First day at East Ridge less than one year awayIt was the first day of school, but Aaron Harper, the principal of East Ridge High School, wasn’t at the front door welcoming students back.
By: Louise Ernewein, South Washington County Bulletin
Note: This is the fourth in a series of interviews with East Ridge principal Aaron Harper in the months leading up to the opening of the district’s new high school.
It was the first day of school, but Aaron Harper, the principal of East Ridge High School, wasn’t at the front door welcoming students back.
Indeed, East Ridge doesn’t even have a front door yet — the school is scheduled for completion next summer — but the building work is on track and Harper, speaking on Sept. 2, said he had been assured by the construction company Kraus-Anderson that the project is on schedule.
With that particular concern off his mind, then, Harper is left with the educational aspects of preparing to open a new high school that will eventually accommodate 1,800 students.
With less than a year left until he is due to be standing at that front door, Harper’s biggest challenge now remains: What needs to be done in those 12 short months to get a high school open?
“This is where the rubber really hits the road — there is officially less than one year before East Ridge opens.”
Over the next couple months, at least, one of the top priorities on Harper’s to-do list is hiring.
He’s already ahead of the game with 22 staff members — mainly teachers — employed and working on his planning team, but says he expects to have taken on another 40 to 50 by the start of school next fall. And that’s not even to get into the question of custodial staff (10 to 12), food service staff (three to seven), clerical staff (six-plus), paraprofessional staff (six to 12) and — the big one — coaches.
“That’s a big one — athletics,” explained Harper. “Kids and parents want to know who that head volleyball coach is going to be, who that head tennis coach is going to be.
“They also want to know who their English teacher is going to be, but that’s going to be something they think about the week before school starts.”
Another set of decisions occupying Harper is that of curriculum choices. They need to be finalized before students currently attending District 833’s two existing high schools come to make their selections for courses for 2009.
One of the big challenges Harper sees East Ridge facing over the coming months is that of what you might call third child syndrome.
Arriving in a school district with two existing high schools and serving the communities of three cities, the administration of East Ridge finds itself facing some more unusual decisions than your average new high school.
“Some of the challenges which we have just begun to scratch the surface of are: Where does East Ridge hockey play? Where does the East Ridge swimming and diving team compete? Where does the East Ridge golf team play at?” explained Harper.
“These are all decisions which have to be made as a result of the fact that the district now has a third high school, which is a nice problem to have.”
Another of those challenges Harper faces is the old rumor mill, which, according to Harper, is spinning the line that East Ridge construction is one year behind schedule.
There’s a simple way to put that one to rest, laughs Harper: Give him a call and he will gladly take any doubters around the school.
And despite the seemingly never-ending list of tasks which must be performed ahead of the opening of a new high school, Harper says he’s not getting distracted from the bigger picture.
“I’m looking forward to having the doors open in 2009,” he nodded. “Not simply to say we’ve done it, but to have kids, people, young men and women and have them here and to educate them.
“That’s why I got into education and administration, to work with people and kids.
“Although this is intriguing and a once in a lifetime opportunity, I’m not a construction project manager; I’m an educator, and that’s what I’m ultimately about.”
Louise Ernewein can be reached at email@example.com.