Farewell, Mr. Dockter: DHS Principal resigns after 40 years in education
After 40 years of working in education, Ron Dockter is stepping down as principal of Dickinson High School, a title he has held for 14 years.
He bids farewell to a school that grew and changed considerably under his leadership, and that faces even greater challenges to come.
"It's something my wife and I talked about for a lot of years and I just thought, it's an appropriate time for me to do it, I'm in good health," Dockter said Wednesday. "I've got some things I'd like to do."
He acknowledged that, with discussions on whether to expand the existing facility or build a new school still ongoing in the school district, DHS is going to need a strong person to fill the position.
"There will be (need for strong leadership). It's unfortunate at this particular time, but we've got some good people in this district," Dockter said. "That's something I've always been fortunate in, having good people to work with."
Dockter will miss the relationships he's forged with parents, faculty and students over his years at DHS. Having seen them grow and enter into the community on their own, he said it means a lot when former students seek him out to let him know how their lives are going.
"The thing that is most precious to me are these kids, well they're now adults, but they come back to me and they remind me of something ... that I either said or helped them with and how they've taken that and gone out into their life and become successes with it," Dockter said. "Now they may have struggled in school ... but they come back and say 'hey, this is what's going on with my life. I just want to let you know'...Just coming back to see me says a lot."
Dockter's journey in education began as many do, with a few influential teachers and coaches who, at a young age, instilled in him a desire to work with young people. His family always valued education and set an expectation for him and his siblings to succeed academically.
"I never ever planned on becoming a principal. I had a couple of high school teachers and coaches who were very influential in my life. I knew from about 15, 16 that I wanted to teach, I wanted to coach," Dockter said. "Education in my family was a pretty big deal, my mom was a teacher years ago ... it was never a question, it was always understood that we were going to advance our education."
Describing himself as an "okay" student, graduating from a class of 25, Dockter has seen the world of education dramatically shift and change, with security concerns and technology being most evident.
"When I first became a principal we didn't even practice lockdown, because obviously that wasn't (a common concern), but that changed," Dockter said. "We practice those drills, whether it be a fire drill or a lockdown drill ... because obviously if you can't keep your kids safe they're not going to be able to learn. That has been a big change in my 40 years."
Advances in technology have made life easier for students and teachers, but he expressed concern that face-to-face interaction will be lost. Instilling in students a fundamental capacity to communicate is important for Dockter.
"When they go out into the world, if they know how to communicate with people ... how to show kindness and empathy to people, I think that goes a long way," he said.
Dockter began his career McVille, teaching history and coaching for three years. He moved on to Tioga, where he stayed for 23 years, teaching, coaching and ultimately becoming principal and athletic director. When an opportunity presented itself in Dickinson, Dockter went for it.
"Tioga was a good place for us. My kids at the time, they had all graduated ... the opening came up, I thought 'what the heck, let's see what happens,'" Dockter said. "(Dickinson) was a bigger town but still had a small town feeling. Even though the town has grown considerably in the 14 years I've been here, that hasn't changed. There are still very caring, good parents, good students, willing to do what's best not only for this school and the student, but the community as a whole."
Dickinson has changed a lot, growing in the wake of the Bakken oil boom. Dockter said that the student body lacked diversity when he first arrived, which has changed in recent years.
"Right now we have students not only from other states, all over the country but also all over the world. We have students from the Congo, parts of Africa," Dockter said. "We have a number of different languages being spoken here. We must have 25 to 30 (English Language Learner) kids and that's pretty cool. The other thing about Dickinson High and the people, the students and staff—they treat those students who come from other backgrounds and other cultures, they treat them well. They accept them, they draw them in and they make them a part of what Dickinson High is all about."