New WHS leaders prepare for school year

WORTHINGTON -- The 2006-2007 school year will begin at Worthington High School in a few short weeks with two new leaders at the helm. District 518 hired Scott Backer earlier this summer to be the school's new principal. He comes to the district w...

WORTHINGTON -- The 2006-2007 school year will begin at Worthington High School in a few short weeks with two new leaders at the helm.

District 518 hired Scott Backer earlier this summer to be the school's new principal. He comes to the district with 31 years in the education field, working his way up from a science teacher to assistant principal and, for the past six years as a principal. He and his wife, Jennifer, moved to Worthington a year ago when she accepted the assistant principal position at Worthington Middle School.

Backer spent the past year as a principal in the Windom school district and, before that, was principal in the Wabasha-Kellogg school district for five years. The New Ulm native officially began his duties in Worthington on July 5.

A familiar face in the school district -- former high school agriculture instructor Paul Karelis -- was hired July 27 to take on the role of assistant principal. Karelis has taught high school agriculture for 21 years, spending the first five years in Markesan, Wis., before accepting a post in Worthington in 1990.

The two men are eager for the new school year to begin in September and look forward to working with students and parents to make WHS a school of which they can be proud.


Backer brings with him numerous philosophies and beliefs about the educational system. Before implementing some of his ideas in the school, he said he wants to spend ample time observing how things are being done.

"For example, I have a strong belief that schools don't cater to the needs of seniors very well," he said, adding that too many seniors slack off their final year of high school -- developing a case of "senioritis."

"The 12th grade should be a transitional year," Backer said.

That said, he believes there should be rigorous courses for those students headed to college and more vocational courses for those students who plan to enroll in a vo-tech school or enter the workforce after graduation. He'd like to see the course load offer flexibility and freedom for seniors, as well as a higher sense of responsibility.

"We have to offer classes and programs that prepare kids for careers and not just hobbies and keeping them busy," Backer said.

Keeping students in school and keeping them motivated is another task important to Backer, as is passing a school referendum that will allow the district to continue offering students choices and opportunities they may not have in a smaller school.

"I will profess the importance of young people getting a good, quality education and how important that is to a community," he said.

Though Worthington isn't the largest school system Backer has worked in -- he's held posts at schools graduating anywhere from 30 to 600 seniors -- he said this district is the ideal size for him.


"We came to southwest Minnesota basically for my wife's career," Backer said. "However, Worthington was the town I was hoping for. I was looking for a town this size and a school this size to be the last stop in my career.

"Larger schools have more programming, but they're very impersonal," he added. "Smaller schools keep the human element, but they lack diversity in programming."

Having lived in Worthington for a year now with his family -- which includes three sons, 4-year-old Chance, 2-year-old Sam and baby Cal, who was born July 25 -- Backer said he enjoys the community.

"Worthington is very friendly," he said. "I'm really impressed with the small-town atmosphere."

Backer is also impressed with the hiring of Karelis as assistant principal. Karelis was one of three individuals who applied for the position.

"I'm very impressed with his work ethic, his common sense, his ambition and so far, we're philosophically on the same page," he said.

Karelis comes into his new position with 16 years as a teacher within WHS. While teaching agriculture in the district, he completed both his master's degree (from Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall in 2000) and K-12 principal and superintendent's license (from St. Cloud State University in 2003).

"Over the years, I looked at an administrative position because it would give me an opportunity to touch kids in a different way," Karelis said.


Believing that "change is good," Karelis moves into his new role with a set of career goals that, within the next 15 years, he hopes lead him into a principal post and eventually to superintendent.

"I have learned so much already, it's just phenomenal," Karelis said, with papers spread across the desk of his new office. "I think I can change things and try to impact kids in a positive way.

"We need to do everything we can to ensure that kids have the best education possible here in Worthington," he added. "We have a great staff, a great, I believe, administrative team, and we need to continue to open options for a quality education program for all learners within the Worthington (school district)."

Karelis said he wants to open the doors of communication with both parents and students and added that he wants to make the high school a friendly place. He'd also like to create parent groups within the high school and increase the school's reach to the diverse populations of the district.

"A quality education -- that's what it's all about for kids," Karelis said. "We want to build a school spirit that's positive and kids want to come to school every day."

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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