Opening a brand new school brings with it, naturally, a myriad of challenges. From various design details to staffing the building, and so many more factors in between, the amount of work that has gone into preparation for the inaugural year at Olentangy Berlin High School has seemingly been exhaustive, and rightfully so.
But perhaps the best way to combat such a lengthy and detailed process is to embrace that process with an insatiable passion for the task at hand and the groundwork of a school’s legacy that is being laid. When the Olentangy Local School District Board of Education approved the hiring of Todd Spinner as Berlin’s first-ever principal in April of last year, it locked in the final piece to a puzzle that is nearing its completion.
Spinner comes to Berlin after spending 10 years as the principal at Westerville Central High School. He has also served as the assistant principal at Delaware Hayes and Marion Harding high schools and began his career as a language arts teacher at Dublin Scioto High School.
Upon his arrival, Spinner was given almost full control over the building, from the color of the floor tiles to the tables and chairs that will furnish the classrooms. The building is first-class in every facet, featuring amenities such as 65-inch flatscreen interactive televisions in every classroom, and a top-notch media center. As the fourth high school in the district, the Berlin school building has an advantage in that the district has learned a lot from the contruction of the first three high school facilities.
“If you were to ask, which we did ask the former principals of the other schools, what they would change or improve about the building, here it is (at Berlin High School),” Spinner said.
Spinner said that in terms of size, function and features, the 307,000-square-foot school is more like a college campus than a high school. Without a senior class, Berlin will have around 900 to 1,000 students enrolled in the 2018-19 school year.
But while the building is everything that would be expected out of a new school in one of the state’s top districts, possibly the biggest asset the building holds is the enthusiasm in which Spinner attacks his job. The excitement in the way he talks about the new school is natural and genuine, far from manufactured, and it’s not hard to see why his approach is contagious around the building.
“I know who I am. If you ask people who I am, I’m not quiet, I’m not shy. I’ll talk to anybody, anywhere, at any time,” he said.
Spinner cites three reasons for making the decision to leave Westerville Central and lead Berlin into the new age. For one, he is already a community member. With that being the case, his son, Johnny, will move from Olentangy High School to Berlin this year. Johnny plays football and wrestles, and Spinner said he was not going to miss out on being at his games. Combine those factors with the standard of excellence the district upholds and Spinner just couldn’t pass on this opportunity.
However, among the different challenges he believes he will face in this role, Spinner said meeting the high expectations and keeping that standard will be his biggest. “I fully understand that. I embrace that challenge of making this building the best that it can be,” he said.
After being hired, Spinner ordered all types of Berlin “swag,” as he called it — shirts, wristbands, bags and more — to give out at every opportunity. A Bears handshake has even been started among him and his students. While the building isn’t fully decorated yet, bears and the Berlin logo can be found everywhere, and that’s exactly how Spinner wants it. It’s all a matter of creating exposure and building pride in the Berlin brand.
Asked about the possible resistance some may have felt about leaving their schools for a brand new building, Spinner acknowledged some of the apprehension there may have been from students and families when the redistricting was announced. But true to form, Spinner followed that up with shifting his focus back to his responsibility of generating excitement for those coming to the new school.
Every move he has made since taking the job has been done with the goal of creating a culture and brand those same apprehensive people can rally around and get excited for. He cites the various events he’s organized, including an ice cream social for the community earlier this month and the nine staff outings that focused on building relationships between the staff members. He has no issues with going above and beyond for his students and community. All he asks for in return is that they “do the right thing and represent Berlin with class.”
While Spinner continues to bear down on laying the foundation for Berlin’s inaugural school year, he doesn’t miss a chance to credit everyone who has or will soon be involved in beginning Berlin’s legacy, from the school district to the Berlin staff, and, of course, the students.
“I can’t say it enough, this is a community effort. Everyone knows I’m in charge, everyone knows I’m the principal. That’s all great. But this is ‘shoulder to shoulder,’” Spinner said in reference to the collaborative effort it has been. “The community has embraced the building. I’ll take credit for the enthusiasm and promotion part of it. But they’ve jumped right on board.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @ddavis_gazette.