Q/A with new KHS principal Seth Harrell

Seth+Harrell+is+the+new+KHS+principal+starting+July+1.

Seth Harrell is the new KHS principal starting July 1.

Q: How are you feeling?

A: “Extremely excited. This morning went better than I could have ever anticipated. When you have over 100 faculty that you have to tell you’re leaving, that’s tough. I think [Jackson High School] teachers are in a good place, but they’re a little sad they’re going to have to go through the transition of another principal. But other than that, I’m extremely excited [and] I’ve [fallen] in love with the Kirkwood community and [KSD]. [I’m] anxious to get into this new role and hope to help contribute to the great things at Kirkwood.”

Q: Can you tell us a little about Jackson High School (JHS)?

A: “I consider JHS to be similar to Kirkwood. We’re relatively close in student population and some of our philosophies align, academic excellence and striving to be a top performing school. Another similarity, [is that] we’re always trying to create opportunities for students to be a part of something that is interesting to them. That starts with expanding your clubs, organizations and opportunities for students to take advantage of outside the school setting. And then, one of the biggest things is just a constant focus, and trying to ensure that we have a school culture centered around belonging, and that our students feel welcome.”

Q: What made you want to be KHS principal?

A: “The academic success, the school traditions, the student-centered culture, the support from the community, came up throughout the [interview] process. And that’s what encouraged me to pursue this position. Going through the interview process validated my belief that the faculty, staff and community of Kirkwood are fully invested and engaged in the education of students. A lot of the philosophies and goals in the district strategic plan align with my beliefs and philosophies. And so I see this as a very good fit.”

Dr. Seth Harrell has been announced as the new KHS principal. (Jackson High School Publications)

Q: How do you plan to make a positive impact on the Kirkwood community?

A: “Trust. It’s extremely important to build a relationship centered around trust, and it’s going to have to come [with] humility. I’ve got different background and experience than those that work at KSD. I hope to take what I have learned over my past several years, and apply that to Kirkwood. [I’ll] work with a great group of assistant principals and staff to identify areas that we would like to give a little bit more attention to. At the end of the day, everything’s going to be centered around student learning.”

Q: How will you support KHS staff?

A: “[Principals] have to be visible and available. [Principals should] be visible in the hallways between passing periods, making sure that if a staff member has a concern, or needs extra assistance that you’re jumping right in and helping with the situation. I pride myself on being able to do that. That human relationship, [between principal and staff] is really  powerful, and that’s how you establish trust.”

Listening and being a school leader fully invested in understanding other people’s perspectives is important to me. That’s where the open mindedness comes from.”

— Seth Harrell

Q: The Thought Exchange survey showed people want you to be open minded. How are you going to make sure you are open to all sides and opinions when running the school?

A: “Listening and being a school leader fully invested in understanding other people’s perspectives is important to me. That’s where the open mindedness comes from. Knowing people have different thoughts and perspectives on things and using that information to help guide our decisions, and collaborative work. It’s working together as a team and understanding that I don’t have all the information.”

Q: Also KHS students said that mental health was a top priority on the Thought Exchange survey. How are you going to make sure students receive help and that we are in a good learning environment?

A: “Establishing a culture and climate of belonging. I need to become more familiar with KHS and the day to day process of what it’s like as a student, [so I can] understand what are issues that may be impacting student wellness and mental health and then working with our team to identify ways to address [the issues.] But student voices are extremely important. Listening to students, ensuring they have a seat at the table, is very important. We’ve had on our radar at JHS, and we’ve just tried to do what we can. [JHS] is one of the few high schools in our area that has a therapy dog, and I think it’s a small step in the right direction, that has been a positive for our students and staff. I’m going to be open minded in this process, and understand what our students need?”

You lead with dignity, and there’s going to be times where you have to make a tough decision. I feel that I’m the best candidate for this position, because I don’t have any problem doing that. There’s a process in doing so. It’s not just shooting from the hip, but at the end of the day, a decision is going to have to be made.”

— Seth Harrell

Q: Sometimes you’ll have to make an unpopular decision but one you believe in. How will you handle that pressure?

A: “You lead with dignity, and there’s going to be times where you have to make a tough decision. I feel that I’m the best candidate for this position, because I don’t have any problem doing that. There’s a process in doing so. It’s not just shooting from the hip, but at the end of the day, a decision is going to have to be made. I know that decisions impact people on both sides, and not everyone is going to be in support of my decision. And that’s ok. The decisions are going to be made based on what is best for students and aligned to the district’s strategic plan. I think if we can keep our decision making centered around those areas, people will buy in and realize that we’re making the best decisions. So you stick with that decision, and [don’t] be afraid to admit when you’re wrong at times.”

Q: Do you already have something you want to do differently at KHS?

A: “No, I need to become more familiar with [KHS] before I start talking about changes. Kirkwood does great things, and it’s important for me to work with assistant principals and staff to identify things that need to be modified or enhanced in a different way. I know that there’s a focus on closing the achievement gap, so I think that’s going to be a top priority of mine.”

Q: Is there anything you want to say to KHS and the Kirkwood community?

A: “[I’m] extremely impressed with the Kirkwood community, district and high school. Being able to interact with them in the interview process, it was such a fun group [and] they were very positive. It seemed like they were always smiling and laughing. [The interviews] solidified my belief that this is the best high school position for me, and I’m looking forward to working with those individuals.”