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The next chapter

Laird transitions to lead principal at FDSH

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Staci Laird, principal at FDSH, stops to chat with a table of students during lunch on Wednesday.

Staci Laird knew she wanted to be a teacher way back when she was in the first grade, but she never planned on going into administration.

Today, however, she is the head principal at Fort Dodge Senior High.

A native of Fort Dodge, Laird has been teaching for 23 years, and 18 of those have been at FDSH in the English Department. Last year, she entered administration as an assistant principal before becoming the school’s head principal this year.

“I think I had reached a point where I had taken advantage of every leadership opportunity that I could as a teacher,” Laird said. “I had been on nearly every building committee, I had served as department chair, I had been on a lot of the teacher leadership aspects and I was ready to take a step to where I could make a change on a wider scale, work from more of a systems view.”

Prior to the beginning of the school year, Laird met with the building’s leadership team to create the school’s goals for this year. Those goals included improving the school’s graduation rate, aligning all the curriculum, working to establish a multi-tiered system of supports and fostering student and staff relationships.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Staci Laird, principal at FDSH, was named the school’s new principal earlier this year. She taught English classes at the high school for 18 years before moving into administration as an assistant principal last year. This is her first year as head principal.

“And our goal is always to improve college and career readiness for our students,” Laird added.

As a building or a school district, they are never done trying to improve graduation rates and success rates for students, she said. Being a teacher for 23 years has given Laird a better perspective on the kinds of lives her students lead and broadened her understanding of the students’ diverse backgrounds, as well as the importance of the responsibility of educating and preparing kids for the future.

“I think being a teacher creates a sense of urgency in that you know that the kids that you’re teaching are going to run the world eventually,” she said. “As an educator, I believe wholeheartedly that education is the key to helping students, regardless of where they come from, have an opportunity to make their own choices. If you don’t get an education, you have pretty limited choices of what you can do.”

Looking back more than two decades, Laird has some advice for the young educator that started in a classroom 23 years ago.

“I would tell myself that the best thing you can do to grow is to get into other people’s classrooms and watch how they teach,” she said. “And I would tell my first-year teaching self that the relationships that you grow with kids are by and far more important than the curriculum you’re teaching them.”

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Staci Laird, principal of FDSH, talks with a group of students during the lunch period on Wednesday. This is Laird’s first year as the senior high’s head principal.

As the school’s head principal, Laird now spends less time with students and more time with staff. While spending time with her students was always her favorite part of teaching, she’s learned to enjoy the added time with her colleagues, seeing them “do the great things they do.”

“I get to be in there constantly watching the wonderful things that are going on in departments other than just the one I taught in,” she said.

In May, when the school year comes to a close, Laird hopes to have accomplished the goals she and the leadership staff set in place in the fall.

“You look at all those goals and what that leads back to at the end of the year, kids will leave here feeling like they are better people than when they came and that they are better prepared to face whatever comes next, whether that’s the next grade level or college or career,” she said. “That’s a successful year — if at the end, the kids walk out of here and they feel like they are better because they were here for nine months.”

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Staci Laird, principal of FDSH, makes her rounds through the cafeteria during the lunch period on Wednesday.