It's been a year since northern Illinois native Doug Hoster took the reigns at Litchfield High School, and the one thing that has impressed him the most this past year is the community support of the school district.
"From providing scholarship dollars to the willingness of people to step up and volunteer, even if they don't have kids in school, it's just great," Hoster said. "It's nice to see everyone working together."
Hoster grew up in Lemont, which is a suburb of Chicago, and has spent most of his life in northern Illinois. He and his wife, Tammy, have three grown children, Marc Hoster, Megan (husband Josh) Smith and Sam Hoster, who all reside in Ottawa, and one granchild, Braxton, who will be one in October. Both of Hoster's sons are police officers in Ottawa and his daughter is a registered nurse.
After graduating from high school, Hoster attended Lewis University in Romeoville, where he played four years on the school's baseball team while earning his bachelor's degree in biology.
"I've always loved the outdoors," Hoster said. "I intended to work as a field biologist or a fishing biologist."
However, after finishing his degree, he spent a year helping to coach the college baseball team as an assistant.
He got involved in more coaching, and a superintendent in his district thought he had the qualities of being an excellent teacher.
So, he went back to school at Lewis University to earn his teaching certificate, and spent most of his career teaching biology, chemistry and other science classes in northern Illinois.
In 1994, he earned his administrative certificate from Illinois State University, although he didn't use it right away.
Hoster was athletic director in the DePue School District from 2001-2006, before being hired as principal at Newark High School from July 2006 through May 2015.
Last July, Litchfield High School Principal DeAnn Heck took a job as superintendent in the Central A&M School District, leaving a vacancy just weeks before school started.
"When this position opened up, I applied for it," Hoster said. "With my love of the outdoors, this area was very appealing to me with lots of recreational opportunities."
He added that Litchfield Superintendent Jeff Strieker was looking for an experienced principal who had worked with the new state required teacher evaluation system.
"I think it's been a good fit," Hoster said.
He said he's spent most of his first year getting to know everyone, including a phenomenal staff.
"We are blessed to have a fine staff," he said. "The kids here are good too. They are kind and compassionate and accepting of others."
His love of the outdoors brought a bass fishing club to the high school, where two teams competed in the IHSA regional this spring at Coffeen Lake.
"This area is known for its fishing," Hoster said. "I knew it was something we could do with relatively low cost to the district."
He credits Mark Stieren of State Farm Insurance and Lee Lowery of the Litchfield Bass Fishing Club, along with other volunteers, for stepping up and helping to get it started. Stieren and Lowery served as captains of the teams.
"We started out small, but it's a chance to expose kids to recreational opportunities," Hoster said. "Fishing is a lifelong opportunity, and one that builds upon itself."
In his year of observing life at LHS, Hoster said he looks to tweak a few things in the coming years to make school a better experience for students. Among his goals are improving both the daily attendance average and the graduation rate.
One thing he hopes will improve the graduation rate is the addition of a senior portfolio project.
"It's a more individualized approach," Hoster said. "It ties into providing kids with more than just a diploma."
This spring, he took several LHS staff members to Newark High School to see how the program there worked, and the teachers were excited to start it in Litchfield.
"It gives kids a chance to explore some more of their likes or passions as they reflect on their own education," Hoster said. "We will make some changes to the program to best serve our community and our school."
Hoster added that at Litchfield about half the student population is interested in pursuing further education through college, and he feels like the district does a good job getting them ready. But he wants to do more for the other half, in giving them a say in what they want to learn and how they want to learn.
He added that the senior portfolio project, which will be offered as a pilot class for some seniors this fall, will focus on career exploration with a tie-in to a service learning component.
"The potential here is limitless to make a difference for these kids," he said. "I look forward to exposing the kids and the staff to this program. In the end, I think it's something the kids will be really proud of. It's about so much more than a diploma. It's about bettering themselves."