South Tahoe principal settles into second semester
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — South Tahoe High School Principal Chad Houck had been looking for an opportunity to move to Tahoe for years. Now, several months after he and his family made the move from Ridgecrest and went through his first semester on the job, he finds the experience is living up to his expectations.
“It’s something that my wife and I, in the few quiet moments that we might get, we’ll ask each other, ‘did we do the right thing?’ And every time it’s, ‘absolutely yes,’” Houck said.
“Everything we were looking for, we knew was going to be here, and we found it here.”
Before making the move, Houck did his homework. He asked friends who graduated from South Tahoe High School for their opinions on the school and did a cursory investigation into the perceptions of the school. He also had the opportunity to meet the staff and get a sense of the people he would be working with.
That information allowed him to be able to adapt well and quickly during the first semester.
“One of the first experiences that I got to have with our students was with our student leadership in a meeting that we had in the evening, and I was overwhelmed with their openness to ideas and excitement for the ideas I was bringing in,” he said.
The first day of school was fun, Houck said. Before the students stepped into their first class, the whole school attended a rally that helped set to the tone for the school year – his first year.
“Having been on campus for a month without any students, it felt incomplete. So, finally having the students here and getting to see them and interact with them really brought the pieces to the table,” he said.
Because of the positive attitudes, a welcoming reception from staff and the community and comprehensive knowledge of the area and the school, the transition has gone, for the most part, smoothly.
His first semester, however, was not entirely a simple one as the school experienced tragedy with the death of freshman Dejon Smith. Houck said it was a difficult situation, but that the it showed him a new side of the students.
“I was extremely proud for how our students responded. The level of support they had for one another and for the community,” he said.
Now in his second semester as principal, Houck is working to put his educational philosophy into practice.
“At the most basic level I can serve this community and this school by having as many students as possible, everyday, feel like they have a connection to something important,” he said.
Having the feeling that a student knows someone at the school cares about them is powerful, he added.
Houck believes, citing studies, that students who get involved in extracurricular activities at school are more likely to succeed. Those aspects of school are extensions of an education a high school experience should provide.
“We endeavor to teach the academics that we must and also the interpersonal wellness skills that will allow our graduates to be successful adults,” Houck said.
Crucial to the development of a connection from students to their school and to establish an identity are rituals and traditions such as dances, rallies and, a particular focus point for Houck at the moment, the yearbook.
Part of Houck’s strategy to develop that sense of belonging and identity is to make sure every student gets a yearbook at the end of the year.
Houck said he wants students to look back fondly at their school year when leaving for the summer and, for returning students, be eager to come back.
The initiative, which Houck calls “Every Viking Gets a Yearbook,” hopes to find sponsors for students who may not be able to buy a yearbook. Those sponsors would be honored with a mention in the yearbook.
Houck also plans to improve communication with parents and the rest of the community with a twice-weekly newsletter.
As part of his identity and connection strategy, Houck said he also plans to work to improve the school’s sport programs and the facilities.
For now, Houck continues to enjoy a new period in his life.
“Of course we all know Tahoe, in and of itself, is a destination that every day I get to drive to school and marvel at how lucky I feel that I was able to get to this point in my life,” Houck said.
He later said about his new position, “I really believe I’ve got one of the best jobs there is.”
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