This year, Holland High School welcomes Katie Pennington as she steps in to lead the historic school and its vibrant community of students, teachers, and administrators. Catch up with Katie and hear her perspective on her first few months on the job.

How’s your first month on the job?

I’ve had the unique position of working in the school since last April! During that time, I’ve shadowed my predecessor and received a wonderful foundation. Normally, my first month would be a mix of both acclimating and tackling new projects, and it still is! But I’m also able to launch into new projects, like staff interviews. It’s been a nice start with the bridge time earlier this spring.

Are there any immediate changes you’d like to make?

I firmly believe that a lot of learning needs to be done when you take over any new role. One of the nice thing at Holland High School is that the staff members have a lot of history of the place and are able to give me info on what needs changed or tweaked. They’ve also generated great ideas!

Any big changes at Holland will be team changes. Schools like Holland have a unique history. I don’t want to make sweeping changes that dishonor that history in anyway.

Are you excited to lead Holland High School, the state’s oldest district?

Yes! I was attracted to the Holland High School’s heritage. It’s one of the oldest districts in the state of Michigan and that’s a neat thing for its students and its citizens. This does not mean we’re stagnant! Out of all the districts I’ve worked, Holland is a very progressive district.

Then, there are the laws and mandates that have changed since the school opened 100 years ago. But, there’s a nice balance of how we maintain Holland’s legacy while adapting for the betterment of our students.

In fact, one exciting change is Holland’s commitment to the early college program. This is a huge passion of mine and I’m excited to bring more energy to this project. How we blend college and high school is becoming the norm. I want all of our students to be prepared for the life outside these halls. That requires that I have a working knowledge of these structures, and I’m excited to continue the efforts here.

What unique background do you bring to the role?

The biggest thing I bring to this new role is lots of experience. My background is a bit unusual–I’ve already worked as a principal for the last eight years at two different schools. What I love about schools is working with entire community at the school.

I have a great background in Special Education. I’m not certified–and perhaps I’ve missed my calling. But I do get to touch that world as I can!

In short, I know what I’m getting into. And, the people who gravitate towards working with the adolescent age group are my kind of people.

How big is the burnout problem for teachers and administrators?

The most common misconception of adolescents today is that they are wildly different than kids 20, 30, 40 years ago. That’s just not the case. Yes, there’s a brighter spotlight on their achievements and their failings–and we can’t dismiss the role of social media. For many of the students, social media doesn’t let these kids get away with anything.

What I’ve noticed throughout my career, and what I believe is true for any industry, is that if you focus on the negatives, you will burn out.

There are so many positive things in this job and in any school. When you focus on the things to celebrate–the students, teachers, parents, and administrators, you are fulfilled by your work. I’ve already been impressed with the culture of positivity here at Holland! When you walk the halls or see teachers arriving to work in the morning, there’s a light in their eyes.

Their hearts are in the right place.

This article was adapted after an interview with Katie Pennington by the WHTC, Holland’s News Leader. Click here to listen to the full interview: What’s New in Holland Public Schools: Hello Katie Pennington.