NEW FACES: New school year brings fresh regime to Whitko

SOUTH WHITLEY — Whitko High School (WHS) will start the 2012-13 school year with numerous new faces. Five new teachers, out of a staff of 31, as well as a new athletic director and assistant principal, will be under the leadership of former Assistant Principal Dave Parker, who now sits in the seat of principal.“We are going to stumble a bit early on, but it’s going to work out,”said Parker. “It’s nice to have new perspectives and ideas that come with new staff.”As Parker fills in the position that was once held by Parrish Kruger, he said he is glad for the time he had to work with Kruger, but now he’s ready to tackle a new challenge.“Primarily, for me as an assistant principal, I was focused on discipline, attendance and teacher evaluation. Now I am going to be working more on budgeting and curriculum. I am still figuring this new position out,” said Parker.Parker’s new assistant principal is Jason Ridge. Ridge comes from Northridge Middle School where he taught eighth grade social studies. He said that he wants to build on the positive things WHS is doing.“We are going to take the best of what was already in place and just add to that,” said Ridge. “I am lucky because I get to have the person who was in this position before me right next door. I can look at what precedence Dave set and follow that. He did a great job establishing the culture and I want to continue on with the great things that are already in place.”Another new face on the WHS campus is Athletic Director Casey Stouffer. Coming from a five year stint as an assistant athletic director and wrestling coach at the College of Mt. Saint Joseph, Stouffer said WHS was a good move for him.“I grew up in Wabash so this is closer to family. My career goal was to be an athletic director. I liked the size of the school and the area so it was a good fit,” Stouffer said.Each of these men step into roles that come with responsibility and precedence. Parker said they don’t want to spark a revolution by making a lot of changes, but they want to create an evolution that maintains positive growth.Parker said, “There isn’t anything I want to do that is completely different than before, but we are going to be a little more focused. I want to work toward everyone being on the same page with our school goals.”According to Parker, the three main goals at WHS are the school’s positive influence on students and the community, academics continuing to improve and that the school’s morale and pride grows.“I don’t think we are bad or poor, but we have room to grow and there are things we can do to improve. We want WHS to be a great place for students and teachers,” said Parker.Ridge agreed with Parker’s vision and said, “There is a lot of change that is going on and we are all learning. I am a small piece of a big puzzle that is working toward accomplishing the school goals. I know that I will help create the positive culture of the school.”The school, although a learning institution, is also a place for students to feel connected. With the Whitko Community School Corporation spread over numerous small towns and communities, WHS is a common thread that can tie it all together.Parker said that he has seen first hand how the school pulls people in from South Whitley all the way to the Kosciusko County line.“The school is the tie that binds. It is the commonality between the areas. It’s a neat thing because we have the ability to have an impact on the area, but if you are the tie that binds, you have to be aware of the responsibility,” Parker said.Ridge said, “It’s neat to be at a small school because we can get to know the students, spend time talking to them and know what is going on in their lives. I’ve already eaten at some area restaurants where students work. So the school is a big part of the community. It’s what makes Whitko special.”With his new position, Ridge is tasked with the responsibility of school discipline and attendance. But his view of the job is one that supports the students, not dominates them.He said, “Discipline and attendance is just another form of leadership. It would be impossible to have a highly effective school without discipline. For students to be successful, they need to be here and in order to further the goals of building a positive school and growing the academics, my goal is to make sure they are here, safe and secure.”School violence and bullying have been a hot-button topic for administrators and as the students start piling in for the first day of school, Ridge said keeping kids safe is a fine line to walk.“Sometimes in a bigger school you can get suffocated by a lot of rules. There are a lot more acts of violence. We can do a lot of things to keep WHS safe and secure,” said Ridge. “We are balancing the act of protecting the individuality of the students and keeping it safe in the school.”As the principal, Parker said the students know what is appropriate behavior at school and what isn’t. “We have a caring environment and a staff that knows kids. They can sense what kids need and when they might be struggling with some things,” Parker said. He went on to add that the school is doing good things, and although that sometimes isn’t publicized, last year’s seniors earned over 1.3 million in scholarships. “Good stuff is going on here and we will always take a strong look at what is going on to make sure that it goes through the filter of our goal system,” Parker said. If variety is the spice of life, then WHS is full of it. The trio all agreed that options and opportunities were important for the students at WHS.Stouffer said that even on the field, it is important to give students the chance to be involved.“I think it is good to have options for kids. We have a new band director here and we will be working together to have them involved at the games,” said Stouffer. “I think it is good to offer different things. One of my goals is to help get more kids involved and keep the communication open between coaches and teachers.”Parker added, “We want to give them life skills, options and opportunities. WHS is a good place, a nice place. We humbly go about our business, but as people get to know us, they see we have a really nice environment here with great people.”One of the areas WHS continues to provide options exists in the realm of trade classes. Parker said he realizes that not all students are bound for high academic colleges. “We work to create a balance so that each student receives something here. It is easy to get those types of programs cut, because schools want to focus on test scores, but that doesn’t reflect the little things that are going on. It doesn’t allow for students to continue learning life skills in other types of classes,”said Parker.Stouffer sees academics as a vital part of his athletic plan. “Getting kids in athletics and the participation level raised helps build morale. People view the athletics to see if the school is good or not,” Stouffer said. “But I promote educational based athletics. Academics is important and a priority.”One way Stouffer intends to make academics a part of his play book is to start a Whitko Athletic Honor Society to honor those athletes that keep up with their grades. “At the college level I saw how important academics were to the success of the students. Even starting freshman year of high school, academics are crucial.”Assistant Principal Ridge said as the school year starts, he is excited to be learning his new job and a different part of the school system. He said, “I am excited to become a part of the Whitko community and I am looking forward to getting to know the kids and teachers as well as support our school goals and build relationships.”Principal Parker said he is glad to be working with Stouffer and Ridge as well as the rest of the staff. “I am looking forward to serving our school, kids and community in a new way and I am excited for the growth that is going to come,” said Parker.