Dowling was the best qualified and the best prepared and in the best position to take over and lead the school from this point forward,” Laakso said in an interview at Friday night’s football game at Elk Grove.

With Dowling leaving her place as associate principal, there is a void left in the school’s administration, which will either be filled by promoting someone from within the Prospect leadership team or hiring someone from outside the school or district.

“We have so many people in our school [and] we are fortunate that we have lots of lots of outstanding options,” Laakso said.

These changes come as a surprise to students, with much speculation regarding the reasoning behind the switch, specifically in terms of the controversy surrounding the actions on color day during homecoming week.

“The timing was kind of bad,” senior Molly Driscoll said. “It almost sounds like they did it because of homecoming week but we don’t really know.”

This uncertainty still lingers as the announcements settles in and rumors die down.

“I’m shell shocked a little,” Driscoll said. “I’m like ‘why would they do this all of a sudden?’”

This change, however, is unrelated to any repercussions of the week, as Laakso was made aware of the possibility of the switch before homecoming week began. He was contacted by Dr. Schuler two weeks ago with the news that a situation was developing and the next week that the position was opening.

“It was not until that call that he placed with me two weeks ago that I had any idea what was developing,” Laakso said. “I had no awareness, no prior notice that this might be a scenario that might unfold this year.”

The abrupt change was jarring for students and staff alike, but they are happy to hear of his promotion.

“It’s kind of strange because it’s already partly through the year and I’m sad to see him go because he was a great principal…,” Driscoll said. “At the same time it’s awesome for him to have a promotion and get the experience he will at a higher level. We’re happy for him but it kind of stinks that we won’t have him as our principal anymore.”

In additions to the questions brought up surrounding the switch there are also questions about the new principalship and why the change occurred so suddenly.

“I don’t understand why they didn’t just wait until next year,” Driscoll said. ” It would have been nice if we would have had a heads up just because we don’t even know who our new principal is. We know she’s our assistant principal but we’ve never really known who she is. It’s kind of confusing but we’re happy for him.”

The position switch needed to happen quickly, according to Laasko, and there was no ethical way he could have given either the students or staff a heads up because he did not see fit to talk about the possible appointment before it was discussed by the board.

“It must have been sudden for [students and staff] and we are sorry for that but there was no way to avoid that…” Laakso said. “[The board] has to cast an official vote to make a formal decision about the appointment and before they do that it would be out of turn for anyone to talk about me or anyone else as candidates for that vacancy.”

When the position that Colvin initially filled had initially opened up last spring, Laakso did not apply, as he wanted to concentrate on his work at Prospect. Once the position was made vacant in the middle of the school year, however, Laakso was asked to consider.

“I said I would be interested though I had some misgivings of course because I love my job as principal of Prospect and I didn’t expect to leave that job anytime soon. I have great affinity for the students and the community at large at Prospect,” Laakso said. ”However, I also knew that Dr. Shuler and the superintendent’s leadership team .. has a very important set of challenges in front of them this year and I thought that I might be able to address those challenges at that level.”

Despite the speed at which the situation escalated, Laakso feels confident and is excited about his new position.

“Like any professional I am interested in a challenge and there are certainly challenges in this position that excite me and so with mixed emotions I accepted the appointment,” Laakso said.

As the news was released Friday, Laakso was met with congratulations by staff, parents and students, which he appreciated.

“Bittersweet is a good word to describe the feelings and emotions and thoughts that were swirling in my brain from the moment Dr. Shuler called me two weeks ago to this very moment now because I do have so much pride in Prospect High School,” Laakso said. “It has been extremely fulfilling and it’s been in many ways the dream job of a lifetime. At the same time I think this job will also be a wonderful experience and be good for me.”

Laakso’s new position involves the hiring and management of all salary positions in district 214, which includes six major high schools and various alternative programs. As a results, Laakso will have less one- on- one interaction with students, although he will still be making an effort to show interest in what students are involved in and he hopes to find ways to connect with students to find out how to help them succeed

This student interaction will be missed at Prospect as well, as Driscoll remembers that, although never being formally introduced to Laakso, he still made a point to make conversation with her and anyone else in the school.

“He was a great principal and I thought he really had great student interacting with everyone,” Driscoll said. “He tried to touch everyone is some sort of way. He [tried to] connect.”

Laakso and Dowling will be phasing into their new positions by the end of October, so Laakso had one of his last direct connections with Prospect students at Friday’s principal’s advisory council meeting.

“It was difficult for me not to get too emotional because this relationship that we have been building over time as members of this Prospect community means a great deal to me…,” Laakso said. ”When I was speaking to students today the emotion was very palpable and I did my best not to [become emotional in front of] them because they didn’t need to see it and I think I was able to keep it together but my heart was in my throat the entire time I was talking to them.”

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