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Waubun principal: Cary to focus on academic achievement

Michael Cary a Wadena native, will now help guide the Waubun district.

In three years, Michael Cary hopes to see the changes at Waubun Secondary School noticed by the students themselves.

"A lot of kids would probably already tell you that Waubun School is a good place to be," he said. "I'm hoping three years from now they'll tell you it's a great place to be."

Cary was hired by the school board last week as the newest member of the federal overhaul process under the three-year School Improvement Grant. The new principal has already been working with a committee responsible for writing the grant that's due July 1.

A Wadena native and Detroit Lakes resident for the past two years, Cary is finishing up a position at Minnesota State Community and Technical College as the director for the Center for College Readiness.

Cary's current job and new job as Waubun principal have a few things in common, but most importantly, they're both leading new initiatives.

As the director for the Center for College Readiness, he came on to lead a grant-funded program that works in part with area high schools on curriculums and assessments.

Cary is now transitioning from his current job at M State to his new position at Waubun School. But before he leaves M State, he's completing a proposal to get fourth year funding for the Center for College Readiness -- a program that started out with two years of funding.

At risk students

As a college student, Mike Cary was working toward a career in medicine with an undergraduate degree in biology. But during his last year of college, when he volunteered to help struggling students improve their science skills, he knew he wanted to pursue a career in education.

So he continued his masters in education at Minnesota State University, Mankato, then became a high school science teacher in Duluth.

Cary said he might have stood out to the school board because of his background working with at risk students.

"I had experience with lots of students who came from background where poverty was an issue," he said. "I'm guessing that probably helped considering the issues that the school has had with test scores."

To improve test scores, Cary said he will help teachers understand where the students are at academically and analyze their needs.

The students too should have a clear picture of where they stand and where they need to be.

"It happens fairly often that we all assume that kids understand where they're at academically, but they honestly don't know and sometimes don't ask," he said.

Cary anticipates the students' motivation to get better and take assessment tests seriously will come from within.

"Before recently, they didn't end up in newspaper stories and in articles because of their poor performance," he said. "There is a part of me that hopes that kids will see that and will have a certain sense of pride and will decide, 'hey, maybe this is a little more serious than what I thought' and will do their best."

SIG challenges

The difference between writing the SIG grant and other grants is the timeline -- which is also the most challenging part, not only for the school board, but for Cary, who came on board two weeks before the grant's deadline.

Grant seekers should be confident in what they're proposing and somehow prove those concepts will be implemented, Cary said. Changes can't just be made in the middle of the year without considering all aspects.

"Schools are complex places with lots of moving parts that all work interchangeably," Cary said. "If you shift one thing, it causes a ripple effect that requires you to consider all kinds of other variables when you're making that change."

For example, to add 60 minutes of instruction each day -- as the grant requires -- the administration must consider contractual agreements, busing schedules, or additional staffing.

"These things are never as easily done as said," Cary said.

Data analysis

Cary's science background will help him fulfill his duties as the new principal who's responsible for more extensive data analysis.

Superintendent Mitch Anderson said the SIG approach to hiring a new principal focused more on hiring an instructional leader who's able to work with staff and student data as opposed to someone who will focus on disciplining kids.

"I think he comes with a real strong vision," Anderson said of Cary, one of seven candidates interviewed for the job. "He struck us in the interview as someone who has a goal, has a vision, where he wants to get to, but yet, he also has the steps to get there."

Cary is currently finishing up his doctoral thesis with the University of Minnesota. He's looking forward to getting back into the K-12 system and working with Waubun students.

"I'm excited to be able to be in a school in an area near where I grew up," he said. "I'm excited about the opportunity we have to be able to hopefully change things for the better for kids."

Cary lives in Detroit Lakes with his wife, Lisa, and 2-year-old son Devin.

In school board action Thursday:

A federal overhaul opportunity to receive $1 million gives Waubun-Ogema-White Earth Schools the chance to get rid of the "lowest performing school" label it has received from state and federal education officials.

The Waubun-Ogema-White Earth School Board passed a School Improvement Grant proposal Thursday, that if approved, will bring a few changes to the high school beginning this fall.

The school board approved a change in the current school schedule to an eight period modified block, adding more instruction time per day.

Instead of starting school at 8:20 a.m. and ending at 3:08 p.m., the new schedule starts at 8:10 and ends at 3:20 p.m.

See the full story in the Wednesday Tribune.