After nearly a lifetime of being an educator, Dan Whitney will be retiring in June.
Whitney, who has served as Trinity Lutheran School’s principal for the last 15 years and hails from Michigan, has taught all over the country, including in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, as well as in Milwaukee and Iron Ridge, Wisconsin, before accepting his role in Belle Plaine.
To his colleagues, Whitney is not known to be a braggadocio. But under his purview, the K-8 school situated abreast Trinity Lutheran Church in northwest Belle Plaine, has seen a dramatic increase in test scores among countless measurable and qualitative changes to the institution.
When Whitney arrived at Trinity School 15 years ago, the school scored roughly in the average range across multiple subjects. For the last few years, Trinity students have placed in the 70th percentile. In that same time frame, the school also earned accreditation from the Minnesota Nonpublic School Accrediting Association. But for Whitney, testing and accreditation are just parts of the legacy that he hopes to leave behind as he makes his exit from Trinity and likely education altogether.
“I enjoy teaching. I enjoy being principal and being able to share God’s Word with children has been a pleasure,” Whitney said.
In addition to working as an administrator, Whitney also teaches a broad range of subjects to seventh and eighth grade students. He said that being immersed in education on both the hands-on and leadership levels has allowed him to connect with his students in a multifaceted way throughout the years, but he said it’s likely that this year and his first year will stick out in his memory.
“Your first year of teaching you get to know your kids really well, and you remember those kids like nothing before, and I think the last year is like that as well,” Whitney said.
Whitney said he has received a good amount of satisfaction from hearing the success stories of former students who end up at Belle Plaine High School, various colleges and beyond.
When asked about what he hopes his legacy will be, Whitney stated that he always hoped to give his students an ability to stand on their own and rise to challenges that life or other schools might throw at them.
Whitney is exiting the educational profession at a likely turning point for most institutions. The COVID-19 pandemic has shaped and reshaped many schools’ approaches to teaching their students. Trinity has been no exception, and its teachers, like most around the country and the world, have been forced to adapt to government regulations.
Whitney, who focuses on teaching all subject areas to meet the needs of individual students, said that each class requires a slightly different approach than others, and there have been some growing pains to the major shift. But he added that students in third grade and up at Trinity already had access to school-issued laptops, so the change was not as jarring for Trinity as it was for other schools around the state. Like all of the many challenges throughout his educational career, Whitney was eager to contend with the coronavirus.
“I don’t enjoy the pandemic, but I enjoy the challenge of what we had to do to get ready for it and meet the challenge,” Whitney said.
Whitney added that his decision to exit his role, which he settled on last December, was not made because of the pandemic.
At 62, Whitney is exiting his role at a typical age for many educators. He said that he’ll likely step out of leadership for Trinity completely and will spend his time fulfilling his multiple hobbies.
“I’m going to get some projects done around the house that my wife has been wanting me to do for a couple years," Whitney said. “I’ll probably look for something that might not even be related to education.”
Those who may wish to see Whitney around Belle Plaine need not worry as he plans to continue attending church services at Trinity on a regular basis.
Whitney added that as the Trinity congregation works to fill his role, he hopes the community in Belle Plaine and beyond begins to appreciate Trinity Lutheran School for the same reasons he does.
"I think one of the things that we need to do is just make people in the community aware that we’re a school here," Whitney said.