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Roosevelt principal Dols is retiring

Roosevelt Elementary School Principal Patti Dols reads a storybook to a class May 19. Dols, who is retiring, has been making the rounds to read to each classroom at the school before the end of the school year. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- When she became a principal, Patti Dols moved from being a junior high band director to an administrator.

In some ways, the jobs required similar skills.

"It's really a lot like being the band director," she said. "You've got all these different sections, and you have a vision for how it should go, ... and you need to get everybody to work together."

Dols will retire at the end of the school year after 34 years in education. She spent the last 15½ years as principal at Roosevelt Elementary School in Willmar.

By now, she has visited nearly every room in the school with book in hand, her chance to read one last time with each group of children.

Dr. Seuss's "I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!" was her choice when she read with a class of first graders recently. Dols had the students help her by finishing the book's silly rhymes.

"I hope you keep reading and reading and reading all your years at Roosevelt," Dols said when she was done.

Reading to students is just one of many things she will miss when the school year ends in early June, Dols said.

But the decision to retire is "right for me and my family," she said. "It's an opportunity to look at doing some other things."

She has some definite plans. She will continue her work as a facilitator for the state of Minnesota's Principals' Academy. She was recently appointed to serve on the board of the Willmar Public Schools Foundation.

The rest of her retirement plans are open-ended, but she expects to keep busy. "I'm not the kind that sits around."

More time with family is at the top of the list. She and her husband Bob have four children and five grandchildren.

Dols hopes to spend more time nurturing the "music/art side of me." The former music teacher will spend more time supporting the arts and performing. She has been invited to return to Roosevelt to play the piano for student programs.

In her home town of Sauk Rapids, Dols taught elementary music, third grade and junior high band before becoming an elementary principal. She served as a principal in Lac qui Parle Valley and Rochester schools before coming to Roosevelt.

During her time as a principal, Dols was a member of the Bush Foundation Principal's Academy and the Harvard University summer cohort on accountability.

She said she has enjoyed her work as a facilitator for the Principal's Academy, where she's talked with colleagues about their skills, the decisions they make and how they make them.

Over her years in the district, Dols has seen many changes. The number of families living in poverty has risen. The student population is also increasingly diverse.

"We're always welcoming new families," Dols said.

The diversity of Willmar's student population offers advantages to students who "are going to live and work in a global society," she said.

"It is such a gift for the students who are here," she said. "They're learning and growing with people from different cultures, and that's going to be their world. ... I don't think some people understand that's what the future is."

Dols said she has welcomed new initiatives and new technology that can help children improve their classroom performance. She also tries to nurture a strong relationship between staff, parents and the community.

"I've always believed that it is important we find ways for every child to be as successful as can be," she said.

Most recently, the district has adopted the Readers/Writers Workshop method. "I see students who love to read, ... I'm proud of those initiatives," she said. "It takes this whole building to make those things happen."

She enjoys congratulating students on their successes and having staff members stop by to show her how well their students are doing.

"That keeps you going for a while," she said with a smile.

Dols said her love of music probably led her to be a teacher. She wanted to be a music therapist, but learned jobs in the field were scarce. Her love of kids led to a teaching degree.

When she was working on a master's degree in music, a professor asked if she had ever thought about being an administrator. A few classes showed her that she liked it, so she continued down that path.

Roosevelt was a school for grades 5 and 6 when she first arrived in Willmar. It later housed grades 4, 5 and 6 before 2009, when Roosevelt became a K-5 school.

Adding the younger students was a good thing. "They're just so honest and loving and always smiling," she said. "That's a good change."

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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