Denise Phillips

Denise Phillips is the incoming 7-12 principal at South O'Brien after working for the school district since 1997.

PAULLINA—Denise Phillips has poured unrelenting service into the South O’Brien School District since she was first hired in 1997.

After spending her entire career thus far serving the Wolverines in many capacities, she was selected to be the new 7-12 principal on Jan. 29, starting at the beginning of the next 2021-22 academic year. She will succeed Steve Bruder, who is retiring.

Phillips said her call to leadership was roused after she was chosen to be the dean of students her second full year at South O’Brien. In that role, she led faculty meetings, designed school schedules and handled student behavioral problems.

After her time as dean concluded, Phillips dug in more by working long hours and serving in a variety of other coordination roles.

“I love to work. I love my job,” she said. “It’s just that passion to make a difference — passionate about developing our students into being the best that they can be.”

Unlike many teachers, the incoming principal has not zeroed in on a particular subject area. Instead, she prefers to focus on fostering young people to become more well-rounded, teaching math and language arts.

“In South O’Brien, your goal is always to develop the whole child,” Phillips said. “What it really comes down to is providing students opportunities to grow, to develop, and to find success.”

Moving into the principal role was a “natural step,” she said, because of her deep involvement with school faculty and activities.

She has served on the math curriculum committee and junior high leadership team since 2000. She also has worked as a summer schoolteacher and fundraiser chair for the district.

Phillips also has stayed involved in higher education during her tenure. After earning her middle school endorsement and graduating from Buena Vista University in Storm Lake in 1996, she stayed at BVU to earn her master’s degree in K-12 school administration.

The hardworking teacher also has served as an adjunct faculty member at the Storm Lake college since 2013, teaching a variety of courses from human growth to classroom management. She said she will step back from BVU when she takes over as principal next school year.

“My background leads nicely to this position,” Phillips said. “I have been with South O’Brien for a very long time. It’s part of who I am. I want to take it to that next level, to build on what we already have established to make it an even better place to be.”

A native of rural Cleghorn, she said her position in Paullina has kept her close to her four sisters as she raises her two children. Her local roots have motivated her to invest in the community.

Phillips said she does not want to simply maintain the status quo at South O’Brien when she becomes the head Wolverine, saying she is excited to begin fresh initiatives and opportunities that will best serve the school’s students.

“I feel like I have the traits and characteristics necessary to lead South O’Brien in the right direction,” she said. “I already have solid connections with students, faculty and the community. I can continue to grow them, and to build off those relationships to take our district forward.”

She went on to say that she is thrilled to have the chance to serve beyond her role in a single classroom.

“An administration gives you opportunities to impact the whole system,” the committed educator said.

This story was first published in the Feb. 20 edition of The South O'Brien Sun.