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“The Lab School was, without doubt, my favorite job of all,” says James Doud, elementary principal of the Laboratory School from 1970 to 1986 and Acting Director of the whole school from 1986 to 1987.  “I felt more collaboration with the teachers and students than anywhere else I worked.”


Doud has been called “an exemplary representative for all elementary and middle school principals.”  

His twenty-four career at the University of Northern reveals, perhaps, the culmination and finest flowering of the Lab School’s long tradition of national leadership in education.  


Doud was born in his parents’ home in Whitten, Iowa on December 1, 1939.   A town of just under 100 population, Whitten was, according to Doud, “quite typical of small communities in rural Iowa even today.”  His family moved to Marshalltown when he was two-years-old, where he remained through his sophomore year at Marshalltown High School.


In 1955, the family moved to Belle Plaine, Iowa, and young Doud graduated from Belle Plaine High School in 1957.  He enrolled in Coe College that fall, but transferred to Drake University in January 1958. He completed his bachelor’s degree in just three years and two summers, he explains, so that he could marry his high school sweetheart, Janet Formanek of Belle Plaine, in June 1960.


In August 1960, the newly wed (and degreed) Doud began teaching fifth grade language arts and social studies at Lincoln Elementary School in Eagle Grove, Iowa.  In 1961, Eagle Grove finished building a new junior high school to relieve the overcrowding at Lincoln Elementary. The junior high opened in the fall of 1961, with one wing devoted to fifth and sixth graders.  Just 21 years old “and without a master’s degree or the required teaching experience to be certified as a principal,” Doud recalls, he was appointed as a Teaching/Building Administrator for the elementary wing and served in that capacity for three years.


Doud made haste to add graduate study to his growing teaching experience, and in the summer of 1964 he received his Master’s Degree in Elementary School Administration from Drake University.  He made his master’s thesis of practical use. Focusing on field trips, it is titled “Community Resources Available to the Elementary Schools of Eagle Grove Community School District.”


By 1964, two children had joined the Doud family: Jennifer and an infant son named Justin.  During that year, Jennifer developed nephrosis, a serious kidney ailment, and the Douds decided they needed to move to a larger community where they would have a local hospital and pediatric specialists to meet Jennifer’s needs.  The Cedar Rapids Community School District must have seen in the young Doud what Eagle Grove had seen in 1961, for when Doud was just twenty-five, the District hired him to be Principal of Van Buren Elementary School—the youngest principal ever hired in the Cedar Rapids District.  


The Laboratory School Beckons


Doud immediately began work on a Doctoral Degree in Elementary School Curriculum at the University of Iowa.  It was there that he first heard of Malcolm Price Laboratory School. A fellow student, Charles Sloan, had previously been the Lab School’s Elementary Principal.  Sloan was about to earn his degree, and he planned to move on to a teaching position at Northern Illinois University. He urged Doud to apply for the vacant MPLS elementary principal position.  “He shared stories about working with the MPLS leadership team (Ross A. Nielsen, James Albrecht, and Jerry Duea),” Doud recalls. “He spoke of the quality of the teaching faculty and of the students attending the school.  I already had a very desirable principalship in Cedar Rapids, one of the most highly respected school districts in Iowa, and I had just been appointed to serve as Principal and to open the new Nixon Elementary School there.  But I was intrigued by the opportunity to learn more about leadership and teaching in higher education.”


Doud became the MPLS Elementary Principal, and a UNI Assistant Professor, in the fall of 1970.

“I walked into the Lab School and there were teachers who interacted with students in more ways than any other place I had been,” Doud recalls.  “There were teachers willing to try things.”


Doud calls Dr. Ross Nielsen, the Laboratory School Director and Head of the Department of Teaching from 1962 to 1986, “the best mentor I could ever have had”:  “I learned patience from Ross—that you just lay something out—and let it be there. He would keep trying. The nineteenth time would work if the eighteenth didn’t.”   Doud says that Ross Nielsen spoke from the heart every time he spoke of the school: “I never had met anyone like Ross. He was a gentleman. He listened. He was like a father to me.  When he died [of a heart attack], he was on his way to see me.”


John Tarr, Lab School mathematics professor, says this of those years:  “The Price Laboratory School administrative team — Ross Nielsen, James Albrecht, Jerry Duea, James Doud — was remarkable. The teaching faculty they recruited implemented many creative and innovative programs. The administrators paved the way, sometimes simply getting out of the way of teachers with great ideas. Through encouragement, nurturing and support, the administrators made Price Laboratory School a model for the state and nation in exemplary education. James Doud can rightly bask pride of those accomplishments.”


“Jim Doud was like a big teddy bear,” recalls Joan Duea, a lower elementary teacher at the Lab School at that time.  “He was very even tempered and he was extremely alert to environmental surroundings. He would compliment teachers on their classroom environments, especially when they reflected the achievements of their students.”


When most people think of school principals, they picture a severe figure prowling the halls, peeking into classrooms, and disciplining students who act up—or out.  Doud, in contrast, enjoyed having students sent to his office to celebrate accomplishments, Joan Duea explains: “This positive time with students also established him as someone who cared.”


According to MPLS teacher Dr. Judy Finkelstein, Doud was very helpful to her and Delsie Foreman in developing the new multi-age nursery school/kindergarten program they had launched in the fall of 1969.   Doud and Finkelsein co-authored an article for the journal Principal titled “The Two-Year Kindergarten that Works,” as well as several joint columns on early childhood education.  “It was my pleasure and privilege to have two such knowledgeable and dedicated early childhood teachers as Judy and Delsie were, and to have had experiences with early childhood coursework that reinforced the direction that they wanted the N/K program to take,” Doud states.  “Judy and I shared a presentation about our program at the annual convention of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.”


Finkelstein notes that Doud started the practice of “permanent substitute teachers” for the elementary faculty, not only to achieve greater student comfort and learning continuity during faculty illness or other absence, but also to enable the elementary teachers to share their work with other teachers across the nation and state.   


In his first years as Lab School Elementary Principal Doud also convinced the two first grade teachers to take down the wall between their classrooms.  “That was one of the most exciting changes for me,” Doud recalls, “as well as the transition to the open classrooms and team teaching of Unit 2 [the second and third grades].”


Doud notes the strong support of the UNI Presidents during his years as Elementary Principal: John Kamerick (1970-1983) and Constantine Curris (1983-1995), both of whom sent their children to the Laboratory School.  “President Kamerick ordered a fire escape for the first grade annex when his daughter was in the first grade,” Doud recalls with a smile. “President Curris was very supportive of the Lab School. He had trees and tulips planted at the school.  He supported everything I needed. President Curris often said, ‘I would rather go into an age of reform with a Lab School than without it’.”


Doud met with a reform of great importance in his first year as Lab School Elementary Principal.   In 1968, the University and the Laboratory School initiated a major effort to provide leadership in desegregating schools throughout Iowa.  This program, called the Waterloo Project, was begun by Ross Nielsen in collaboration with the Waterloo Community Schools. An agreement was reached between the University and the Waterloo school system that allowed minority students from a defined area in East Waterloo to attend the Laboratory School.  At the elementary school level, the project guaranteed 4 minority students per classroom.


Walter Cunningham, an administrator in the Waterloo School District, coordinated the selection of the minority students admitted to the program.  “We had the parents involved from the very beginning,” Doud recalls. “It was not unusual for Lab School administrators and teachers to meet with parents from Waterloo in their homes or churches to share information and keep the communication lines open.  The parents were willing to assist with whatever it took because they felt their children would receive an enhanced education. The kids were successful because they got a lot of support from their teachers and strong support from their parents.” The University knew, too, that it was enriching the preparation of the teaching majors who were able to participate and student teach at the Laboratory School.


“As the number of minority students progressed from elementary to secondary school,” Doud explains, “it became necessary for the Lab School to purchase an activity bus to enable students to remain after school to participate in school activity programs or to receive assistance that helped to ensure their academic success.”


Doud calls the Laboratory School’s elementary guidance program, led by Edward Redalen, the best in the state.  It helped diffuse any conflicts that arose. Elementary teachers used Redalen’s “magic circle.” If misunderstandings arose, teachers or students could call for the magic circle, modeled on Native American practice, where everyone would sit calmly in a circle, pass the peace stick, and discuss the interaction.  


Leadership Rise


During his years as a Cedar Rapids principal in the late 1960s, Doud was encouraged to become active in leadership in the Iowa and the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP).   At the Laboratory School, he soon found himself involved in governance and leadership roles in both organizations—and more. In 1974, Doud was appointed to the Elementary Liaison Committee of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.  Covering 19 states, the NCA is the largest voluntary accrediting agency of education in the United States. By 1974, the NCA had embraced the need to accredit elementary schools as well as the secondary schools. The NCA Commission on Schools soon appointed Doud to its Advisory Board—the first elementary school representative to serve—to assure that the established standards for accreditation were appropriate for elementary schools.


Northern University High School had long assumed a leadership role in the North Central Association: it had received its NCA accreditation in 1913.  Now the Malcolm Price Elementary School would come on board. Doud worked with Ross Nielsen and Lab School High School Principal James Albrecht to gain approval from the Dean of the UNI College of Education to seek NCA accreditation for the Elementary School.   The elementary faculty completed a self-study of the school’s program and prepared for an on-site visit by an NCA accreditation evaluating team. In 1975, the Laboratory School was one of only 3 Iowa elementary schools fully accredited in the first year of NCA accreditation, and one of only 53 elementary schools fully accredited in the whole 19-state NCA region.


This success led to further leadership roles.  Doud was elected to serve on the Board of Directors of the Commission on Schools and on the NCA’s overall Board of Directors.  As principal of an accredited elementary school, he chaired a number of NCA teams visiting Iowa elementary schools seeking accreditation.  He was also asked to be a member of two United States Department of Defense Dependent School Evaluation Teams. One team visited Dependent Schools in Japan; the other, schools in  Germany, Italy, and the Azore Islands. Doud’s 1976 University of Iowa doctoral dissertation both assessed and shared his work. It was titled “Perceptions of Elementary School Teachers and Principals regarding the Elementary School Accrediting Process of the North Central Association Commission on Schools.”


Doud continued to report his work in a 1980 article titled “Trends in NCA Schools” for the North Central Association Quarterly.  In 1982, the Quarterly published Doud’s “NSSE [National Study of School Evaluation] Elementary School Evaluation Criteria: A Guide to School Improvement through Evaluation.”  


In 1980, Doud was also elected to a three-year term as Director of Region 6 (representing Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin) on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP).  In 1982, he became chair of the North Central Association Commission on Schools. He served as President of the Iowa Association of Elementary School Principals in 1984 and was then selected by the national NAESP nominating committee to run for President of the national Association, another three-year commitment.  NAESP Executive Director Samuel G. Sava said: “NAESP is very fortunate to have such an experienced educator and leader as James Doud. He is an exemplary representative for all elementary and middle school principals, the group recognized as the most crucial element in determining the quality of our nation’s schools.  Ensuring the strong leadership of principals is especially important to NAESP now as schools are challenged at an unprecedented degree to improve.”


During this time, Doud and his Lab School colleagues were making at least one presentation at each of the annual meetings of the National Association of Elementary Schools.


“The decade of the ‘80s saw much turmoil in American education,” Doud recalls.  In 1985, he co-authored an article for the journal Principal on “Setting Standards for Quality Elementary Schools.”  In 1989, Doud’s book The K-8 Principal in 1988: A Ten-Year Study, was the sixth such ten-year study commissioned by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.  (A decade later, Doud and Edward P. Keller published the seventh ten-year study, The K-8 Principal in 1998.)  


Ross Nielsen retired in 1986 as Director of the Laboratory School and Head of the Department of Teaching and Doud was asked to take his place in both roles, making him Acting Director of the whole Laboratory School.   After one year, he faced a professional crossroads. A full Professor now, he could seek to make his current roles permanent or to move from the Department of Teaching to the UNI Department of Educational Administration and Counseling which was creating a new Iowa Principal’s Academy.  “Coming on the heels of my work with principal development at NAESP,” Doud explains, “the opportunity to focus my energies and efforts on teaching leadership and administration courses at UNI and initiating the Iowa Principals’ Academy was too tempting to turn down—although it caused my departure from my beloved Price Laboratory School.”  As it transpired, Doud used the Lab School as the model for the Iowa Principals’ Academy.


Thus he stayed in touch with MPLS.   In 1991, Doud worked with the Lab School elementary faculty to restructure the PK-6 program.  This involved multi-aged grouping, cooperative learning, team teaching and other ways to meet student needs.  In 1994, his book Elementary School Improvement: Focusing on Desired Learner Outcomes appeared, followed in 1995 by his article “Planning for School Improvement: A Curriculum Model for School-Based Evaluation.”


In 1994, the University of Florida hired Doud away to serve as Chair of its Department of Educational Leadership, a position he maintained for twenty-two years, until his retirement in 2016.  In that role, he continued to shape another generation of elementary and middle school principals; indeed, to foster leaders in education of all kinds. During those years, he served as advisor for 29 doctoral dissertations and on teams assisting Florida community school districts develop their strategic plans.


“Principals are busier than they ever have been, with more responsibilities,” Doud wrote in 1998,

“including outside activities like marketing their schools, fund-raising, involvement with social-service agencies in meeting the needs of students, and working with site-based councils within their schools.”  At the same time, principals worry about understanding and applying technology throughout their schools and about the many accountability measures.


“Today’s principals must accept greater responsibility for encouraging and developing their replacements,” Doud insists.  “School districts need to develop systems that foster the leadership development of talented teachers. School districts, state principals’ associations, and universities involved in the preparation of school administrators need to work collaboratively to develop programs that will attract good candidates and provide them with both quality course-work and practical experience.”


Looking back at his 17 years at the Lab School, Doud states:  “We had everything that could show what a school could be: self-contained classrooms, open-space classrooms and team-teaching, multi-age nursery school and kindergarten, and cooperative learning.  We had teachers who could talk about all these models. Principals need to stimulate teachers to start things and then get out of their way.”

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