Making the Grade: SHS Principal Jim Hesse
Things are different in the mountains, and first-year Summit High School principal Jim Hesse has felt it from the time he and his wife first moved to Summit County two and a half years ago. Though Hesse’s wife, Summit Middle School principal Iva Katz-Hesse, had a job waiting for her, Hesse did not. Following his own professional philosophy, he stepped outside his comfort zone, left a good job in a nice suburban school outside Detroit, and headed west, ready for something new. “I see that as a culture here, that people are willing to step outside and go for more,” Hesse said. “People aren’t sitting back waiting for it to happen, they’re going after it. You don’t know where you’ll end up out here – there are no limits.”He learned that the assistant principal position at the high school was available, but didn’t jump at the chance to move into a job nearly identical to the one he had just left.
“I said, ‘I’ve got all these others options.’ I have a builder’s license and I thought I might come out and do some of that stuff and all my friends said, ‘No, you’re a natural at being a principal. You’re good with kids, you’re good with parents – it’s you.’ I guess that’s why I’ve stayed in education so long, because it was rewarding every year I did it – I’ve never found anything I’d rather do more.”As he takes the reins of the high school after two years in the system, Hesse seeks to inject some of his tried-and-true ideals into his surroundings. “I think learning takes place when you step outside your comfort zone,” he said. “If you just do all the things that you’ve always been able to do, you’re not moving forward. You’ve got to challenge yourself, with some guidance and some help. We can make that our culture here – that we can always be better than we are. If I didn’t believe that, I’d still be back in Detroit doing what I was doing.” This is Hesse’s 35th year in education, after 19 teaching speech, drama and debate in the classroom, and 16 as an administrator. His experience is helpful, he said, but community support is what keeps Summit from falling into the impoverished trap of some other Colorado schools.
“Although Summit County is certainly different from any place I’ve ever been, still I can take some of the things I know worked and I can respect the culture here and blend the two things,” he said. “The best part of it all is the relationships I’ve made with staff members and students and families. It’s a great group of people.”Hesse and his staff have four chief aims this year, narrowed from a larger list published by the National Association of Secondary School Principals. The staff has been split into four groups and is researching programs in other schools, conducting focus groups and handing out surveys.- Transitions: students must be helped as much as possible through the difficult 8th-to-9th grade changeover. The transition from high school to college or “the real world” is equally important.- Senior year: Hesse wants Summit’s 88 percent graduation rate to improve, and he believes a closer look into the senior-year experience will provide some answers.
– Academics: A closer focus on specialty programs, both for excelling students and those with extra needs will make for a stronger district.- School climate: “Do students like going here?” is the central question. Character education, school spirit and parental involvement are all key.Hesse is confident that a year from now the district will be in a more knowledgeable position than it is today on these subjects.”We’re all on the same page,” he said. “We’re all in this together and everybody knows it. We’re not there yet but we know where we want to go. The focus here is student success.”
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