DUS welcomes new high school principal, middle school assistant principal

Published 12:18 pm Tuesday, August 10, 2021

DOWAGIAC — The Dowagiac Union Schools Board of Education welcomed new leadership to the district on Monday.

The board unanimously approved the hires of Stephanie Mitchell to be the new principal for Dowagiac Union High School and Kristen Pratley to be the new assistant principal for Dowagiac Middle School during Monday’s meeting at Dowagiac Middle School.

Mitchell replaces Kelly Millin, who in June was named the new superintendent for Hartford Public Schools. Pratley replaces Nichole Hulett, who is now directing the district’s Pathfinders Alternative Education program.

“We’re very excited,” said Superintendent Jonathan Whan. “I think we hired two quality people. I love their energy and knowledge. Their backgrounds are unique and diverse. We’re excited to add them to the team.”

The new role is a homecoming of sorts for Mitchell, who grew up spending every summer in Sister Lakes with her family. While vacationing in the Sister Lakes, she developed lifelong friendships she has maintained to this day. She enjoys and respects the local Pokagon culture and looks forward to attending the Labor Day Pow Wow each year with her family.

“Most of my Sister Lakes friends attended Dowagiac Union High School,” she said. “They’re excited that I will be serving this community as the new principal of their alma mater.”

A Chicagoland native, Mitchell graduated from Sullivan High School in Chicago before receiving her bachelor’s degree from North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, where she graduated with honors and a double major in education and art. She obtained her master’s degree in Educational Administration and Supervision from the University of Illinois in Champaign, Illinois and received her Ed. S in administration and School Improvement from National Louis University in Wheeling, Illinois.

Mitchell brings more than 20 years of administrative experience and five years of middle school

teaching experience to her new role as DUHS principal. Having spent most of her teaching career in the inner city of Chicago and its neighboring suburbs teaching art and language arts, Mitchell has been able to build relationships and rapport with people from all backgrounds and ethnicities.

“My philosophy of education encompasses the idea that every child is unique and every child has the capacity to learn and grow,” Mitchell said. “Building relationships with students and their families is key to successful student performance and academic growth. I believe it is our role as educators to find what motivates each individual and provide guidance, encouragement and understanding as we help them reach their full potential. We must be champions for every student, every single day.”

Mitchell retired from teaching and made the formal move to Sister Lakes, in order to keep the family’s lake house for her family. But that did not mean she was ready to stop serving in an educational leadership capacity.

“I was extremely surprised when the vacancy in Dowagiac opened up,” she said. “You can imagine how extremely fortunate I feel to have been chosen to serve the students in the Dowagiac community. I am honored and so entirely grateful for this opportunity.”

Pratley comes to DMS after spending time in the Holland Public Schools district as a middle school instructional coach. A native of metro Detroit, she graduated from Adrian College with Bachelor’s degrees in English and biology and received her master’s in education leadership and administration from the University of Phoenix.

“We’re really excited to have her here,” said DMS principal Dr. Sean Wightman. “She brings a lot of education experience and has a coaching background. She has a lot of positive qualities that she brings to the table and we’re excited and blessed to have her be a part of her team. We had a very strong pool of candidates and she was the best.”

For Pratley, the middle school’s size made the position a perfect fit.

“My favorite job as a middle school teacher was in a school this size,” Pratley said. “Middle school is where my heart is. You have to love middle schoolers if you want to work in this world.

The district’s diversity was a key factor that compelled Pratley to apply for the position.

“Coming from Holland Public, my own family has benefited from a richly diverse community,” Pratley said. “We are better people for having that experience and our kids having that experience. I’m excited to be a part of that here.”

Pratley looks forward to getting to know the students and the community.

“As an instructional coach, you work with teachers,” Pratley said. That’s important, but I miss the kids. This is going to allow me to be back with kids on a regular basis and I’m excited about that.”