Andrew Beaton, Columbia Heights High School’s new principal, said he is confident that the school already has everything in place to help students succeed.
“We don’t need a savior to come in and fix our school,” he said. “We have a talented, resilient teaching staff that has what it takes to work with kids.”
Beaton came to the Columbia Heights School district in 2004 as one of two assistant principals. After former principal Matthew Schoen announced he was leaving last year Beaton applied for the job, in part to implement some of the initiatives he started last year.
One of the most appealing things about Columbia Heights High School, he added, is its size. “A school with 900 kids is manageable. It’s big enough so that we can provide the programs we need to, but there aren’t so many kids that I don’t recognize them when they come in the front door. We’re actually able to make changes quickly around here, without all the bureaucracy of a large school.”
When asked about his agenda next year, he is quick to answer. “We want to create a school with high achievement, a high graduation rate, and a high number of students going on to secondary education with comparable ACT scores. Our accountability measures are very high.
“We also want students to feel safe here. We want them to be satisfied with their education and we want them to feel connected to the school.”
What about the staff? “We want them to be proud to work here,” he said.
Columbia Heights School Superintendent Kathy Kelly said, “I couldn’t be more delighted to have him heading the high school. Andy has had immediate and positive impacts on everything we’ve done thus far, including scheduling, hiring and evaluating staff and supervising a myriad of programs. He is an intelligent, analytical person who is very articulate on the issues. He is also student-centered. He has high expectations for them, and supports their academic and emotional well being. He certainly has proven himself as an assistant principal. I can already tell, in the few short weeks he has been on the job since July, what a masterful job he will be doing by the end of the year.”
Beaton said the school has implemented initiatives designed to help district staff keep a close watch on kids’ achievement. Aimed at ninth graders, they include an intervention program (“to get stuff about grades out in the open”), mandatory after-school tutoring for those who need it, and credit completion. That one is the last resort for students who are failing a class. It includes on-line study and tutoring; the goal is for the student not to have to re-take a course.
All students take part in an advisory program, meeting with an advisor four times a year, he added. If ninth graders don’t attend the intervention sessions, their extra-curricular activities get cut: for instance, if they’re on a sport team, they can’t attend practices or play in games. They also can’t attend school dances, parties, or other events.
In the coming school year, Beaton said he wants to extend the initiatives to 10th graders as well. And, every student is in the advisory program. “Our advisory program is very different from any other school I have ever seen. We have made academics the entire focus.”
The school is adding advanced placement physics this year to its other advanced placement offerings, which include calculus, biology, chemistry, English literature and composition, American and world history, studio art and art history.
In sports, girls’ lacrosse will be added in the spring. The school offers many team sports, including track, basketball, football, soccer, golf, baseball, softball, volleyball, tennis, swimming and synchronized swimming. The boys’ and girls’ hockey teams combined into a tri-metro league with two other schools’ teams, Brooklyn Center and Fridley. This is the second year the high school teams will compete in a different conference, called North Suburban. (In previous years Heights played in the Metro Alliance Conference, which recently split into different sections.) That means they play against St. Louis Park, Totino Grace, Benilde St. Margaret, St. Francis, Chisago Lakes, Cooper and Fridley.
Although enrollment at the high school dropped slightly last spring, Beaton said he expects it to go up again this fall. He added that he thinks that Columbia Heights students are unique. “We have a very diverse student population, but there are very few racial issues. We don’t have hazing in this building. Our Link Crew (a student volunteer group that helps new students get acclimated) has been very effective.”
This year will be a year of new faces in the high school and administration offices. Newly hired Superintendent Kelly replaces Nancy Kaldor, who retired, along with long-time superintendent secretary and school board secretary Kathy Bergstrom. The job of assistant principal at the high school is currently open. Interviews were proceeding last week.
Last year there were two dean positions, but the district cut one. Ben Lane will continue in the remaining dean job. “Deans have direct student contact. They do a lot of discipline. Their job is different from an assistant principal in that they don’t do teacher evaluations,” Beaton said.
There were administrative changes, too: William Streff, who was an assistant principal when Beaton started, moved to the teaching and learning department in the administration office. After Matt Townsend moved from the job of athletic director back to the classroom as a technical education teacher, Mark Korliss took the job of athletic director.
Beaton, who has a degree in geography from Macalester College in St. Paul and a master’s degree in education from St. Mary’s University (downtown Minneapolis campus), is the son of two college professors.
He said he originally planned to deviate from the family tradition of teaching and become a lawyer. But the jobs he took while getting ready for law school–as a special ed para-professional in Burnsville, a sports coach and Adventure Club staff member in Robbinsdale–led him right back to education.
“After I got licensed from the University of Minnesota to teach social studies, my first teaching job was at my old high school, Armstrong High School [in Plymouth],” Beaton said. “That school had opened in 1970, and a lot of the teachers had started at the same time. By the time I got there, they were ready to retire. I quickly moved up in seniority and leadership and became department chair after just a few years.”
Beaton worked at Armstrong from 1995 to 2002. He piloted the school’s first advanced placement class in social studies and, with another teacher, piloted an American studies advanced placement class that combined film studies with writing. “We studied American history through film. The students watched films such as Sergeant York and Bonnie and Clyde. Then they wrote about them. They also made their own documentaries.”
He worked on the Profile of Learning for a year while he was finishing his master’s degree, and became an assistant administrator at Sandberg Middle School in Golden Valley. “That was two years of heavy discipline. I dealt with truancy, the school climate, expulsion hearings, IEP’s (individual education profile) for special ed. I was also the varsity soccer coach at Armstrong High School.” In his job as administrator at Sandberg, Beaton directed an area learning center and was the summer school principal for middle school students.
His wife Anne is a teacher at Armstrong; they have two children, a six-year-old boy and a three-year-old girl. Between his coaching and teaching, he said, he gained a lot of experience with kids of different ages. He likes middle school students, he said, because “I enjoy their energy. They’re also terribly honest.”
He said he is looking forward to the start of school, and plans on having many conversations with the Columbia Heights High School staff. “I’m really excited about this opportunity. I felt I was qualified, and I feel honored that the school board agreed. I love this school and the community. There is tremendous community support and history here.”
To reach Beaton or the Columbia Heights School district, call 763-528-4500. The web site is www.colheights.k12.mn.us.