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Q&A: ERHS principal on first year

A year ago, East Ridge High School wasn't even reality yet, but now District 833's newest high school is finishing up its inaugural year complete with challenges and accomplishments.

The Bulletin sat down with East Ridge principal Aaron Harper to discuss the high school's inaugural year and what the future has in store.

How has East Ridge High School's inaugural year been?

I think the year has gone extremely well. I think anytime you open up a new building, one of the real obvious things is that so much can go wrong. I feel like we as a staff have done a very good job of being proactive and planning and preparing and really trying to be problem solvers in anticipation of the problems. As a result of it, we've done a great job at minimally diminishing, but at best case scenario eliminating, potential issues.

The flip side of it is whenever you bring together a whole new staff, you create individual teams and departments, and teams within teams. As the statement goes, there's no "I" in team, and anytime you get adults working together it really does take some concerted energy and effort. You must be very purposeful about coming together as a team.

In talking with the student body, in talking with the leaders, in talking with the parents, pretty unanimously I've received a positive acclamation that the students who were apprehensive about coming to East Ridge really have felt connected, really are becoming Raptors, really feeling good about being here. We're extremely proud of that because that was one of the anticipated challenges.

We're excited that year one is on its way to winding down -- it's certainly been a roller coaster.

We can see the sun setting in the background, at the same time we're really excited to move on to year two and all the new experiences and challenges -- it's a phenomenal opportunity.

What have been some of the challenges you have had to face over the last year?

The two biggest challenges are anytime you are starting from scratch, you have to do everything.; everything is encompassing brainstorming, nailing down fine details, creating policies, procedures and practices, creating a vision.

The other challenge is from a community standpoint since change is hard for a lot of people. I can't say enough positive things about our juniors and the positive attitude they came in with. They have been outstanding leaders and they have felt that pressure and stress, and they have accepted that challenge and stepped up to the plate.

What things will be changed next year?

We haven't had our sit down and debriefing of where we'll focus our efforts next year, but as we add 500 students to the student body, as the juniors become seniors, there will certainly be areas where we have to modify and adjust -- feedback is our approach.

One thing that we'll immediately look at is personnel because we want to put our personnel in situations where they are very confident that we are using their skill sets to the highest potential.

Are you looking forward to having seniors in the hallways?

Having seniors is different, there's no doubt about it, it certainly adds energy and refocuses the kids -- they come to understand why they're in high school.

As a senior, it does increase the seriousness, it does increase the realness of the high school experience, but more important than that it's preparing them to be lifelong learners.

Will the higher student population numbers be a transition for the school?

For some it will be. We will still be a reasonably sized high school, which is an advantage.

There are things we do in the school already to break down the larger student body into smaller pockets.

Holistically speaking, I don't think having 500 extra students will drastically change how we do business, it really just gives us an opportunity to meet 500 new kids and potentially 500 new families.

Have you felt that the community has grown to accept East Ridge over the last year?

No, and I don't anticipate that East Ridge will be accepted anytime soon. Anytime change at this level occurs, it's going to be difficult and it's going to take time -- time will be a tremendous healer.

With that being said, we're going to continue to grind, we're going to continue to do what's best for the East Ridge community, we're going to continue to do the best for students.

We're definitely hoping that people are accepting that we're a reality here, we're not just a concept, at the same time we're not expecting that for many years.

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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