Douglas High Grad Joe Girdner Takes The Reins As New Principal

by Joey Crandall, · 5 min read

MINDEN, Nev. — It’s been 25 years since Joe Girdner walked the halls of Douglas High School as a student.

“Honestly, there’s not a lot that has changed,” he said, sitting in the school’s conference room during his first official day on campus as Douglas High’s new principal last week.

Granted, the campus has gone several major physical changes since he graduated in 1992 — from the addition of the library, the band room, the small gym, the drama room and the 400 building, to a nearly complete, systematic overhaul of the entire athletic complex.

The vocational building has been remodeled, the gyms refurbished and expanded.

The commons and the counseling center and the administrative offices: all different, all new.

And, of course, the two-story, 25,000-square-foot, $7 million Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics center opened to students prior to the 2015 school year.

That’s not what Girdner was talking about, though.

“This was a school with a lot of pride,” he said. “I really enjoyed being a student here. It was a small community with a small-town feel where people were still connected to the school.

“It is physically different, now, but the spirit is still the same. It’s grown, the town has gotten bigger. but the spirit of the place, what we loved about it, that is the same.

“One of the great things about a town like this, a school like this, is you have community involvement. You run into people at the store, and they are involved with the school. The teachers, the staff, the students are all proud to be here. It’s a great community to be a part of.”

Joe Girdner is the new principal at Douglas High School

Girdner was named Douglas’ new principal in July, following the announcement last spring that Marty Swisher, who had been the school’s principal for 12 years, would be transferring to lead the Douglas County School District’s alternative education department as well as serving as Aspire Academy’s principal.

After graduating from Douglas, Girdner — who is a member of the Douglas High Football Hall Of Fame — earned his Bachelor’s degree in social behavioral science education from the University of Mary in North Dakota and later earned his masters in education administration from the University of Phoenix.

He taught US history, world history, physical education and health for six years at Carson High School before becoming the school’s dean of students and later vice principal.

“I worked in Carson for 16 years,” he said. “It was always a little bizarre being a graduate from here, still living here and working up there. But the kids were great up there.”

He returned to Douglas High in the vice principal’s role in 2014.

“I always had the thought that I would eventually like to come back down here and work,” he said. It’s a great place, we have the best kids around. When my kids started getting to school age and going through the school system here, I didn’t want to work in a different community than where my kids went to school. I wanted to be involved where they were involved.”

Girdner said becoming a principal hadn’t even really been a thought until Swisher announced his transfer.

“I thought about it a lot and talked it over at length with my wife,” Girdner said. “We decided it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — to be a principal of a great school like this that just so happens to be the school I graduated from in my hometown.  I’ve been here three years and gotten to know the staff very well. The staff here is incredible. The people you work with really make your career what it is, and the people here have made it a great place to work.

“I really enjoyed working for Marty and was tremendously sad he was leaving. The whole school will miss him. I hadn’t planned for this to happen, but I feel blessed to be able to have the opportunity to be principal here.

“It’ll be a lot of fun and a lot of hard work.”

Mike Rechs moves over from Carson Valley Middle School to fill Girdner’s vice principal slot and Marc Walling has been hired as the school’s new athletic director and dean of students as Jeff Evans has moved on to serve as principal at Eureka High School.

While the school hasn’t changed in Girdner’s mind — he sees former classmates frequently, often with their children who are now students at the school — the education system has.

“It has changed a ton, and it still hasn’t changed as fast as it needed to,” Girdner said. “This is across the country. The job market has changed so rapidly, schools have struggled to keep up with what they need to be preparing students for.

“In many cases, especially with how technology is developing, we are trying to prepare students for jobs that don’t exist yet. That’s an exciting challenge.

“As educators we need to try to provide opportunities for students to be exposed to those types of jobs. We need to be able to give them the skills to not only fill those jobs, but create those jobs. To focus on teaching the students to be critical thinkers and to be lifelong learners. We want students to have the skills to be able to adapt to what they are faced with as the workplace continues to advance.

“We need to look at how we use technology. Many of our students now are far advanced in their technology skills compared to many educators — myself included. We have to find ways to use those technologies as tools to learn and expand.”

Girdner said he wants the community to continue to feel welcome on campus.

“This is a great high school,” he said. “We want the community to know they are welcome here, we want them to be a part of the school and to be able to feel pride that their kids are products of Douglas High.”

Freshman/New Student Orientation will be Aug. 9 on campus from 1 to 3 p.m. Parents should plan on dropping their students off at 1 and picking them up at 3.

Classes begin Aug. 14.

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