With a year of leadership under his belt, East Ridge High School Principal Jim Smokrovich is looking forward to another great school year. “It’s really fun to be around high school kids, from bringing in ninth graders every year to the celebration of graduation,” Smokrovich says. “In that four years, [we] watch them really turning into young adults, and see them succeed with a post-secondary plan.”
Before joining East Ridge last July, he worked for the past 11 years as lead principal at Grand Rapids High School in Grand Rapids, Minn. He entered his first year at East Ridge facing challenges, following the resignation of former East Ridge principal Aaron Harper. As a seasoned administrator he says his goal was to learn about the culture and staff, and get to know the student body and community. “We needed to form relationships and build trust,” Smokrovich says. “I am a firm believer that trust is earned and that it’s not going to come overnight. Listening, being authentic, being transparent, and following through are those important things you do on a daily basis. We did that the best we could, and in hindsight, we had a fabulous year.”
Student leader Kunal Thakur agrees. “Mr. Smokrovich is really keen on establishing communication channels and keeping his fingers on the pulse of what is happening,” Thakur says. “He really tries his best and he’s got the staff and administrative team out there talking to students.” Thakur was the school’s representative to the South Washington County Schools school board and also has experience leading several clubs and activities at East Ridge including Triumph, an honors society for music, Chinese club and cricket club. “I was in the office a lot, probably more than the average student, and I saw so much positive interaction; it’s very close knit and happy,” he says.
“The East Ridge and school district community has benefited immensely and immediately from Jim’s leadership,” says Mike Johnson, assistant superintendent. “Jim assembled a strong administrative team with a focus on relationships, care and trust. He chose to focus on the strengths of his staff and allowed them to lead when possible, as well. He listens to student voices; he truly cares about his students and celebrates their successes at every possible venue. As a district leader, I am keenly aware that Jim cares deeply for East Ridge, but he realizes that all district high schools are only as strong as their collaboration with the others.”
As far as new goals for the school year, Smokrovich is focused on improving instruction. “There’s an instructional leadership team that will be new,” he says. “I will be working on how those functional leaders interact communication-wise, so that each and every entity of the school is aligned and moving in the same direction. And certainly we will be tweaking all the things we do to make the school more efficient, including the budget, promoting and sustaining student achievement, and continuing to work on our communication plan.”
Smokrovich is a self-proclaimed “sports fanatic” and readily enjoys all the activities and opportunities offered in the East Ridge community. “I really enjoy watching sports and going to plays, which as a principal I get to do not only as a job but a hobby as well,” he says. “We have at least 90 percent of our student body in additional activities, which is truly remarkable. Whether it’s speech and debate, swim team, whatever it is, it’s another layer in belonging to create success for students.” When he’s not working, his priority is family, spending time with his wife and their two college-aged children.