Horizons principal recognized by staff, honored by state

MOHAWK — Calumet-Laurium-Keweenaw School District’s Horizons High School Principal, Joel Asiala, has been named Michigan Alternative Education Organization’s 2020 Administrator of the Year.

He was nominated by his entire teaching staff, who felt unanimously compelled, due to the many improvements he has brought to the program in the relatively short time he has served as principal.

He came to Horizons with fresh eyes and, as he started to ask for input on making improvements, he framed those discussions around the needs of students more broadly than ever before. It became clear that there is no limit to what he is willing to do to help students find their path.

Very few people would volunteer to be taken down by the Keweenaw County Sheriff K-9, Dogo, but in order to inspire students to keep Horizons a drug-free school, he did just that. At the end of the 2018-19 school year, students were rewarded with a K-9 training demonstration starring Joel Asiala, who was attacked three times by Dogo and dragged all around the lawn, all because students kept their school drug-free.

Over the course of four busy years, Asiala has grown into his role in many other ways. When he sees an issue or a need, he is tireless in his drive to address it. He researches and considers data, listens to the students and staff, and utilizes the resources at his disposal. He has fearlessly tried new approaches in the pursuit of providing students with the tools, support, and resources they need. Through his Student First initiative, Joel has emphasized a focus on a trauma-informed approach, and has brought on more counseling services for students, improved our food program, and networked for additional funding from the community to help supplement the school. His leadership and drive has resulted in a new laundry facility, weight room, and shower facilities. Students now have a top-notch lounge with billiards, ping-pong and PlayStation. He has also started building up the school’s Maker Space, and is in the process of acquiring the tools, equipment, and technology to give students new learning opportunities in emerging or growing fields. Asiala’s focus on placing students’ needs first carries beyond high school. Students who are awarded one of the two newly created scholarship offerings dedicated for Horizons graduates will experience that first hand. They will receive ongoing mentoring from him as they learn to navigate the financial challenges of continuing education.

Asiala’s efforts are bringing a wealth of resources and support systems to students and teachers alike. He has embraced differentiation in the classes, and supports the staff as they continue to try new approaches to teaching. This has helped teachers respond and adapt more fluidly to the changing landscape of education.

Asiala recognized a need to relieve teachers from the mundane and time-consuming paperwork required to meet state and regulatory compliance. He did this by designing a software program that streamlines all of the paperwork that passes between teachers and administrators. Teachers now have one digital place to report Student Learning Objectives (SLOs), Lesson Plans, Discipline Referrals, call logs and evaluations, each of which can be viewed quickly by the users to see their status. This has allowed the teachers’ focus to stay where it needs to be–students. The program is now available to other school districts and is called “TeachLink”. The result has been a noticeable improvement in student attendance and outcomes, and an evolution in the Horizons program. Instead of becoming complacent or growing stale, Horizons’ program feels fresh and exciting, and that has had a positive impact on the students.

The result has been a noticeable improvement in student attendance and outcomes, and an evolution in the program. Instead of becoming complacent or growing stale, our program feels fresh and exciting, and that has had a positive impact on our students.

Asiala has put the spotlight on Michigan’s northernmost high school because he is a gifted and enthusiastic administrator.

He says that it is all 100 percent because of his staff, but it is undeniable that under his leadership the program has evolved into something truly unique and special. Anyone visiting the school would likely find Asiala, not in the deep recesses of his office, but at a desk that he moved into the main hallway. In the winter, If anyone visiting the school before school even starts will typically find him plowing, something fondly considered by the Horizons Family as “The Early Show.” The best way to really know, of course, is to come meet him! Teachers and Staff have a lot of pride in what is happening at Horizons and the feedback from students says that they feel it too.


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