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Interview with Memorial High School Principal Jennifer Redden

If you’re like me, you can’t help but wonder about Memorial High School off of Eldorado Pkwy. It sits empty, awaiting rezoned students but no one can be more ready than the principal, Jennifer Redden.

Jennifer Redden was announced as the Principal of MHS in May of 2016 and she was ready to hit the ground running. Unfortunately, the sprint was cut short in October of 2016 when the FISD School Board unanimously opted to postpone the opening of four campuses, including Memorial, to help offset the cuts in state funding.

So, exactly what has Jennifer been up to and what is her plan for Memorial High School (opening in 2018)?

She granted us the opportunity to ask her this very question and many others and, my personal feeling is that Memorial High School is in the best possible hands.

Lifestyle Frisco: What have you been doing with your year of postponement?

MHS Principal, Jennifer Redden: In October 2016, I began working on special projects in various departments. I mostly worked with Student Services, but I also worked with the math coordinators in the Curriculum and Instruction department. While in Student Services, I worked with the department staff in various aspects such as student discipline, bullying, the student handbook, and transitioning to an online summer school program. I also served as the interim principal at Vandeventer Middle School for three months while the principal was on maternity leave. At the beginning of October, I restarted planning the opening of Memorial High School.

LsF: You were a substitute Principal? That’s a thing?!

JR: Yes, but I think this was the first time we had an interim principal at a secondary level! Since that was my first time truly working on a middle school campus, it bridged for me the transition from middle to high school for our students.

LsF: So what did you learn there?

JR: They have a well-oiled machine! It was great to see how they run an 8 period day versus our high school block schedule. I appreciated the different teaming structures among the teachers, and I am looking at how to transfer some of those same supports to the high school level. The kids were excited to be there, and it was just a great place to be. They have a great campus!  

LsF: So who have you been turning to for guidance as you prepare to open Memorial?  It is not like FISD gives you a “How to Open a High School Manual” – or do they?

JRThere’s not a handbook, but having been in FISD since 2005 has allowed me to see all the growth. We will be the 4th high school to open in 5 years so I connect with principals who have recently opened buildings in addition to Mark Mimms with whom I opened Heritage High School in 2009 and Randy Spain who was my principal at Centennial. I’ve been fortunate to have all of these relationships.

I don’t have just one mentor, but I have several mentors. They’re all so open to giving good advice and direction and sharing what they have done in the past so I can take those ideas and turn them into my own.  

LsF: What’s the most important part of opening a high school? What’s your vision for Memorial?  

JR:  For me, it is the culture. When it comes to vision and direction that we want to go as a campus, it’s not about me. It’s essential to collect input from the district, community, students, and staff to shape the MHS culture, traditions, and future because it is OUR campus.   

LsF: Good point. It belongs to everyone and it won’t be yours forever. This brings to mind the staff that you need to bring on to help you with this vision.  When do you start your search?

JR: My first hire will be my secretary and then the Athletic Director and Band Director. Everything else will follow the typical timeline we usually follow in a school year.

LsF: Whoa! That’s a lot of people to hire on a very short timeline!

JRSince we’re opening with grades 9 through 11, we will have varsity sports the first year. Originally, we were going to open for grades 9 and 10, but the delay of the opening added the 11th grade. Alan Waligura, Principal of Independence, will be a huge point person for me since he is the most recent person who has opened a 9 through 11 campus.  

LsF: What is your plan for getting everyone on the same page as you?

JR: It starts with the interview process. I believe during an interview, I’m interviewing you as much as you’re interviewing me. When it comes down to it, I’m looking for people who will do whatever it takes to help our students find success.

LsF: Every campus in Frisco has a reputation that precedes it. Would you say that you want a reputation of “We do what’s best for the kids”?

JRAbsolutely! I do, however, believe all of our campuses share that mindset. Changing campuses can be an emotional time, but since we all have our students’ best interests at heart, our students get the same opportunities and support no matter the campus. MHS will be no exception and will provide the same level of dedication and heart for our students.

LsF: What has your journey looked like to become a principal?

JREach of the principals in Frisco had their own journey to the principalship. For me, I started my teaching career as a teacher in Highland Park where I also coached cross country, track, and some soccer. At Centennial High School, I was a math teacher for 4 years before opening Heritage High School. During my 7 years at HHS, I was the math instructional coach for two years, assistant principal for 2 years, then associate principal for 3 years. I was also summer school principal for 3 years.  

LsF: Oftentimes it’s perceived that administrators have forgotten what it’s like to be in the classroom. What is your plan to stay relevant and remember what it’s like?

JRIt’s important to keep in touch with that perspective! For instance, since I’m away from a campus right now, I miss the kids a lot. There’s always a mountain of “to-dos”, but you make time to spend time with the kids since that’s the best and most important aspect of our profession. It’s about going in and seeing teachers and students in the classrooms. I’ve been a substitute for math just about every year, and it’s fun to get back in there and teach! Being present, having solid relationships with staff, and building trust between us is important. Trust will be important as I listen to teachers and students and their perspective on what’s happening in the classroom and campus.

LsF: What concerns do you have about opening a new school?

JRI know it seems a strange analogy, but it’s like raising a child. I’m thinking about what we want to establish now that will work now and 100 years from now. You only get one shot to do it “right”, and that’s the most nerve-wracking for me. I want the students and staff to look forward to coming to MHS every day and be a part of creating the culture and traditions for which MHS will be known.

Principal Redden shared photos of the future Memorial High School, still awaiting its finishing touches. View the slideshow, below.