New Duluth East High School principal Danette Seboe trades in her 55-mile drive to a school of 300 kids for a 16-mile drive to a school of about 1,600.
The shorter commute is a plus, the former principal of Eveleth-Gilbert High School said, and while the sheer number of students at East can seem daunting, Seboe is ready for the change.
"What's important to me about being a high school principal is the same whether there are 300 kids or 1,600," she said. "I hope to be a fresh set of eyes. ... This is a great school with a great reputation, with kids going on and doing pretty impressive things."
Seboe replaces Laurie Knapp, who retired in June after 16 years as principal at East and about 30 years in the district. Seboe joins three other new principals this year: Cynthia Maldonado at Stowe Elementary School, Elisa Maldonado at Myers-Wilkins Elementary School and Amy Worden at Homecroft Elementary School.
Seboe, 41, spent the past nine years as a counselor, K-8 and high school principal with the Eveleth-Gilbert school district. Last school year, she was named principal of the year by the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals. A graduate of Hermantown High School, she lives in Hermantown with her husband, Lance Seboe, and 12-year-old daughter, Ella. Her 21-year-old son, John Seboe, is enlisted in the U.S. Army Infantry.
The following are excerpts from a News Tribune interview with Seboe.
Q: What do you want students to know about you?
A: I'm here for them. I'm here because I really enjoy high school students. I'm here to make their high school experience more meaningful and productive. I want them to know they really can come to me with everything. If I don't have the answer, we'll find it together.
Q: How will you engage families?
A: There is a very active parent organization here, and I will attend meetings. But there is a whole population of parents that don't have the time or confidence level to do that. I'll meet parents at events, games, concert nights; when they stop in for a schedule change. Being out and about is probably the biggest thing. If I don't ever get out of this office, nobody is going to know who I am.
Q: Why did you want to lead Duluth East?
A: On a personal level, there are many phenomenal things about working in a small school. You get to have your hands in everything. But there are a lot of tough things, and isolating things, about working in a small school. I teach courses for St. Mary's (University of Minnesota) principal's program and master's program. I met quite a few Duluth teachers through that and heard about all these initiatives and the structures in place a school this size has. It was just a lot of envy. ... Bigger schools just seem to have more time and resources to sink into the things that I really wanted to be a principal to accomplish ... working as an administrative team is a new thing for me: an assistant principal, a dean and an athletic director. The things you can accomplish when there are more of you is really intriguing to me.
Q: Any changes you want to make right off the bat?
A: You really need to get in and learn about the school before you come in and say, "I did this before and it worked great." You really need to get to know the people and the systems and the community. Changing one thing affects 15 others, and you need to look ahead before you do any of that.
One of the things we will be pushing to do is really connect through social media more. I did a lot with technology in Eveleth-Gilbert schools, and that's something I will bring with me here. I started Facebook pages that had such great followings. A teacher will call me and say, "Hey, we are dissecting a cat today. Do you want to come up and see?" So I got to be in the classroom observing things. I talk to students, take pictures and post them, so parents and the community can see. High school has changed so much since you or I went to school, or their parents went to school. To give people who don't set foot in a high school on a frequent basis an idea of what it's like ... is such a key thing. It helps build confidence in a school. I know enough already to know there are some really unique and very cool things happening here that nobody knows about.
Q: Is the larger student population intimidating?
A: It was one of the reasons I really struggled leaving the school I was in. In a small town you really know those kids. I've known them since they were little. My biggest concern is that is the most rewarding thing about my job, being able to connect with kids. If you are upset with someone, if you are having a hard time with a teacher, let me help you try and solve the problem before you get sent to me. I had time for that with 309 kids. But there are a lot of people here who can also be that resource.
Q: Will you cheer for East teams or Hermantown's teams?
A: If my child is playing, I am going to have to wear blue and gold; otherwise it's red and gray all the way.