Q&A with Principal Bobby Dodd

Henri Robbins | Staff Writer

Since taking on the role of principal at Mason High School in May of 2018, Bobby Dodd has been working to create a school environment which involves students more. He’s supported initiatives such as the Ignite Your Vision project, creating a platform for students’ voices, and has made efforts to become more involved with the students in the school. Now, as he winds up his first school year as Principal, The Chronicle sat down to talk with Dodd about the direction he plans to take the school in the coming months, and to reflect on his experiences in the past year. 

Q: You’ve been working at Mason for about a year now, and you’ve been making a lot of changes to benefit students. Looking back, how’s that been? 

A: I think things are going well. As a principal, you don’t want to come in your first semester and just say ‘we’re making all these changes,’ so it’s good to come in and get a feel for where you are with everyone, especially the kids, and then from there you start listening to what people think we should do or where we can go, and then processing it and working with others to get us to go there. 

Q: How have your interactions with the student body been? 

A: I think they’ve been great. Now if I asked students they may think differently, but I always try to interact with the students as much as I can. I think oftentimes we under-utilize student thought and student voice, because traditionally in schools it was more of being compliant and doing what adults tell you to do. That’s what your parents did when they were in school, but it’s changed. We have to allow student ideas because we work for the students. It’s not like you guys come to a school where I’m principal, it’s the other way around.

Q: Can you think of a time that your interactions with students changed either the way you were running things or your plans to run things? 

A: It’s very important to change the way that I think, or some of the things that we’re going to do in the building. Like looking at painting parking lots. Other schools are doing that, and we probably have one of the largest parking lots in the state of Ohio, so why wouldn’t we do that? Because if you look at the asphalt out there, it’s not the prettiest stuff to begin with anyway. So why not paint a parking space and show a little bit of originality, creativity, and a little bit about each student? To me, I look at that, and the amount of bad things that could come, compared to the positives, I think the positives outweigh it every time. If a student wants to do that then I have a philosophy that we should try to say yes before we say no. They brought that up, I said “yeah, if other places are doing it, we might as well. We should have been the first ones doing it instead of the eighth.

Q: With what’s going into effect, what are your primary goals going forward for the high school? 

A: Primary goals would be our three rocks that we focus on for the district: Improving culture, looking at inclusive excellence, and personalized learning. This year we’ve done a lot of focus on our culture, and next year we’ll do the same along with inclusive excellence. We want to change the culture from being so competitive, and to maybe peel it back and find out why we’re so competitive. I think competition against other schools in things such as athletics is healthy competition, but we have to look at the unhealthy competition and start peeling back a bit. To me, that starts with us, the administration and the staff, making the changes, and some of the things that we do are little changes, such as looking at homework. Is homework really important, are we assigning the right assignments, is it benefitting us the next day in class, are we using our class time the best way as staff so we can reduce the amount of homework and get more out of our class? So when the goal is to look at competition, I think it starts with us. 

Q: There’s been a lot of talk about excessive homework and also of eliminating summer assignments, where is that going at the moment? 

A: Right now I’m getting ready to meet with teachers about summer assignments, why we assign them, what are we doing with them, and where are we going with them. I meet with teachers who used to give summer assignments but don’t, I want to hear why they don’t give them anymore. I’m meeting with teachers that do give them and I’m asking why, and I want to know how it affects the class and the student’s grade at the start of the school year, because I just want to learn more about it before I say we’re not having assignments anymore. As you know, our students here are very busy, so if we’re going to give homework then I want it to be meaningful, and I want to be sure that what we’re doing during the school day in the classroom is getting us the best bang for our buck during that time to limit the amount of homework after school. There’s tons of research out there about the amount of sleep that students need to be successful, the time they need away from school to refresh mentally. There’s a lot of things out there that lead me to believe that we give too much homework right now.

Is there more to life than having an average ACT score of 28?

I think there is.

Bobby Dodd, MHS Principal

 I’m willing to learn more about why we give homework, so we’re getting ready to have a discussion today with the administrators to share with the staff about looking more at homework and the same things I mentioned: What are we doing with it, why are we giving homework out, could homework be having students read a book that they’re interested in for thirty minutes every night and then go on with their day after school? I think it can, but I want to make sure that the staff thinks the same way. 

Q: What are the major challenges that you face while in the school?

A: The major challenge is always mindset. We’ve been doing something for so long, we have great ACT averages, we get a lot of our students into colleges, our students are very successful, we have great facilities here, so why do we need to change? That’s what it is every single time. You have to look at digging deeper, asking whether we’re as great as we say we are. Is there more to life than having an average ACT score of 28? I think there is. We’re great in sports, we’re great in theatre, we have great organizations and clubs. While many people or organizations, schools, students, and staff would love to be in our position, we’re always trying to be better. I think the challenge is getting people to realize that we’re good, but we can get better, and just because we’ve been doing something for fifteen, twenty years doesn’t mean we can’t improve.

Q: Mason High School has talked about changes in the Learning Commons for a few years now, are we ever going to see those changes, and what do you hope to do? 

A: We had an individual named David Jakes come in who specializes in transforming media centers or libraries into spaces that come to life, and while there’s still a focus on literature, there’s a nice connection between community, student groups, and teachers and students actually wanting to enter the space and a reason to enter the space. What he’ll do is write up a manifesto for us and show us where we could go. I think people will caught up in stuff like that, say “Well, he said we need this amount of money and this type of furniture,” I look at things simply as “Well, if we need more space for students to write on, why don’t we go to Lowe’s and buy some whiteboard, big sheets of it, bring it in and put it on one of the big walls in there, hook some markers up to it, and say that if you want a place to share thoughts or write or work with a group, go ahead and start.” That will cost a hundred dollars, I can pay for that out of my pocket. 

Q: What Ignite ideas are you excited about? 

A: I think we should have a coffee shop in the media center, that’s just me. If you go and ask students why they’re tardy a lot of the time, it’s because they stopped to get coffee. When I was at Gahanna, we had two coffee shops in our building – two separate ones. Our cafeteria staff ran one, and our Extended Support Services program ran one, and they both were profitable. The key was that they had good coffee, they had Seattle’s best coffee. If you’re serving iced coffee and different coffees that kids will drink, it has to be good coffee to get them to not go to Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts or Panera. Are we close to making happen? We’re not close right now, but I think we can do it. 

We’ve been talking about parking and doing some different things with that, one idea was about having students get a special spot if they carpool. That would be if three people rode together, while you would be giving up your pass, we would give you a better spot closer to the building. 

That whole process is really good, to be able to let the kids submit then vote to narrow it down, then let students use the design process to get through and make their vision come to reality, so I’m really excited about that. Other schools just don’t do that. It’s good to have something like that, I think we may take it for granted.

Photo by Tanner Pearson.