Q&A: Renee VanGorp Talks About Her First Months As Fridley High Principal
She took on the leadership of Fridley High School suddenly last summer. How's it going for Renee VanGorp?
Renee VanGorp spent 25 years in the Fridley School District as coach, special-ed teacher, guidance counselor and activities director before leaving for three years of work in Edina, Chaska and Spring Lake Park schools. She had just returned to Fridley High School last summer to become assistant principal when Principal Dave Webb accepted the job of superintendent of the South St. Paul public schools. If she had been expecting to make a low-key reaquaintance with Fridley, Webb's departure and her acceptance of the principal post changed those plans.
And that was before Donkey Basketball, last month's booster-group fundraiser at the school gym—featuring ballplayers riding real donkeys—that drew a firestorm of protest from animal-rights activists.
Fridley Patch caught up with VanGorp on a recent Friday afternoon to ask about her first few months back at Fridley High.
Fridley Patch: What has surprised you about Fridley High since you've returned as principal?
Principal Renee VanGorp: Surprised? Well, there are 20 new staff in the building. Some systems have changed a little bit. Little things—our registration book looks different than it did. You're always surprised when you're in a new role.
Fridley Patch: Who are your role models for this job?
VanGorp: I had a lot of great role models throughout my career. They stayed true to who they were. I can't be somebody I'm not. I'm comfortable in terms of listening to the needs of teachers, students and parents. They appreciate my open-door policy—open, transparent dialogue.
Fridley Patch: What are you looking forward to this school year?
VanGorp: Building relationships. Getting to know the kids better, who we are in 2010–11.
Fridley Patch: What did you take away from Donkey Basketball?
VanGorp: We were all in it together: the parent organization, the school, the police department. The proactive work helped.
Fridley Patch: How did it go?
VanGorp: It was jam-packed [inside]. There were about seven folks [protesting] outside. They were respectful. There were no incidents. Once I created my email filter—I got about 400 emails—it went really well.
Fridley Patch: This year's senior class is the first to graduate under the full International Baacalaureate program, with its demanding curriculum and structure. What challenges does the program present for a principal?
VanGorp: Challenges? I don't know if they are challenges. It's just making sure that you're providing a quality, holistic education with a global view. It's a rigorous program for students. They have the opportunity to be a full-diploma candidate or take some diploma courses. Every student can benefit from IB. Colleges are recognizing it.
Fridley Patch: I see you're wearing appropriate attire. [Casually dressed in school spirit attire.]
VanGorp: It's Fridley Friday!
Fridley Patch: Oh, you have that here?
VanGorp: I do!