Principal of the Year: Norman High’s Scott Beck Wins Prestigious Award

May 14, 2019

Scott Beck is excited. And not just about being named Oklahoma’s Principal of the Year, but also about everything else, especially Norman High School. Beck is a man of tremendous energy, whose ideas and passions seem to spill out of him effortlessly.

When he reads, it’s multiple books at a time in various genres. He rarely has the time to see any new movies, preferring to focus on his work and his family. Fittingly, he is also an avid runner, having jogged almost every day for nearly a decade with Peter Liesenfield, the principal of Norman North High School.

His enthusiasm spills out easily, and it doesn’t take much prompting to get him to tell you why he loves the Norman community and why any award given to him speaks much more to those around him than himself. His former supervisor and current assistant superintendent Holly Nevels believes this merely speaks to how good of a leader he truly is.

“He really truly listens to the people he’s charged with leading,” she says. “And that informs his decisions, which is why he’s such a good decision maker. He’s also very charismatic and leads through the lens of relationships.”

After growing up in South Oklahoma City, Beck attended the University of Central Oklahoma and earned his bachelor’s degree. He then got his master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma.

He arrived at Norman High School in 2004 where he served as a teacher and coach for four years before accepting the role of assistant principal, serving the last eight years as principal.

“When I walked into the social studies department here at Norman High School, I was absolutely blown away by the quality of teaching,” he says. “This has always been a teacher’s school. We try to treat teachers as professionals and facilitate leadership with our teachers.”

“We’re in a phenomenal community that really values education and we’re in a phenomenal district that supports us,” he says. “There’s lots of resources, lots of latitude to try to be innovative, and there’s a real spirit of risk-taking.”

Beck is also focused on helping students grow by creating meaningful consequences for their actions.

“The old-school model would be a student does something wrong, and you punish them, then you move on,” he says. “There are still times when that happens, but ultimately, a more restorative, tiered intervention process is providing the support and resources for students to help them learn through mistakes or challenging behaviors.”

Beck knows that in many parts of the country, being in high school – or any school, really – can carry at least a hint of fear. However, he believes the solution is not in barbed wire fences or armed guards, but in creating an environment focused on the student body as a community rather than a scattered group of kids.

“Our number one priority is safety,” he says. “And not just the physical safety. So much of that is relationship-based. We want students to feel comfortable enough that if something’s going on, they feel like they can come in and talk to us about it.”

He believes that it’s not about finding a balance between safety and community, it’s about combining those two priorities into one, making every student feel personally invested in their school, no matter their background.

“I philosophically believe that safety totally ties into what’s going on in the classroom,” he says. “When relationships build, kids open up, and when kids open up, we’re all safer. At the end of the day, we want to be safe, but our students don’t want to go to school at a prison.”

While Beck prioritizes the safety of his students, he also has implemented innovative education programs, including a physical and digital resource bank focused on virtue cultivation.

Beck partnered with OU philosophy professor Nancy Snow to establish a resource bank with expansive materials that cover everything from positive psychology and mindfulness to virtue development. These resources are available to students, teachers, and even members of the community.

“We really wanted a concentrated library of resources,” he says. “We really feel like we have one of the best libraries you could see in any high school.”

The welcoming yet ambitious faculty, staff and community set Norman apart in Beck’s eyes. For him, Norman is a special, important place with enormous potential.

“This town means a lot to me, this school means a lot to me,” he says. “Our work is simple. Whoever walks in the doors, those are our kids, not only the select, not only the kids who want to be here, not only the kids who look exactly the way we want them to look. It’s every kid.”

At almost 42, Beck has been at Norman High for nearly 15 years, but his energy has not wavered.

“Our interactions and what we build here can alter the lives of young people,” he says. “That will be felt for generations and even forever. I walk in each day fired up to do it, excited to do it. It’s like walking into a buffet where everything looks so good. I just kind of want to do it all, and that doesn’t go away.” – BSM