With the first day of school just around the corner, Dr. Michael Thomas, Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools’ new superintendent, has been busier than ever meeting with community leaders, faculty, families and students.
Thomas, a Minnesota native from St. Paul, is married to a fellow career educator and has two daughters. He has 25 years of experience in public education and previously led Colorado Springs School District 11. Thomas has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Minnesota and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of St. Thomas.
“It feels really good to come home. It also feels pretty good to come to a community that I have a strong personal connection to, with my niece and nephew being graduates of Prior Lake schools and also having family in the area,” Thomas said.
Meeting and greetingThis summer, Thomas has been busy making the rounds meeting with business and service leaders in the region, including Spring Lake Township and the city of Credit River, introducing himself and getting a feel of his new community.
“I’ve spent my summer going to a variety of our school sites that were hosting summer learning opportunities for our students,” Thomas said. “I have also been actively engaged in meeting with all the building principals throughout the summer, understanding their leadership vision for their respective schools. It’s been a very busy summer with a lot of meeting and greeting.”
Thomas also said he’s been meeting with newly hired teachers. According to district officials, over 35 new teachers were hired for the 2022-23 school year.
“We kicked off our new teacher orientation, and I can tell you there’s a lot of excitement throughout the district to embrace new beginnings,” Thomas said. “They’re really excited to come back into our schools with a lot of the challenges of the past behind us. We’re really looking optimistic towards the future and how we can best serve and support our students and families.”
Building bridgesThomas, officially the superintendent since July 1, said he hopes to accomplish many things, one of them being inclusion.
“First and foremost, I want to ensure that Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools is the premier district of choice in the region,” Thomas said. “Strong schools equals strong communities, and my philosophy is to embrace the community as partners to ensure we are bringing all the resources possible to make sure that our students can fulfill their highest potential.”
Thomas, who served as an equity/integration coordinator for Fair Oaks Elementary School in Osseo, said one of his goals is to make every student feel safe and accepted.
According to an article from the The Gazette in Colorado Springs, Thomas, who stepped down as superintendent of Colorado Springs District 11, left the district amid controversy over an equity program and department that he instituted in 2020. The grant-funded department, which was the topic of heated discussion and debate at multiple school board meetings, was allowed to “sunset” shortly after Thomas’ departure. Thomas’ background in equity and integration is what partly attracted PLSAS board members.
During the past year, PLSAS has experienced several racist incidents that surfaced at the high school in the span of just a few months. Those incidents prompted student walkouts and discussions, within the school district and in the broader community, on combatting racism.
“I have a laser focus on bringing us back to center and bringing us back to our core function, which is high-quality academic opportunities for our students,” Thomas said. “We’ve had our share of challenges just like any other district across the country and we’re more than willing to embrace those challenges with collaborative solutions. I’m a bridge builder; it’s just who I am as a person and professionally. I know we have a lot of division right now throughout this country and it doesn’t serve our students well if we do anything to add to that division.”
Thomas went on to say that he and staff look forward to moving towards a better future by becoming more transparent than ever.
“I want to increase the level of transparency in this district — specifically as it pertains to our business services. I think we have a great opportunity as leaders in public education to ensure that we are stewards of public tax dollars,” Thomas said. “I also want to make certain that when we make a declaration about service for all students — all means all — and I think you will see that we will have a much more robust approach in terms of how we approach data in ways that helps us understand where our students are thriving and where we have opportunities to invest more.”