It was the last day of school June 8, so West Orange High School faculty and staff were saying goodbye for the summer — to everyone except Doug Szcinski. They were actually saying goodbye to the principal, who, for three years, has led the West Orange Warriors.
Szcinski is leaving West Orange County, having accepted a position as assistant principal at Lanphier High School in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois.
“The last three years have been the most amazing of my 17-year educational career,” Szcinski said in a post on the school’s Facebook page. “Thank you to the students, teachers, staff, parents and community for allowing me to lead the greatest school in the state and for accepting me and my family into the West Orange County community. I am forever grateful for my time in Warrior Nation.”
When interviewed upon arrival at WOHS in 2013, he said he was excited to be part of the school’s reputation for being a close-knit family. His interest in technology and social media led him to incorporate Twitter and Facebook and to create a weekly digital newsletter — all of which helped connect the school, families and community even more.
“To me, it comes down to the 40-year history because there's so many people who come back here and have that connection. It's not something that you can make up or something you can explain to somebody, unless you've lived it. ... It’s a sense of family, a sense of community; it's a sense of pride.
“That's part of the reason I wanted to come here — because I had been at newer schools and I liked this tradition. It's really surreal, the last few days, teachers and parents have said, ‘You've built the culture of community even more than it has been.’”
“To me, it comes down to the 40-year history because there's so many people who come back here and have that connection. It's not something that you can make up or something you can explain to somebody, unless you've lived it. ... It’s a sense of family, a sense of community; it's a sense of pride.” — Doug Szcinski on what it means to be a West Orange Warrior
Graduation ceremonies top the list of his favorite moments of the last three years.
“We work so hard to get all kids there and to see them and their families,” he said.
When Szcinski took the position at West Orange, the graduation rate was 82%. Now, it’s at more than 96%.
“Blood, sweat and tears,” he said. “It's a lot of individual conversations with kids and parents. There's so many people involved, guidance counselors, (assistant principals), myself, teachers — not only that we get these kids to pass the classes needed to graduate but also the credits. It's a lot of follow-up and follow-through.”
He still has a memento of his first West Orange graduation in 2014: a cowboy hat with the initials of many of the seniors. The 2015 senior class made a donation to the Save the Turf Fund, which was set up to replace the school’s synthetic turf field.
At last month’s graduation, seniors donated money to update and renovate the Fallen Warrior monument that stands at the north end of the high school building. Several Warrior names need to be added, and the bottom portion needs to be redesigned so it doesn’t flood every time it rains.
Szcinski is proud of all the school’s championships, including softball and football.
“It's more about watching the kids excel in whatever they're interested in,” he said. “The three years I’ve been here, we've won national championships, received superiors in art and drama; every kid has their niche, and you can see it.”
This school year, the principal implemented an all-digital-learning environment, and while that is a big accomplishment, Szcinski would say his biggest is building the teacher-community connection.
“What I know is that this place is a lot bigger than me, and to be an outsider coming in, you look back three years ago and then now, that's a lot bigger,” he said. “We've accomplished so much in three years. (Former Principal) James (Larsen) even said, ‘I'm glad you did this.’”
It’s bittersweet to be leaving West Orange, Szcinski said. But he knows he’s leaving the school in capable hands in Bill Floyd, who is coming from Ocoee High School.
“Bill and I have been friends for a lot of years,” Szcinski said. “I was an (assistant principal) at Wekiva and he was principal at Apopka, so we worked together quite a bit. When my boss called me yesterday to tell me that Bill was coming here, I was very happy. Bill is a great principal and a great guy.
“I do think there is a personality for this job, for this school, and I think he has it.”