By: Bradley Shanker and Emily Disman
It’s a new year for Hills East, which means a lot of things. A new class of freshmen will be navigating the halls, while all returning students have a chance for a fresh start to make their remaining years in high school memorable and successful. Perhaps the most notable change to HSE this year is that of our principal, and we are very excited to welcome Dr. Milton K. Strong to the HSE community. We had the opportunity to sit down with our new principal and find out exactly how he plans to make Hills East flourish.
Thunderbird: What are your goals as principal for this year? Do you have a timeframe during which you hope to accomplish these goals?
Dr. Strong: Certainly, coming into a new environment is very exciting and being a graduate of High School East has a certain sentiment attached to it. I’ve always been very appreciative of the district. One of my main goals is to continue to expand upon the student experience; I want students to be able to continue to enhance their access to multiple academic programs, sports, and activities, including extracurricular clubs. I want to help students maximize these experiences in an environment that is safe and orderly. Most importantly, I want them to enjoy their overall student experience.
TB: What is your overall vision for HSE? Are there any philosophies that you will carry over from the middle school; if so, what are they?
DS: Not so much philosophies, but I feel as I move up, I’m going to have to take another look at the pieces. For example, it will be an adjustment to go from dealing with middle school students to now dealing with students who are older and more mature. So, the bigger adjustment will definitely be on my end with respect to that piece. However, it’s a two way street. There is an expectation for a 14, 15, 16 year old getting ready to go out into the world to have greater responsibility, so I have to look at myself and understand that these students are not 10 and 11 anymore; I can’t treat high school students as if they are in middle school. So, I hope to find that middle ground with students and work together to form a great student learning experience.
TB: While the culture of our district is to foster a strong academic environment in all buildings, the high school and middle school are very different in a lot of ways. How do you intend to navigate this transition, and do you anticipate any challenges arising?
DS: There are always challenges no matter where you go, but what I hope to do is talk to people, to reach out to our students and faculty members to hear what their experiences have been and identify areas where we can maximize the experience for everyone while sort of bringing my own brand and interests into it. I think a key point is that we have a very large faculty that is very passionate about what they do; they have tremendous insights into their various programs, so I really want to explore their thoughts and see how we can get those pieces out in the open. It’s really interesting that I sit in this office, but I’m just one person; it takes a community to move forward and proceed with a vision.
TB: What advice do you have for incoming freshmen? Current sophomores, juniors, and seniors?
DS: My advice would be to stay the course. For freshman, I would say take it all in and acclimate yourself in such a way that knowing what you’re doing is going to be accountable at a higher level. To our sophomores and upperclassmen, I would say continue to work hard, and if there are pieces of who they are that they can tap into and haven’t already, then explore them. We have an amazing auditorium, a planetarium that is uncomparable, and clubs and activities that rank highly in the region and the state. There is so much here for all of the student body to take advantage of to truly have a unique, versatile high school experience.
TB: If you could describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
DS: Passionate, Focused, Driven. I’m very passionate about what I do and hope to help students be the best they can. I am focused daily and want to reach out to all members of our community to hear their feedback. I am also very driven; I like to see things through and work towards a common goal.
TB: What would you like to share about yourself with the HSE student body that they don’t already know?
DS: Maybe that I’m more flexible than people think. I think that where we last met [West Hollow] was a very different environment. I want them to know that I am open to dialogue, and I want to hear their voices. I’m open to seeing what they have to say, but I’m also interested in moving forward in a certain direction. I think my goal is to almost be a partner in that transition. I know that holding this office comes with a certain responsibility and authority. But, like I said before, you need to get everybody on board to move forward in a successful fashion. So, I think people don’t recognize that I’m probably more flexible than they would think.
TB: Will we see you, around the building?
DS: Absolutely! This is a very sentimental place for me… I remember the days as a kid going up and down Vanderbilt Parkway and coming to school here. In many ways, the hundred acre facility we have here is impressive. I do know, however, that in order for me to complete my vision, I have to get out there and go down to the 900 wing or walk across to the art department and see what’s going on in every area in between. I am looking forward to a most successful and fun school year. As always, I will see you…around the building.
On behalf of the entire Thunderbird staff, we welcome Dr. Strong to High School East. I think it’s safe to say that we are as excited as he is to begin this new journey together.
Photo courtesy of Emily Disman