STATE OF THE SCHOOL: Principal Dodd believes student-first focus is key to success at MHS
Abby Waechter | Managing Editor
Assisted by Della Johnson and Shravani Page
Though the slogan “Bobby Comet” has decorated Mason High School for four years, students question how their principal is upholding the standards of “comet culture” behind the scenes.
On August 1, 2018, Robert ‘Bobby’ Dodd started his first day as principal of Mason High School (MHS) after former principal Dave Hyatt retired. Dodd previously served as the principal of Gahanna Lincoln High School and, prior to that, spent three years as principal at New Lexington High School in southeast Ohio.
Now, four years later, Dodd believes that he has contributed to the overall atmosphere of the school throughout an unanticipated pandemic and mental health crisis, and has noted his time at Mason as an accomplishment moving into his future years as principal.
SAFETY & PHYSICAL BUILDING CHANGES
In physical aspects, Dodd hopes to continue the development of the Learning Commons into a more functional and appealing center for students. Dodd’s plans for the facility include splitting it into four parts, a space for a coffee shop, a stage area for student performances, a collaboration area for group projects and tutoring and a space reserved for technology and programming.
According to Dodd, the “coffee zone” within the learning commons is projected to be finished by “January 2023.” Dodd said that the ultimate vision for the Learning Commons remains to transform it into a space where “students can come relax, talk, study and perform” in a unified place designated for them.
Within Dodd’s term, he has attached himself to ensuring student and staff safety by closing certain entrances during arrival and dismissal times, as well as guaranteeing access to Student Resource Officers (SROs). At the beginning of his term Dodd received a safety analysis of the school from law enforcement groups, which led him to restrict certain areas at arrival times and dismissal, and said that MHS is “lucky” to be located across the street from the police department.
Dodd said that the appearance of administrative officers and SROs in the hallways and cafeterias throughout his four years is something he believes has set him apart from former principals in appearing as an student-advocating principal.
“We just have a presence out there, and I think that’s something that we’ve changed over the years,” Dodd said.
Dodd and his team of administrators have additionally established the Safe Schools Tip Line, which allows parents, students, teachers, or members of the Mason community to report any safety issues through an online platform, text message, or phone call, which goes directly to all district and building administrators so that they are able to respond immediately to any issues that come up.
Dodd said that the tipline builds off of his big rock of inclusive excellence because it incorporates issues across the board, ranging from physical student safety and mental health risks that may endanger people.
“I look at the tip line as a safety measure as well because students and adults submit that information because of their concern for someone’s safety,” Dodd said. “We may think of safety as intruders in the building, but I think that looking after the mental health of staff and students and their general well being is also a safety concern.”
MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT AND INITIATIVES
Dodd is dedicated to continuing the pre-established initiatives that protect the mental health of staff and students.
While Dodd did not personally bring mental health initiatives to MHS himself, he plans to continue working with the central office staff, district mental wellness team, Dr. Johnathan Cooper, the Board of Education (BOE) and Nicole Pfirman in order to uphold the resources set in place before him. Prime examples include Hope Squad, a peer-to-peer suicide prevention program, therapists from Cincinnati Children’s brought in by the district available to students, and the Prevention and Wellness Coordinator, Molly Schmidt.
Dodd said that the amount of mental health programs available at MHS is unlike any other, and that he is proud to represent a school dedicated to ensuring mental health safety of its students instead of resorting to consequences.
“One of the first things we recommend in mental health situations is utilizing the resources that we offer, like talking to the wellness coordinator to see which areas can help them,” Dodd said. “If you look at other districts, other states, even nationwide, you’re not going to find many schools that have these resources in their buildings, and that’s what sets us apart.”
Dodd believes that it is crucial to implement and continue these mental health initiatives within MHS because it benefits not only students going through difficult times, but also their families in educating them on the realities and complexities of mental health as well as finding information about programs and solutions.
Dodd said that in an environment like Mason, he is open and willing to introduce anything he can in order to protect the mental health of students and staff.
“In a place like Mason, where we’re always striving for greatness, I think we get a little caught up in competing with other classmates, and I think that is something that in a school culture needs to change,” Dodd said. “I’m living proof, I have a daughter here who utilizes the available resources, so that’s why I’m a huge proponent of the resources because I, as a parent, benefit as much as anyone from what is here.”
ACADEMIC SUCCESS AND COMPETITIVE CULTURE
Dodd recognizes MHS as a place glittered with academic success from its students, however, he simultaneously feels as if these accomplishments “entrench” an unconscious competition within families and even among high school students.
Dodd said that he believes that a person does not necessarily have to be the most successful student in order to be a successful person in life, and that the competitive academic environment of MHS sometimes blinds students to that belief.
“My friends and I never got good grades, or took AP classes, we didn’t get Summa [Cum Laude] or high LSAT scores, and we’re all doing okay,” Dodd said.“I don’t think you need to have all those big time academic standings to be successful, and I don’t want people to think that just because they aren’t the best student that they’re not smart, because they’re just the same as everyone else.”
Dodd has also introduced personalized learning into the MHS curriculum as he believes the best way to absorb new ideas and objectives is by immersing students into hands-on learning experiences. Consequently, Dodd advocates for teachers to move away from final exams because he “has enough trust in [MHS] teachers,” and believes that students are learning new things every single day and that “one test shouldn’t make a student feel like they didn’t learn anything [in the class].”
Although early release and late arrival blocks were initially imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dodd plans to continue allowing students to continue these initiatives in order to expand the enrichment opportunities students have access to outside of school, whether the opportunities come from a job, an internship or by simply sleeping in.
Dodd said that academic success is enhanced when students gain experience outside of the classroom and plans to continue to advocate for real-world learning for all students.
“When I think of academic success, I don’t think so much about sitting in classes,” Dodd said. “I think of everything that a student can learn outside of the classroom along with a little bit of what they learn in the classroom.”
Preparing all students for life beyond high school has become a growing trend throughout the Mason community as the school board and administration have started to introduce increased information about career paths that do not require a college education. Dodd is committed to supporting students in any plan that they may want to do after high school, even if it means not attending college, as his own daughter chose to pursue esthetician school after her high school graduation.
Dodd said that he encourages students to “give it a shot” when taking their passions into their own hands and dictating their future career paths; however, the effort to engage in post-high school plans is a team effort between the student and their family as well.
“We need to do a better job asking ourselves what we are [passionate about] and then creating our own opportunities to do that,” Dodd said. “It’s sometimes easy to say, ‘hey, the school needs to do a better job,’ and I completely agree, [and] we’re always trying to do better things, but it starts at home too, and with students, as people, figuring out what they are passionate about.”
STUDENT ENGAGEMENT AND ACTIVITY
Student activities and engagement is something that Dodd believes that “we can always have more” of. He hopes to “dip [his] toes into the waters” of introducing intramural sports to MHS in order to create a closer-knit school community, and hopes to derive a “more structured environment” for after school activity in his coming years as principal.
Dodd also feels passionately about integrating Inclusive Excellence into the student section, the Black Hole, at all school-affiliated sporting events in order to depict MHS’s diversity at all events. In the past, the Black Hole has lacked representation from underclassmen, women and other ethnic groups from within the school.
Dodd said that he feels a responsibility to ensure that all students are able to represent and lead the school in activities such as sporting events, and that he expects the 2022-2023 Black Hole to include accurate representation from the school’s population.
“Over the years, [the Black Hole] has been [made up of] the most popular people as the leaders,” Dodd said. “Well, that’s not us. That’s not Mason. If I’m going to have hundreds of kids on a Friday night represent us, or go away to different matches, I want something that represents who we are as a school, not something that doesn’t look anything like [it].”
Throughout Dodd’s four years at Mason, he has noted the differences that make MHS stand out from the previous schools he has served at, and said that the extraordinary nature of the school is what makes him not take his role as principal for granted.
“It’s kind of cliche, but it really is the kids that we have here, mixed with the staff and then the community, along with our resources, that makes Mason stand out the most,” Dodd said. “The originality, the ideas, the leadership that the students have here–it’s not something I take for granted.”
Photos by Evelina Gaivoronskaia