OTTUMWA — Some residents say they've seen big improvements at Ottumwa High School. The man credited with leading the way is now being recognized at the state level.
Mark Hanson, principal of Ottumwa High School, is a finalist for Principal of the Year through the School Administrators of Iowa agency.
"We're very excited that he has been named as a finalist for the award," said Carol Mitchell, president of the Ottumwa school board. "I think Mr. Hanson has brought his passion for students, and brought his desire for each and every student to succeed, to Ottumwa High School."
Tracy Harms, a spokesperson for the statewide leadership organization SAI, said of more than 1,800 members, only three finalists are selected for the award.
"Recently, at our advisory meeting, one of the students on [the committee] told us, 'Mr. Hanson always speaks to me, and calls me by name,'" said Mitchell. OHS has over 1,000 students.
Those students, Hanson told the Courier, are part of the reason educators have been seeing improvements. The kids, and the staff, he said.
"As a leader, you look at yourself and say, 'Philosophically, I know what I want to see,'" he said, but stressed that he can't bring that vision to life. The "team" does that after he explains what he's looking for.
School board members have watched as test scores improved, attendance has climbed and the dropout rate has been cut in half. It takes effort, Hanson said.
"We've upped the accountability of our staff," he said. "We have a great administrative team, a strong school improvement leader, to coach [teachers and students], that's been good for us."
And his main goal, he said, was to change the culture at the school. Mitchell said that's one of the big accomplishments for the district. Improving a school's culture isn't just to make people happy. The most recent school of thought from successful administrators in area districts has been that if you don't have the right "culture," you will not see the improvements you are looking for in student achievement.