With a new school year dawning, Current conducted a Q&A interview with Fishers High School Principal Jason Urban on what to expect going in to the 2021-22 school year.
What’s going to be different for this upcoming school year, especially coming off 2020?
I’ve been principal in this building from our very first full year as a high school (2006), and I just remember that drive to build culture, to build connections, to build traditions. As I think about this year, it’s really similar to where we were 15 years ago starting new. We’ve got sophomores that have never been in this building, freshmen, of course, that are brand new to us. We even have juniors and seniors that have been away for, in some cases, a year and a half.
There’s just this real compelling feeling of rebuilding tradition, rebuilding culture, and it’s exciting. It was exciting then (in 2006) and it’s exciting now that we have this opportunity to really think about what it means to be a part of the Fishers High School family.
What have you heard from your teachers? Are they excited to be getting back to a more normal school year?
They are definitely excited. First of all, think of how many changes we had over the last couple school years. From when we first started quarantining, in the spring of 2020 to the end of last school year, we went through six different schedule changes and different modes of instruction. There seems to be a lot of optimism that there won’t be a ton of change in our mode of operation. I think they are excited about that.
We’re still taking safety precautions, but we have a little bit more flexibility in the classroom as far as group work and those kinds of things. And I think they are really excited to apply some of those lessons that they have learned about the craft (of teaching) from COVID. It taught how to use digital means to connect with students, how important it is to build student connections, and how important it is to be really intentional about learning objections.
After everything that the class of 2020 and 2021 had to deal with, is there an added motivation to ensure the class of 2022 has a more stable senior year?
I’ve been impressed with our senior leadership already. They have really taken an active approach and trying to establish that from the very beginning. Something new that we are doing this year is trying to train more student leaders. We’re trying to extend that reach of inviting more students into our student activities.
The seniors, especially, have been great. They’ve already organized a senior run where they are going to distribute their T-shirts and headbands. They’ve already got that going. They’ve got the T-shirt designed, so we are going to do that during the first week of school to help rebuild that connection to their class. I know that they’ve been talking a lot about their excitement to rebuild the spirit through the football games in the community presence there. I’m very impressed they’ve been very active already in getting organized and communicating with their classmates. They’re hungry for a more normal school year.
It seems there has been a simmering frustration among segments of parents about different school board decisions and what is being taught in the schools. How do you navigate such a hot-button issue?
Our goal is to be as transparent as possible with what we are teaching our students. We’re taking extra steps this year to communicate with parents more effectively. That’s something COVID taught us as well. People get bombarded with information and it’s hard for parents and working adults to engage. So, we are developing a parent handbook that we are going to keep as a living document and resource for parents to get information in the moment. Part of that is trying to be very clear about what’s happening in our schools because we have so many changes for this year. We’re moving to a block schedule. Our students are starting later in the day, and then we are bringing in a targeting instruction period.
We’re also going to publish (on the website) a year in a glance overview of our curriculum when it comes to social/emotional learning and career readiness (for upperclassmen). There were a lot of questions about that curriculum last year, and now parents having it in their hands will know what to expect. And we are hoping parents will follow up with discussions at home.