#1StudentNWI: Wrapping up the 2020-21 school year at Highland

#1StudentNWI: Wrapping up the 2020-21 school year at Highland

What’s coming up: Class of 2021 Graduation 

With the end of the academic year here, it’s time to start making preparations for graduation and sending off the class of 2021.

As of right now, Highland High School currently has an in-person graduation planned for June 6 on the football field. The rain date is June 7.

Family members will be allowed in the stands to watch as the seniors graduate.

Staff spotlight: John Zack

This school year has been a difficult one to manage, and Highland High School Principal John Zack knows this better than anyone. With the 2020-21 school year being his first year at Highland, it was definitely a tough year to start out, but Zack was still able to find success.

“It has been interesting, harrowing, exciting, and depressing all at the same time,” said Zack. “Trying to stake a balance between what I would like to do and what is safe has been taken to an entirely different level. While that is always a guiding thought, the pandemic has introduced the need for new protocols, procedures, and the constant evaluation and implementation of those.”

Although it hasn’t always been easy, Zack aims to focus on the positives.

“On the plus side, out of the students I have been able to meet, they have been wonderful!” said Zack. “It’s very exciting to see how people handle the adversity that COVID-19 has wrought and to see the tenaciousness that has been demonstrated has truly been awe-inspiring.”

At Highland and most other schools, COVID-19 itself has caused both direct and indirect problems.

“Aside from COVID-19 itself, reacting to how to handle the ramifications of COVID-19 was hard,” said Zack. “Creating a level of trust with the students and staff has been difficult as our interactions have been extremely limited. Being the ‘new’ guy and learning the culture and climate of the building, having to decide what was going to be okay to stay, okay to hold on to, or okay to let go of really had my mind and time running from early in the morning to late at night.”

With the year at its end, Zack can now reflect on what worked and what didn’t and use those learning experiences to make appropriate changes going forward.

“I, too, will be very happy to have the 2020-21 school year in the books as that will allow some respite and reflection time to adjust my approaches and thinking towards our goals and take the lessons learned and apply them appropriately,” said Zack.

Overall, though, Zack feels that the student population has adapted to the changes well.

“Honestly, I feel that people have done a wonderful job understanding what we need to accomplish within what we are able to accomplish,” Zach said.

While it makes no one’s day to get the call that there has been a positive case and then tracing down close contacts, overall people have been genuinely understanding. There is an extraordinary level of disappointment for all, and people have been accustomed to losing out on things.

“That's not the mindset that I want us to be in, but nonetheless it can be where some are found at this time,” Zach continued. “I believe that the hope we have that we are nearing the end of this situation and we will be able to be less restrictive is starting to take root and that has lent some constitution towards muddling to the finish. If we felt that this was going to continue or get worse, I believe our mental state would definitely be much darker than what it currently is.”

In regards to the future, Zack is uncertain, but positive.

“I won't say a return to normalcy as some may expect, but more of embracing the transformative opportunity before us,” said Zack. “If we go back to what we have always done, we will continue to get what we have gotten. So, if we want better, we have to do better or act differently to find that pathway.”

Zach wants the students to be proud to be a Highland Trojan – whether they are a scholar, an athlete, a club participant, or anything else. He wants to see the school emerge from this setback stronger in the sense of being determined to achieve and knowing that they can. 

“If surviving this past 15-plus months has taught us anything, it is that our resilience to adversity, our connections to each other, and our shared optimism for the future are crucial for our successes today,” said Zack. “Experiencing what we are capable of as we have struggled, clearly, we can apply that significantly and achieve so much more than what we accepted in the past.”

Despite all of the hardship this year has brought, Zack’s Trojan pride is still as strong as ever.

“I am proud to be the latest principal at Highland High School, I am proud of our students, and I am proud of our staff,” said Zack. “Through this entire ordeal, I have found multiple examples of compassion, strength of character, caringness, and a genuine concern for others from so many that it is truly a privilege for me to serve you all in this role. Highland has been awesome to me in my short time here, and while it has certainly been a scary transition to make during this time, the School Town of Highland has shown me its best and that has left me humble and appreciative,” said Zack.

As principal, Zack sees a bright and hopeful future ahead.

“I am excited to continue this path with the community, the school, and the students, and I am inspired to continue to be the best version of me that I can be for you all – as you totally deserve it!” said Zack. “Our trajectory is good, and I promise to continue to push us all to be better than we were yesterday.”