By: Jesse Boxenhorn & Leah Sycoff
While this year is anything but normal, luckily we had the opportunity to sit down (through Zoom) with our amazing principal Dr. Strong. The new year has brought many changes, but that will not stop The Thunderbird from beginning the year with our annual principal’s interview! Thank you, Dr. Strong, for allowing us the opportunity to continue with our tradition. The HSE community always looks forward to hearing your opinions on current topics and initiatives for the upcoming year while learning a little bit about who you are outside of High School East.
Thunderbird: With all of the changes to school this year, how do you think everything is running so far in the new hybrid model?
Dr. Strong: Going back to last year, I think it kind of took everybody by storm. Unfortunately, as we know, this pandemic is not going away, and we need to take the necessary precautions. With that being said, I know a lot of planning was in place from the central office, while trying to get guidelines from the state. A lot of administrators and teachers were a part of that. I can’t tell you how happy I was to get back in the building. I know it is not the optimal design, but I think it was great to get a portion of people in the building. For those that are here, hopefully, they will find some comfort in seeing their teachers and friends. I know it comes with a lot of restrictions. All that being said, I am very pleased with the way things are going. I have to compliment the student body in terms of their ability to work with us and adhere to rules, such as wearing masks and following one-directional hallways. Of course, we are always looking for ways to improve. I think it is important to keep the reinforcement. We want people to be comfortable while following the protocols. In all, I am pleased with the way things are going.
Thunderbird: Do you think there will be a chance of school events happening in the spring especially for seniors? How do you expect to maintain school spirit within the covid-19 environment?
Dr. Strong: This is a very difficult part. We are trying to develop events that we can do with the senior class, but it seems as though every event includes the only portion we must avoid which is coming together. We are trying to find the balance of doing something while adhering to the protocols while doing so. I am open to any conversation or ideas that our student body puts forth. To maintain school spirit, we are aiming to play music in the hallway and provide some other positive changes for our students. We have some ideas that we are looking towards such as a homecoming, pep rally, etc. We just do not know if we should put things off to the spring just in case things get worse. It is a work in progress.
Thunderbird: In your opinion, what are the best things students can do this year so that they can do just as well in school as they have done in previous years?
Dr. Strong: It’s definitely a touch different this year because now that our students are in and out every day, they aren’t as engaged and present in the classroom. For our student body, my advice would be to stay the course, stay motivated, stay focused, and be really disciplined. Students should stick to the same routine at home that they would follow if they were in person attending classes. I believe if you eliminate those structures that are in place, you can drift off a bit. So, overall, it is important to remain structured.
Thunderbird: In light of recent important movements within society, including combating systemic racism, how do you plan on incorporating improvements in our very own HHH community?
Dr. Strong: For me, this topic is dear, as I grew up in this community. I don’t think it can be solved solely by coming down to the lecture hall and having a program. To me, it’s a district-wide approach that needs to start at a young age and then continue throughout their educational experiences. I know that some departments are looking at ways that they can build these topics into their curriculum to embed it in their structural program as a whole to spark conversation. There is a social component to it which we explain through our code of conduct meeting. It is a way to discuss self-respect and maintaining respect for others. We all grow up differently and come from different backgrounds, so I aim for our students to understand and embrace each other regardless of those differences.
Thunderbird: If you were a student now, which classes that the school offers would you enroll in?
Dr. Strong: When I look back at my high school career, I probably didn’t take advantage of the wealth of programs that this district really offers. I would have liked to stretch my knowledge by participating in some higher-level courses. I would really like to challenge myself by taking some of the AP courses. This would have better prepared me for college life. I was very into athletics, so I was guided a little too strongly in that direction. I probably could have expanded myself academically and into other extracurriculars. When I got to the college level, I often wished that I had a better foundation in some of the classes.
Thunderbird: What were you like in high school?
Dr. Strong: I like to think that I was a good guy. I loved sports. The one thing that I think remains true is my outlook on individuals and who I am. I have always tried to respect myself and others. I have always had a great relationship with my parents and friends. I seemed to dabble in different groups and cliques, and I always tried to be diverse while having good rapport and good friends. Although I very much liked athletics, I didn’t see myself as only in that group. I probably could have worked harder in some academic areas. Overall, I loved growing up here. It’s amazing as I drive down Vanderbilt Parkway and absorb all the memories from the past 30 years of my life. It’s been nice to come back to the place where it all started
Thunderbird: What is something about yourself that you think High School East students do not know?
Dr. Strong: Probably that there is this big light side to me. I do enjoy downtime and playing and goofing around with my friends. I think sometimes I’m perceived as way too serious, but I think that there’s a huge side of me that enjoys getting away from it all, recharging, and relaxing.
Thunderbird: And, just for fun, what is your favorite food? What is your favorite dessert?
Dr. Strong: That’s a hard question; there are so many great choices out there. I think you can’t go wrong with a nice cut of steak, and I would probably follow that up with a nice slice of carrot without the raisins for whatever reason. My favorite steak place is Prime in Huntington and then Tellers on the South Shore. Those are my “go to’s” for sure.
And, with that, welcome back to school! While things may be different, Dr. Strong is very happy with how things are going so far and impressed with the way in which our student body has handled the necessary adjustments. As the year progresses, things will develop further, but it’s a one day at a time kind of year. So far, we’ve had a lot of good days. Keep up the good work Hills East! Thank you again, Dr. Strong, for taking time out of your very busy schedule to join us in welcoming back the entire HSE community!
Photo courtesy of Chip Parker.