LAKEVIEW — Just a few short years ago, Lakeview Community Schools were in deep trouble.
Academically, the situation had grown so bad that Lakeview High School made the state’s “dishonor roll,” being named as an “at risk” school. Test scores were low, morale was lower.
It was at this point that Lakeview High School Principal Gary Jensen decided enough was enough. No matter what it took, he was determined to see the school rebound.
Three years later, Lakeview High School shines like a crown jewel in Michigan’s educational system. The journey from an at risk school to a “rewards” school has not been an easy one and there have been bumps and detours along the way, but nobody’s saying the trip was wasted.
This change has not gone unnoticed on the state level.
Jensen recently learned he has been named Principal of the Year by the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals. He was nominated for the honor earlier this year by Lakeview Superintendent Kyle Hamlin.
In his nomination letter, Hamlin noted Jensen’s ability to bring out the best in the teachers working under him and to collaborate with those teachers to produce study programs that achieve the desired results.
“Lakeview High School staff meetings are task oriented and focus on school improvement, ensuring participation of all stakeholders,” Hamlin said. “Collaboration is also demonstrated through his work with other districts and willingness to present at multiple conferences and highlighting the practices that have contributed to the quick turnaround at Lakeview High School.”
Hamlin also pointed out the ways in which Jensen has used technology and social media to get parents more involved in their student’s academic life. Jensen makes a practice of sharing current school news and happenings with parents on a near-daily basis.
Though Jensen is quick to credit Hamlin’s glowing nomination for his win, the truth goes deeper than that, he admits. Without the turnaround seen over the past few years, the nomination would never have been made.
“On the back end, it’s really about the changes with our teachers and our kids,” Jensen said. “The kids have gone off the charts, basically, in terms of (test score) numbers. All of a sudden, we’re being recognized as a rewards school; we’re getting all this recognition.”
Jensen points to the fact the high school has, for the second year in a row, brought home a trophy in academics.
“This success is breeding more and more success,” Jensen added. “In relation to athletics, it’s like winning the state title. We’ve accomplished a lot in the past couple years.”
Hamlin lays somewhat more of the credit for the school’s new standing on Jensen. It is because of Jensen’s hard work that the high school has experienced such a dramatic turn for the better, he said.
“(Jensen) has worked collaboratively with his staff over the duration of the last three years to remove the Persistently Lowest Achieving Label that Lakeview High School received in 2010,” Hamlin said. “This was a daunting task that was thrust upon Mr. Jensen, who unexpectedly was placed into the role of principal when our district was required to make a leadership change in the high school. Mr. Jensen’s leadership, team building, vision and focus on building strong relationships with students are largely responsible for the success we currently are seeing at Lakeview High School.”
Winning the state Principal of the Year award brings more than just prestige, however. The title also comes with a trip to Washington, D.C. — Jensen plans to take his wife and, maybe, parents along on the trip — and a ring, similar to those awarded to championship athletes.
Jensen’s not above admitting the ring is “pretty cool.”
“I’m kind of excited to get that ring,” Jensen said. “I’ve never had a championship ring. I told my wife winning Principal of the Year for the state is kind of like being Miss Michigan in the Miss USA Pageant.”
As far as his chances of winning the Principal of the Year at the national level … “my chances,” Jensen joked, “are about 1 in 50.”