Contributed photo
New York Mills middle/high school principal Michelle Young-Lecoustre was recently honored as the state middle school principal of the year. She was recognized by students and staff at NY Mills School.

By Tucker Henderson


New York Mills high school principal Michelle Young-Lecoustre received a welcome surprise on the last day of school, Friday, May 24 from the seventh and eighth grade classes.

Young-Lecoustre was recently nominated as this years Western Division Middle School Principal of the Year. Recognizing this, students from the seventh and eighth grade classes decided to do something extra special for her award. The students banded together to sign an oversized card and get her a bouquet of carnations both of which they presented to her in the gymnasium.

“They kind of made a little setup so they said, ‘you have to deal with these two middle schoolers,’ and I’m like ‘okay, I’ll be there in a minute,’” said Young-Lecoustre. “Then I went looking for them because they left and I’m like, ‘where’d they go?’ They were all in the gym. I can be a bit emotional at times so I was trying to hold it in, but they had a card that they all signed and they gave me these beautiful flowers.

“Somebody had come to me earlier and asked ‘what’s your favorite flower?’ And I was busy and said ‘carnations,’ they are my favorite,” she continued. “So they got this beautiful bouquet from Tes and it was cute.”

Young-Lecoustre was nominated by a colleague in a nearby school district. She said that she was very surprised by the nomination and appreciates the recognition from her colleagues and students.

“I was actually really stunned,” she said. “It was one of our neighboring districts here and I have a lot of respect for this principal. I felt very honored by that and I go to my Western Division meetings. I’m consistent, but there always seems to be people who seem to be really involved, so I was pretty honored to get that.”

Young-Lecoustre said that one thing she’s done to build a rapport with her students is to work lunch duty at the school.

“Since I came in the door, one of the biggest things I’ve done that has helped me with my students is to do lunch duty, believe it or not,” she said. “To be with the kids at lunch and in the gymnasium with them. We always had paras doing that before, but you see them in a different situation and engaging in activities and now they wait for me because I like to go out early and make sure that they get a lot of time so that they’re getting their energy spent.”

Young-Lecoustre taught middle school for 20 years before she became principal in 2013, including a stint in Senegal, South Africa.

“I taught in southern Minnesota in a school this size and then I taught overseas,” she said. “I taught social studies to middle school mostly. Of course, the smaller the school the more subjects you’re teaching, I’ve taught seventh through 12th most of my career, but I focused in on the middle school ages for a long time.

“It takes a lot of energy, but I like that,” she continued. “I like the energy they give. Sometimes I’ll say to certain kids, ‘I don’t think you’ve ever been in trouble,’ and almost every one of them will go, ‘well, I was in middle school.’ But that’s the learning phase. Know better, do better, that’s what I always say. But we have such good kids here, we do.”

To better help students who are struggling, Young-Lecoustre has taken it upon herself to try and meet with each student with a deficiency rating at least once per term.

“I always try to meet with them just to see can we help you in some way? What’s going on for you? So I touch base with kids there and you get to know them a little better. Some of them just need an extra scoop, they’ll say ‘I need some help in math’ or in reading. We try to catch everyone and we have some intervention classes that we’ve put in for them.”

Entering her 12th year in NY Mills, Young-Lecoustre finds herself surrounded by a stellar staff team and working atmosphere.

“No one is an island,” she said. “None of my job would be possible at all without the team that I have. They’re the best in the state. I feel supported by my team, there’s people I can call on, my office staff is amazing and we just work well together and that brings me a lot of joy in my job, my team and working with them to do what’s best for kids.

“We’re not perfect, but we certainly have positive intent,” she continued. “That’s my new one this year, ‘assume positive intent,’ and know that we always come from that place of trying to do things better. Sometimes people don’t always agree with our handbook or our policies and I understand that, but I also think that people can come and say their peace and I can always leave that diplomatically and go, ‘yep, I get their persepctive.’ I hope that people think they can approach me because I do listen and I do hear. I do get it.”

One of the most rewarding parts of Young-Lecoustre’s job is shaping students futures in positive ways. She said that she feels that it’s important to provide a safe collaborative environment for each student to thrive. She especially appreciates the engagement she’s had with students over the years.

“I just think the energy and engagement with students,” she said. “There’s never a dull moment. In the end, it’s the students’ success—the academic, social, emotional development of kids—that keeps me wanting to be here daily. Knowing that the small successes are huge. I know that’s our future, that’s the hope that we have and with kids there’s always hope.”

Young-Lecoustre will receive the award at the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals (MASSP) convention at Breezy Point, Minn. in June.

“It’s a big honor for me to have been nominated and I appreciate the recognition by my students and my staff more than anything, that’s filling my bucket. Those moments of time and thank you notes and little things like that that matter to the heart.”