COTTAGE GROVE - It's been a short summer for Nick Falde.

July 5 was his first day of work as the new principal of South Washington County Alternative High School.

"I like being part of the alternative learning type environment because every kid has a story," Falde said. "And I think you can get more in depth into their story and really get to know them as individuals. It helps with goal setting and it helps them get to their next step, whatever that next step may be, college or the military."

Students in School District 833 can be referred to the Alternative High School if they struggle socially or academically at Woodbury, Park or East Ridge High Schools. Class sizes are kept small, and each student is assigned a teacher/advisor who monitors their progress.

Previously, Falde spent over three years at South St. Paul Public Schools, where he served as assistant principal at their alternative high school, the Community Learning Center.

"Nick did an outstanding job," South St. Paul superintendent Dave Webb said. "He builds good relationships with the staff and students and community. He's especially strong in the area of technology."

At Roseville Area Schools, Falde worked as a Technology Integration and Online Learning Coordinator. He also worked at Mahtomedi Public Schools, serving as a coordinator for the Digital Learning Academy, Work Experience/Transition Services and Online Summer School.

During his senior year in high school, he coached a small group of at-risk kids at a nearby middle school. "It was helping them on their homework, talking to them about life in general, what they could be prepared for, giving them motivational type speeches, what they can expect in another year when they go to high school," he said.

He would encounter many more kids in need of direction - but not in a classroom.

Falde graduated the University of Wisconsin Stout in 2004 with a BS in Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management. As part of his studies, he interned at Afton Alps and Interlaken Country Club in Edina.

"I ran into a lot of students and a lot of folks who learned differently," he said. "They were very intelligent and very smart business people. They were very hands-on. That sort of directed me toward the career and the technical ed type students."

After graduation, he worked as assistant manager for the food division of Marshall Field's (now Macy's) in Minneapolis. He supervised a staff of young restaurant workers.

"I was working with a lot of high school age kids from Minneapolis," he said. He couldn't help but notice "(The) struggles they dealt with trying to get to work on time, having to help raise family members and of all those things and try to balance with work on top of that. Then the struggles that went along with their life in general. It really kind of spoke to me. "

He grew frustrated at not being able to do more.

"I can't help someone out in the hospitality industry saying "you're not getting to work on time,'" he said. "I didn't feel like I was making a big enough impact on the people I was seeing most. That was probably my step away from the industry. I would say that's what led me to where I am."

He left Marshall Field's after 10 months and enrolled at Concordia University, where he earned licensure for Special Education and Specific Learning Disabilities, grades K-12.

He succeeds Michael Mahaffey, who retired after 32 years working in the district.