By: Alix Berman and Brianna Kalina
After quite an abnormal year, coming back to school completely in person has been all around amazing to everyone in the HSE community. Despite the challenges we have faced and are still battling, keeping traditions here at High School East is important, which is why The Thunderbird’s annual interview with Dr. Strong is back! Thank you Dr. Strong for giving us the opportunity to hear your input and outlook on the year ahead. With one month of school already completed, there is a lot to discuss!
The Thunderbird: How does it feel to have a fully populated school again?
Dr. Strong: It feels great. I know that the past year and a half has been very trying for not just students but staff and faculty as well, so it’s great to see the staff and building up and running again. Just those little things like opening the doors in the morning, seeing students in the hallway, catching up and chit chatting before they start their day. I realized that being remote is not just about the academic piece; it’s about the entire school community. Although there are some restrictions, it’s still great as a whole to see things starting to get normal again.
The Thunderbird: These two years have been hard for everyone, how do you think it has affected you as a high school principal?
Dr. Strong: It’s challenging; you want to be able to provide everyone with the best experience, so knowing you have certain limitations is disheartening, like sharing news about a certain event like your junior outing that had to be done differently. Although it was challenging, it was also energizing to come up with new ideas and work with advisors and different people to come up with things people were excited about. So looking forward, I think we always try to be on the cutting edge and share the latest and greatest. When I think about canvas and one to one devices I do feel we have done some things we are able to keep. The day to day planning was difficult to do knowing we couldn’t match the experience our student used to have, but hopefully the student body knew we were doing the best we could.
The Thunderbird: Many people have been talking about some of the new physical additions to the school this year, are there any you can elaborate on/explain?
Dr. Strong: There was a project in the lecture hall and auditorium to install ramps to provide access for all our students. There are times when we would do productions in the lecture hall and for certain individuals, an elevator was needed to get access, and we have seen tons of dysfunction with the old unit while also putting stress on the members during the show, so those units were taken out and there is now a ramp put in and in the auditorium side. One of the challenging parts of the summer was getting materials as many things were out of stock, so while many projects are 80% complete, we are still waiting on small pieces to fully complete our goals. Some other minor projects are an expansion of a hall of fame of trophies and sports throughout the building’s history. We came across the county championship plaques for past years and want to represent them. We are also working on some logo pieces and things like that as well.
The Thunderbird: The pandemic has turned our once reliance on paper to a very technologically oriented learning experience. How do you feel about the increased use of computers and online tools for learning?
Dr. Strong: I think it’s great. It’s crazy how now everything is on your phone. Whether it be appointments, contacts, it’s all there; I see it the same way for our students in terms of really shifting towards a more paperless and seamless style. But with that, I think there is a challenge too because we are still used to relying on paper and seeing things in front of us. Depending upon what type of student you are, some might like the traditional pen and paper style, so I can see how going to an online platform can be a little bit of a learning curve and a little bit of a challenge. I see both sides, but knowing that globally we are transitioning to a paperless world, I think it’s our responsibility to also prepare for what the next step will be. I certainly know that at the university level and even in the workforce, different online platforms are being implemented and are becoming the way of the future. I’m excited about the transition, but we need to be understanding of kids not on the forefront and encourage and support them the best we can to move along.
Thunderbird: High School East has numerous clubs for all students to join. If you could join any club, which one would you join?
Dr. Strong: In my experience growing up, I was definitely more into sports and athletics. Going back after working at the building and seeing a different perspective, I would have definitely wanted to take advantage of so many different clubs out there that I think growing up as a young teenager maybe my eyes were not as wide open to. Some of the tech clubs definitely seem exciting to me and some of the clubs like Best Buddies and community service clubs. I think if I had the chance to do it again, I would like to play an active role in those.
The Thunderbird: What is the most recent book you have read, and would you recommend it?
Dr. Strong: The last book I read was by Joe Buck; it was a biography/life story. He was a baseball and football announcer. His father was an announcer for the St. Louis Cardinals, and it was just an interesting background of his story and his life. Being into sports, it was interesting getting that perspective from him growing up with a father. It wasn’t only about his perspective in terms of sports in general which was interesting; it was also a perspective of his life in terms of having a relationship with his father. It was interesting to hear somebody who worked closely with his father. You don’t have to be a sports fan to enjoy this book, and I would definitely recommend it.
The Thunderbird: Where is the most amazing place you have traveled to, and why did you love it?
Dr. Strong: I have been fortunate to be able to travel to many places. The one trip that really stands out is the beach in 2000-2001, I had the opportunity to go to Greece and Egypt. It was a great trip and you get to see some of the historical places that you only see in pictures and can’t imagine. I always recall driving up to the pyramids and expecting to see those historic pieces in person and being able to do that was amazing.
The Thunderbird: What made you decide to become a high school principal?
Dr. Strong: It was never something I set out to do. My mother was an educator, and my father was a principal, so when I was finishing up my studies I looked at education as something that was a very noble profession. I saw the work my parents did so that got me into teaching. While I was teaching I wanted to get more involved in the building and that led me to be, what they called back then, a dean teaching in NYC and then I had the opportunity to become an assistant principal in NYC. I then had the opportunity to come back to Half Hollow Hills. I think that when you are in a career path or a profession certain things open themselves up to you. It goes back to that old saying, just being prepared, and when you are prepared and doing your studies then opportunities become available to you. When I was trending towards administration my father was a huge mentor for me. Just having those conversations and being able to touch base about experiences he’s had and some of my experiences, how things have changed, and how they have stayed the same. I guess that has influenced me to get where I am today.
The Thunderbird: High School East has plenty of traditions. If you had to pick one, which is your favorite?
Dr. Strong: For me, one of the traditions that we have always had here was certainly the commencement. It is weird because when you talk about traditions you are talking about things that do not change. Last year Stony Brook was a huge change in terms of traditions but it was exciting too. Just going and being able to celebrate the graduation in that way is why that tradition is always exciting for me. It is the culmination of all the students and the pride of their families in the audience. Seeing students walk across that stage for the last time is something that you can’t help but get nostalgic about. So that would have to be mine.
The Thunderbird: If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Dr. Strong: One food for the rest of my life??? Hmmm. A lot of people make fun of me and look at me strange for this but… do you know kale? People ask me if I cook with it, but all you need to do is cut the spines out. Kale salad is something I can eat all of the time; I love it. It’s good for you, and I am trying to think because I had to choose something that would be able to sustain me and also be healthy. I hope that if I am ever in this situation on a desert Island, I could get some meat or some fish.