August 17, 2022 at 5:54 p.m.
Peschel returns to SCPS as new superintendent
Donald Peschel has spent much of his life at Sauk Centre Public Schools as a student, an athlete and a staff member. Now, he is returning to his hometown school as its superintendent, bringing with him prior executive experience which includes overseeing building projects similar to the one currently ongoing at SCPS.
“This is home, it’s where my roots were, it’s where I grew up, and this opportunity does not come along very often,” Peschel said.
Peschel graduated Sauk Centre High School in 1985, playing sports and participating in other activities during his academic career. After teaching for a year in Browerville, he returned to SCPS for the 1991-92 school year; he taught sixth grade for 16 years and fourth grade for seven years. Peschel was also the boys basketball coach for 16 years as well as an assistant girls basketball coach, and he helped coach some football.
“I think coaching was so rewarding, simply because of the fact that I got to coach with some of the people who coached me in high school,” Peschel said. “You really get invested in families, and I built great relationships with those people and had some really good success. It was a lot of fun working with those kids.”
Peschel’s administrative experience at SCPS included four years as the dean of students and as the community education director.
“As dean of students, it was a different role from the perspective of getting to know kids on a different level, with discipline and following through with school policy,” Peschel said. “Again, a big part of that was building relationships with those kids, providing guidance and mentoring them through high school, so it was a very rewarding experience.”
After resigning from SCPS, Peschel was hired by the Brandon-Evansville School District as their new superintendent for the 2018-19 school year. His biggest learning curve was figuring out the financial aspects of district management, as well as the increased reporting to and working with the Minnesota Department of Education, but he had plenty of support from members of the district.
“You have resources, you have people who are on your administrative team, your staff, your school board, so it’s not something you’re alone on an island on,” Peschel said. “You have leadership team members you lean on to help make some of those tough decisions.”
Peschel faced a number of those tough decisions as the BESD superintendent. When he was hired, the district was in the midst of a hotly debated building project; the first proposal for a one-site building remodel had failed two years before Peschel’s arrival, and a modified version of a similar proposal did not pass when it was brought to the voters in 2020. On top of it all, the district also had to deal with the effects of 2020’s novel coronavirus pandemic. As superintendent, Peschel focused on collaboration to provide the best possible educational platform for families, students and staff – even if that platform was sometimes virtual.
“The daily routine of the job is challenging in itself, but there were added challenges when you have something like a building project in front of you, and then COVID on top of it was very, very difficult to navigate,” Peschel said.
In spite of all this, BESD did pass a referendum for a different building project, this one for remodeling and adding onto the district’s existing sites in Brandon and Evansville. And so, when Peschel heard SCPS was looking for a new superintendent, he kept his hat out of the ring for the first round of interviews.
However, when the SCPS search continued, Peschel did some soul-searching to reconsider returning to his home district.
“I had an opportunity here to give back to a community later on my career, to a school district that meant so much to me individually as a person growing up and being part of it for 26 years as a professional in the teaching field, administrative field and coaching,” Peschel said. “The support Sauk Centre gave my family and my kids as they went through school, that was the tipping point on the scale; it’s a great opportunity for me.”
The SCPS board gave Peschel the job offer in March, and it was an offer he was excited to accept. Naturally, there has been some changes since Peschel was last at SCPS, but in his visits, he has found that he still knows many of the staff as well as some of the older students.
Peschel has been reacclimating himself with the SCPS system in preparation for the 2022-23 school year; summer is also a busy time for MDE reporting, so he has been handling that as well. One of the biggest projects he has gotten to work with has been the schools’ building project, but having just come from an approved referendum at BESD, it is a familiar process.
“It’s consumed most of my time, but I feel comfortable there,” Peschel said. “I understand what goes into it and how you formulate decision-making and incorporate collaborative decision-making with staff, the board and the company you’re working with, SitelogIQ.”
When not at school, Peschel’s hobbies include outdoor activities such as golfing and fishing. He also enjoys visiting his daughter, Kali Ott, in Nebraska; his two other daughters, Kelsey and Tori, both play basketball with St. Cloud State University, so Peschel also likes to make it to as many of their games as he can, and being part of the Minnesota State High School League’s board of directors gets him into the seats for a variety of state tournaments as well.
Ultimately, though, Peschel puts a lot of time and effort into his superintendent job because it is a career he genuinely enjoys.
“I’m one of those guys who gets up every morning and likes going to work every day,” Peschel said. “I’m not the kind of guy who sits behind his desk. I’m not a sit-still kind of person, so getting out in the hallways, hanging out with kids in the lunchroom, circulating around buildings to see how things are going with staff, and attending events. I’m looking forward to just putting on the maroon and white again and feeling like that’s where I belong.”