Outgoing new principal interacts with students

Maggie Fisher, Features Editor

If you are looking for the stereotypical principal, who only interacts with the students when they are in trouble, then you shouldn’t look at South High. After only one month at South, Principal Ray Aponte can be seen in classrooms welcoming freshmen, in the commons checking in on lunch and chatting with students, sharing ideas at Green Tiger meetings, and giving “P.R.I.D.E.” shoelaces to students after introductory auditorium meetings.

When Aponte was first appointed principal in June, 2013, the Star Tribune reported, “He has a reputation as a principal who interacts easily with students.” This goes along with his philosophy of wanting to see, help, and serve his students and teachers by interacting with them.

“I don’t plan on sitting here [in my office], I plan on being out there,” empathized Aponte. He went on to explain his goals, “First and foremost, my role is to keep this place safe. I walk around the building and I monitor the climate and whether people are… where they’re supposed to be… The school has to be organized so there can be a predictable school day. When students have a predictable day, then they aren’t stressed about things because they know when things are going to happen.”

Providing the school with a safe environment is just one of Aponte’s first steps to helping South flourish. Through past experiences as principal at several Minneapolis Public Schools (Jefferson a pre-K-8, Northrop a pre-K-5, Waite Park pre-K-5, and Anderson pre-K-8), Aponte knows that the key to making South shine is to create an “exciting student centered environment” where healthy, trusting relationships connect all members of the South High community.

“We’re not managing behavior. . . I want to talk about managing relationships. Its upon adults and seniors to build relationships and manage the school in that way. The deeper the relationships we can get then we can start developing trust,” elaborated Aponte. “When you have trust, then things are okay. Then if I bump into you in the hall, it’s not because I don’t like you. It’s because it’s a busy spot. When you build relationships this is no big deal. Those are the kind of things I’m telling the staff and hoping they’ll engage the students with.”

Aponte’s theories on school environments have worked in the past. The Star Tribune noted that at one of Aponte’s former school’s, Northrop Urban Environmental Learning Center, was one of the few schools in the district where the achievement gap has gotten smaller.

“I didn’t intend to raise test scores, that’s not how I operate. I truly believe when you create a school that is student centered, fun to be at, where students and teachers are put up on a pedestal, and everybody else, including parents, supports them and what they need,” explained Aponte.

Additionally, Aponte believes that classrooms should operate in a way where every student is a teacher to other students and has a voice. He wants to make sure, “there is always a window for students to go back in. Sometimes people just need a little encouragement to come back into the classroom and into the community.”

To establish that the student’s voices are heard, Aponte plans on forming a student advisory council. The council would be a place where formal student leaders could sit down with him and share their concerns so he can, “have their voices in the back of my mind.”

Already, Aponte has made efforts to meet with student activist groups to start making changes at South. Green Tigers coordinator and teacher, Jeffrey Ponto, shared, “He’s already given us good ideas… there are a couple of things he was thinking, in the commons we would do some plants and maybe hang those in the commons somehow. He’s talking about the entrance way and planting some soilless plants.”

“Greening up South,” as Aponte refers to it, is just one thing that he believes could help South improve it’s image. One of his goals are to maintain the fun experiences at South high because, “people don’t remember specific lessons but they remember the climate and experiences.”

Aponte sees this new job as something that he was meant to do. Not only because he has a vision of what he wants South to be but also because he has a personal connection to the school. His daughter, junior Karlee Aponte, will be graduating next year.

“I walked my daughter to kindergarten and now I can hand her her diploma with my name on it next year. That’s my emotional reason why I wanted to come to South,” explained Ray Aponte.

When Karlee Aponte heard the news she advised her dad, “to think about the students a lot… actually care about the kids you’re going to interact with otherwise people aren’t going to like you. So he got the shoelaces and he’s been talking to students and saying hi to them.”

“I think he’s doing well, I haven’t heard any complaints about him,” added Karlee Aponte.

Finally, Ray Aponte saw the principal position at South as a way to make a change in not only the school but also in the city.

“People say that as South prospers and fails, so does the city of Minneapolis and Minneapolis Public Schools because this is the flagship of Minneapolis. It’s big and it has a history of allowing students of all colors and languages to prosper,” stated Ray Aponte. “That’s a reflection of Minneapolis. That’s exciting for me, that this school is truly diverse… [diversity] is it’s strength. So, it’s super exciting for me to be in a location like this.”