Okoboji High School names Downing new principal

Thursday, July 8, 2010
Mr. Brian Downing

Brian Downing will have to change his colors at Dickinson County sporting events -- the 1996 Spirit Lake graduate was recently named the new high school principal at Okoboji, where they wear a different shade of red.

He succeeds Mike Schmitz, who retired after six years in Milford. Downing said he became aware of the opening through Okoboji Superintendent Bob Miller and middle school principal Ryan Cunningham. The administrators have a mutual interest in education technology, he said.

Downing spent the last four years as principal in the Lisbon School District, just east of Cedar Rapids. His wife, the former Annie Plantz, also graduated from Spirit Lake. The new job brings the couple and daughters Grace, 5, Lydia, 3, and Ella, 1, closer to family.

"We just decided to look into the opportunity," he said. "We knew it would take quite a special place and a special school to pull us from Lisbon because we really enjoyed it there. But when I came and interviewed, I really enjoyed all of the people I met. I think Okoboji has outstanding facilities and a stellar staff, and a great size -- I'm a small-school guy and I think Okoboji is small enough to know everybody but large enough to give world-class opportunities to all of our students. It was definitely the kind of district that I'd want my kids to go to. I think that's what made it feel like a good fit."

Downing went on from Spirit Lake to Iowa State University with plans to be a secondary social studies teacher. His first teaching job was at South Tama High School in 2001. He married Annie in 2002.

An administrative degree from the University of Northern Iowa followed and led to the principal position in the Lisbon School District. He spent the last four years there, first as 9-12 principal. In his final two years, Downing was principal for grades 7-12.

The new principal already has a blog at the school website. In many ways, the public education system -- worldwide and nationally -- is still preparing students in much the same way it did 100 years ago, he said. He hopes technology can make learning more individualized.

"The number one job I have is to support the teachers and the students," he said. "The teacher-student interaction in those classrooms, in those courses, is where the magic happens. My job is to support that, to facilitate that, to guide and be a visionary for ways to better prepare our students for the world they're going to inherit."

Downing began July 1 and he says he has spent the first few days finding his footing and introducing himself. He wants to meet with as many teachers, students and community leaders as possible before the school year begins.

The number of visits to his blog are going up, but he plans to introduce himself the old-fashioned way as well: Downing plans on taking tickets at Thursday night's home softball game.

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