OWATONNA — The Owatonna school district has moved quickly to name a new principal for Owatonna High School, tabbing Kory Kath for the position.
“We wanted to get information to staff and students” before summer break, and “we were able to expedite (the hiring) process because we had a good pool of candidates apply right away,” said Jeff Elstad, Owatonna’s superintendent. Though the “administrative pool is not as deep as it used to be,” because “not as many people are going into administration,” Owatonna “is a desirable district to work in,” which no doubt contributed to the high level of interest in this position.
Kath has been in the Mankato school district the past seven years, most recently as principal of Eagle Lake Elementary. He also served as assistant principal at Mankato East High School.
Kath’s first objective in his new role will be to “develop trusting relationships” with students and staff, Kath said. “Once I know their priorities, we can continuously improve” those programs.
For example, Career Pathways is a commitment of the high school — and, really, the district — so “that is definitely something we want to focus on,” Kath said. “I’m excited to get going on that.”
With Career Pathways, freshmen would concentrate on developing a plan for an area of study for grades 10-12, as well as career awareness and exploration, social/personal growth, and academic readiness. As sophomores, they’d select one of three areas of study: engineering, manufacturing, and agriscience; business, communications, and information technology; or health sciences and human services.
Students would continue to take required core classes during their high school tenures, and “global studies” — like world languages, music, and the arts — would be open to all students. OHS is patterning this system after the Career Pathways utilized to grand effect in high schools like Alexandria’s, which OHS staff members have toured multiple times.
As seniors, students would complete a capstone experience in their pathway. Capstone possibilities will include an internship, mentorship, capstone course, and iStudy project.
Before working in the Mankato Public School District, Kath was a social studies teacher at Owatonna High School for a dozen years, and he was the state representative for House District 26A, covering the communities of Owatonna and Waseca, for four years. Kath will officially start his new duties July 1, taking over for Mark Randall, who announced his resignation last month.
“My wife and I are lifelong residents of the community of Owatonna, and we’re always looking for ways to make the community better,” Kath said. “There’s no better way” of accomplishing that goal than as principal of the local high school.
Kath has “vast experience” in education as a high school teacher, assistant principal in “a large high school,” and “overall district perspective,” Elstad said. Most importantly, “he’s a strong advocate for equity.”
According to his references, Kath has established inclusive cultures in his buildings, Elstad said. “That is critical for our work moving forward, because schools only get more diverse, and we are here to serve all.”
When he joined Mankato Area Public Schools, access and equity were already at the forefront of that district’s list of goals, so, naturally, “from day one, I tried to focus on that,” Kath said. “It truly is a daily focus in our schools,” because “all means all,” and increasing “student voice so they all feel empowered” is an admirable — and necessary — mission.
Between his years as a student and teacher, Kath has spent more than a third of his life in the hallways of OHS, so he knows “the tradition of excellence” there, and he’s eager to “set up even more great opportunities for kids,” he said. “I know I can (lead) quality instructional programs” and “create processes to support students.”
Kath certainly “understands our community,” and his roles outside the field of education will also benefit him as a high school principal, Elstad said. Serving in the statehouse, for example, means he knows the value of “business partnerships,” which OHS is prioritizing through initiatives like Career Pathways.
Kath spent four years in the Legislature as a member of the DFL, and he was vice chair of the House K-12 Education Policy and Oversight Committee. An alumnus of Gustavus Adolphus College, Kath also earned an M.S. in Educational Leadership from Southwest Minnesota State University.
His time in politics gave Kath insight with “systems and processes,” he said. “I understand policy, research, and how we fund the work we do.”
Kath looks forward to hearing from anyone about the high school’s needs, areas for improvement, or “the things that make us proud so I can continue them,” he said. “My door is always open.”