‘Lead the way’ Oak Ridge principal challenges on first day
Last Thursday incredible energy filled the air on Oak Ridge High School’s first day and a rally held set a respect-for-all tone for the year.
The recent gym expansion allowed all 2,434 students to attend the Welcome Rally together.
“This helps facilitate a spirit of belonging and togetherness,” Principal Paul Burke told Village Life. “It also creates a common understanding of the culture we have here at Oak Ridge.”
It’s the third year for the school’s Respect for All program. This year’s theme is We Care.
“Our goal is to illuminate and grow our culture of valuing the worth of every individual within our learning community while eliminating prejudice, bigotry, racism, harassment and discrimination,” Burke continued. “We will continue with periodic whole-school lessons on student-related topics such as choosing positive peer groups, social media and the digital footprint, stress awareness and drug and alcohol avoidance. New this year is the addition of school-wide monthly themes to go along with the lessons, including unity month and care for your community month.”
At the start of the assembly the lights went out. Students screamed as hundreds of phone flashes lit up the dark.
A short film shot by the Art Media class began with student Rachel Luz bored and sick of Oak Ridge’s ubiquitous cheese sauce. “I could be Joe Jock, Leslie Looker or Mark the Musician,” Rachel’s twin sister Paige narrated while actual Oak Ridge students known to be those things were shown. “No, I need an adventure of my own,” she said before following her own unique pursuits.
“Join a club, make a club, involve yourself out of the classroom,” students were told more than once at the assembly.
Student Josh Prettyman helped create the film. “At the end of last year we were asked to make an inspiring video over the summer,” Josh told Village Life. This year the popular Art Media Club has been promoted to a new course taught by teacher Kevin Balzer, called Digital Imaging or Art Media.
“We wanted to capture something that truly reflects the Oak Ridge experience,” Burke said of the video. “We have an incredible energy I’m excited about. We have a very supportive and caring learning environment here and our staff felt strongly that they wanted to express this in a visually powerful way.”
Each class was welcomed after the film ended. “To the freshmen, it doesn’t matter where you came from. You’re a Trojan now,” Burke told them. “We have a tradition of respect here.”
Looking at the sophomores and juniors Burke said, “Lead the way.”
To the seniors he urged, “Lead the way. Set the tone for others. I don’t know what the year will be like. There will be ups and downs, but always remember we’re Trojans. Carry on the tradition. The staff stands with you.”
Student Claire Soulier sang the Oak Ridge Alma Mater while the entire faculty walked out in their Respect for All T-shirts.
The Lucid Evolution dance team, Oak Ridge dance team and cheerleaders performed.
Student Emily Davinroy was excited to kick off her senior year at the rally. “It’s a little nerve-wracking to be a senior and it’s crazy to think I’m almost done,” she said. “This year I plan to go to every dance and every activity.”
Senior Angie Moisin moved to El Dorado Hills from Arizona last fall and said, “Coming to Oak Ridge was a big change; people like Emily have made it easier.”
After experiencing a number of retirements at the end of last school year, 15 new teachers joined the Oak Ridge staff; new principal’s administrative assistant Courtney Soto replaced Kathy Botkin and new Director of Guidance Carol Bronzan replaced Gwen Swedelson.
“Our new director of guidance was previously an admissions analyst at U.C. Berkeley and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience pertaining to the college admissions process,” Burke said. “She was a crucial hire.”
Bronzan will oversee the entire counseling department, which includes, among other duties, building the master schedule and overseeing all testing.
“Last year we had a successful year with the tablet cohort, including teachers creating a highly effective instructional model and continuing to develop the use of these devices to further student achievement,” Burke explained.
This year the school district plans to build on that success with the purchase of more than 460 Google Chromebooks for Oak Ridge student use. The devices are housed in portable carts and will be used to support Common Core Curriculum within math, English, science and history departments.
“Teachers have spent numerous hours this summer participating in various technology related professional development training,” said Burke. “The tablets and Chromebooks are more examples of our school district, Oak Ridge and our community working together to help accomplish our goal of becoming one of the top technologically advanced high schools in the state.”
As much as students are encouraged to get involved, Burke would like parents to make their mark this school year too. “There are numerous ways to get involved, such as through our foundation, Friends of Oak Ridge, Sober Grad Night or through one of our sports or Visual and Performing Arts booster clubs,” he said. “I look forward to working together with our staff, parents and community to have another great year.”