COTTAGE GROVE - For Harold Scott Jr., middle school was a crossroads where you could focus on your studies — easier said than done — or go off the rails.
Scott, of Cottage Grove, has made it his life's work to serve as a lighthouse keeper for subsequent generations of middle school kids.
He reports to work next month as the new principal of Cottage Grove Middle School.
"I think we all have a niche when you work in K-12 education," he said. "My primary motivation for teaching stems from my own personal experience in middle school. That was the time my friends and I veered toward academics and some opted for the opposite direction."
"That always just resonated with me personally," he said. "When I decided to go into education, I said, 'This is where I need to be because this is where I, as a teacher, can help kids take the right road.'"
Born in Milwaukee, Scott moved to Cottage Grove 20 years ago. His daughter attended Cottage Grove Middle School.
He earned a Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning from the University of St. Thomas and a Bachelor of Science in Mass/Speech Communications from St. Cloud State University. He began his career as a middle school social studies teacher in St. Paul Public Schools. During his 12 years there, he volunteered as student council advisor and coached volleyball and basketball. Scott also helped to reduce disciplinary infractions among students by implementing a program called Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports. He also was part of a team that created the Cougar RoaRS motto "We are respectful, responsible and safe," adopted anti-bullying practices and communicated behavior expectations to students, staff and families.
"I loved my time working in St. Paul," he said. "I find that the educators were very committed."
More recently, Scott spent five years in Rochester Public Schools, where he served as assistant principal at John Marshall High School. He also had a unique role as Principal on Special Assignment, where he was on call to assist or consult with principals in 26 other school buildings.
"I think I bring a very unique skill set," he said. "Having been the sounding board for principals, I know what it is to be a building principal."
In 2010, Scott traveled to India as part of the two-week Fulbright International Education Administrators program. His stay was extended a week when the eruption of the volcano Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland grounded his flight and hundreds of others.
"I made the best of it," he said.
Scott is a former board member for Breakthrough Twin Cities, which prepares disadvantaged students for college success. He also is a program consultant for Advancement Via Individual Determination and Gifted Services.
He succeeds Cottage Grove Middle School principal Elise Block, who is retiring after working with the District for 21 years.