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Editor’s note: Kincaid is a humanities teacher in his second year at Sedona Red Rock High School.

Russ Snider:
New S.R.R.H.S. principal is old friend

by Marc Kincaid

Recently, I was sitting - well actually dancing - and listening to music of The String Cheese Incident at the Sedona Cultural Park with my fellow colleagues. We were commenting on how we were looking forward to the next school year.

We were excited about the addition of not only some great new teachers, but also the addition of a new principal to our already wonderful staff. We had no sooner started talking about him, when who should pass in front of us, but the man himself, Russ Snider.

True to his philosophy of “really stressing to get together with teachers out of school to learn more about them as people and individuals,” Snider joined us for the remainder of the concert, not as a principal or a boss, but as a friend and colleague.

Having been a middle school teacher for eight years (1976 to 1983), Snider is a true believer in maintaining a high teacher morale, which he believes “will create a happy and healthy school and community. . . When a person goes to work, it is not the work that inspires him. It is not always the people that you work with that inspire you.”

This could not be more true to my heart, and my experience in the past year. As a first-year teacher last year (entering into a school, a community, and a state that I had never set foot in prior to last August), I have come to the conclusion that it is a place in which I want to stay for some time. My fellow colleagues became friends, and more importantly, a family, in place of the one I left behind in Washington.

Snider said he plans to help first-year teachers, like I was, and those teachers in their first year at Sedona Red Rock High School, by checking on them daily. He will also “depend on the individual departmental staff to help these new teachers along and allow them to be a part of the staff.” But Snider said he wants to work with them himself to make their experiences enjoyable.

Snider is moving to SRRHS from the Big Park School, one of Sedona Oak Creek Unified School District’s two K-8 schools.

After coaching Snider’s son for the Red Rock swim team last fall, and after meeting with Snider several times this summer, I have come to the conclusion that he will be an excellent addition to our school, and our family. I am confident that he will be able to lead us in our quest to promote a healthy and respected school, not just within our district, but within the whole state of Arizona.

“In my 16 years of being a principal, I know the importance of the human side of managing an organization, of establishing relationships with students, staff and parents to create a positive and active environment,” Snider said.

In fact, recognition as one of the premier high schools in Northern Arizona is one of many goals that Snider said he will try to achieve. “I want to make Sedona Red Rock High School an outstanding school, a school that everyone is aware of - and will compare to others in the future.”

Snider acknowledges that SRRHS has already achieved so much, with high AIMS scores and teachers who have been recognized as outstanding in their field, and he wants to continue and extend those successes.

Snider, partly through his affiliaton with Arizona School Administrators (ASA), has made other administrators from around the state aware of the Big Park School, and wants to continue that tradition at the high school. He will become the representative for Yavapai County and the high school this coming year.

In fact, this past year, Snider was awarded, the Distinguished Administrators Award for the state of Arizona in the middle school division. But not to put too much emphasis on himself, Snider was quick to acknowledge that he could not have won it without the support and help of his staff. He used the word “we” because “it was a combination of teachers and myself that created a good strong school,” he said.

Snider has proven himself to be the team player, and that any accomplishments he achieves is a product of himself and his staff, and his ability to communicate and relate to his staff. That, in itself, is the true essence of Russ Snider.

He is a self-proclaimed extrovert. He loves being around people and communicating with them. He feels that he “has the tendency to make people feel important by listening and providing feedback.” This not only applies to parents, but also to the young adults that we, as a school, are educating.

Snider is comfortable around high school kids and teachers, and feels that he “will be able to learn the curriculum and the protocols quickly.” For the parents out there who are not necessarily skeptical of Snider, but hesitant to accept another principal (the fourth in seven years), rest assured that Snider is an excellent leader.

Snider said that the kids and parents “need to trust him as the leader of the school, and be comfortable in being able to talk about any issue.”

In order to be leader, Snider plans to be seen throughout the day, not only in the halls, but also in the classrooms. He plans to “stop by the classrooms a lot, because that is the only way I can learn not only about the curriculum and instruction methods, but also about what the teachers are doing, and how well the kids are responding.”

He also wants to reassure the parents and kids that they should expect an “orderly environment when they walk through the halls on August 15th, and that I will try to establish a relationship with each and every kid in the school.”

For the first few months of school, Snider expects to make few decisions and changes. He wants to take some time to “get to know the workings of the high school.”

His first priority will be to get to know the staff and the students, to find their strengths, and then work off of those. In addition, he “will be listening and giving ideas to teachers to help problem-solve,” and that he will “give credit when deserved, and as often as deserved, by writing notes, sending Emails, or by verbal communication.”

Snider plans to address the issue of teacher turnover. He wants to hold onto the teachers already there. ”In order to have a healthy school, and to continue as an outstanding school, there needs to be a continuity in staff,” he said. He feels that if he keeps the staff together, he and the staff will be able to create new curriculum, even if it teeters on the edge. Just as long as that curriculum meets the requirements set out by the state, the students accept it, and “it is good for the students.”

Snider, for me is a different type of principal, both from what I have experienced as a student and as a teacher. He enjoys many of the things that I do. He is very athletic and enjoys many outdoor activities, and also does most of the shopping and cooking at home. We both find a release when we cook, a chance to create something. Snider is also a big kid at heart. He likes to go to concerts, as I have experienced, and even took his son to an AC/DC concert last year.

Sometimes though, his reputation as a big kid has not been to his advantage. This past year at Big Park, while taking one of his normal strolls around the school during break, Snider noticed that a particularly large child was very angry and upset at another child. Fearing that this large child was about the hit the other child, Snider came up behind him and put his arm around him in a bear hug.

Snider recounts: “This kid, who outweighs me by about 100 pounds, and is a good deal taller, starts swinging around with me on his back, dancing to get free, while I am hanging on.” This was all taking place outside of the teacher conference area, and “when those teachers looked out, they were saying to themselves, ‘Oh, that’s just Russ being a big kid again.”’

When asked how his family felt in response to the move to the high school, Snider said his daughter, Bridget, heading into 8th grade, is fine with it. He said he “looks forward to driving to school with her in the coming years to catch up on any events in her life.”

Brett, his son, was not too thrilled with the move as a first reaction, but “after talking to his friends, thought it would be a ‘cool thing.”’ His wife Betsy, a teacher at Big Park, is sad at losing a great principal, but happy for her husband.

As for Snider himself, he is going through a range of emotions. He is “optimistic that the move will work well, and nervous but confident that I am going into a good situation for the community, and staff, as well as myself.”

As Snider has changed jobs every 5-7 years, “now is the appropriate time for the move, to pursue a new challenge.” Previous to being principal at Big Park since 1994, when he opened the school, Snider was principal at West Sedona School, since 1990. He had come from opening a new K-8 school in Peoria in 1985. Prior to that, he was an assistant principal for two years while pursuing his Masters in Administration from Northern Arizona University.

Snider said he hopes to stay at the helm of the high school until he plans to retire, of when he would not state.

As a teacher entering my second year at the high school, I have huge hopes that this coming year will be better than the last, and that as the years go by, and the students’ faces come and go, and I send more young adults off to conquer the world, or at least survive, each year will be better than the last.

So as the sun settled down in the sky, and the vibrant colors gave way to darkness, the music continued, and I, as well as all my colleagues, had huge smiles on our faces, for we knew that summer had finally started.

We listened and danced to the sweet melodies of An Incident, not as teachers and principal, but as a family - a family devoted to developing a positive, respectful, and healthy school.

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