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Audubon principal earns state honor

Lake Park-Audubon Elementary School principal Sam Skaaland was recently honored by the Minnesota Elementary School Principals Association (MESPA) with its 2013 Leadership Achievement Award. Skaaland has been the principal at LP-A Elementary for seven years; before that, he was a teacher in the district for more than 30 years. Submitted Photo

AUDUBON — Though he’s in his seventh year as principal at Lake Park-Audubon Elementary School, Perham native Sam Skaaland has been a part of the district for a lot longer than that.

“This is my 38th year here,” says Skaaland, adding that he spent a year teaching in Australia before starting his career in Audubon, where he spent the majority of his time as a sixth grade instructor.

Though he doesn’t get to spend much time in the classroom these days, Skaaland’s passion for teaching kids remains intact —which is part of the reason why he was selected as the 2013 recipient of a Leadership Achievement Award from the Minnesota Elementary Principals’ Association (MESPA).

Skaaland was one of 12 chosen to receive the award, with one winner selected for each of MESPA’s 12 divisions across the state.

“We are in the western division,” Skaaland said, a division that stretches from Moorhead to Detroit Lakes to Staples-Motley, and from Alexandria to Fergus Falls to Morris.

“It’s certainly gratifying,” Skaaland said.

“It has to make you feel good that people respect you enough to give you an award.”

But at the same time, he added, “It can be humbling, too.”

Skaaland is quick to point out that he feels the award honors not just him, but the students and staff of the school as a whole.

“I think a lot of it is about our school and the accomplishments of our staff and students,” he said.

In 2008, LP-A Elementary went through a self-examination process that led to it being recognized as a School of Excellence by the Minnesota Department of Education.

“Many surveys were handed out to teachers and community members, who were asked to rate the school in several areas,” he said — but even after achieving the recognition, the school has continued its evaluation process “to keep the school at an excellent level,” Skaaland added.

The school was also the recipient of a Minnesota Academic Excellence Award a couple of years ago, which honors schools that have shown significant improvement in academic achievement.

And of course, the school also underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation project just about a year and a half ago, following a successful school building bond referendum that was the culmination of many years of effort. (A new high school was also built in Lake Park as a result of that referendum.)

“That’s a great memory,” Skaaland said.

“When the building bond issue went through, we felt the support from this community and parents — everybody working together and wanting what’s best for our kids. And it seems like that atmosphere is continuing.

“I’m seeing more of a passion and enthusiasm than ever from our parents.”

And it doesn’t end there.  “We have a great staff here — they’re fun to work with, and cooperative,” Skaaland said. “I think we all have the same goal… to do what’s best for our kids.  “That’s the atmosphere in our school — we’re going to do whatever it takes to achieve that goal.”

A passion for education

Skaaland comes by his love for educating kids naturally; his parents were both teachers, and his father was actually the high school principal at Perham when he attended classes there.

In addition, his grandfather was a school superintendent, and his siblings have also followed in their parents’ educational footsteps.

But at the same time, Skaaland added, it wasn’t entirely his parents’ influence that set him upon an educational career path — it was a true calling.

“There is great satisfaction for anyone in this profession who has made a positive difference in the lives of children,” Skaaland said. “That is an important thing.”

He said his favorite thing about being an elementary principal is “the people — the staff here, and our kids.”

He tries to make regular visits to the various teachers’ classrooms, which he feels is an important aspect of a principal’s duties.

“Getting into the classroom and observing the things that are going on in there is important,” he said.

“I also work very closely with the teachers in setting school rules, curriculum development, and discipline is an important part of the job too.”

In short, Skaaland said, “It’s about creating an atmosphere that’s conducive to learning — one where the kids and staff can feel safe.”

Skaaland makes his home in Detroit Lakes, where his wife teaches at Roosevelt Elementary School.

Their four children are now grown and embarking upon successful careers of their own.

Oldest son Ben is working as an engineer in Fergus Falls; Dan is a teacher in Pequot Lakes, and Joe moved east to the Boston area, where he works in construction supplies.

Their youngest daughter Rachel will graduate from Bethany College this spring, and shortly thereafter, will be getting married in June.

Skaaland, who officially received his honorary plaque just this past month at an MESPA banquet in the Twin Cities, said he “would like to thank everybody who contributed to this award,” from his fellow administrators past and present, to staff members and parents and students of the district.

“This should be considered an honor for all of us,” he said.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

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