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It was a good first year at new FHS

Ben Kusch called watching students arrive for the first day of classes at the new high school was his highlight of the year.

This was a big year at Farmington High School. The move to a new building, the addition of ninth graders to the building and the move to a new schedule -- with a brand new Zero Hour to start the day -- mean a lot of adjusting for students and staff. But principal Ben Kusch said things ran smoothly pretty much from the start. Now that the Year One at the new building is over, we sat down with Kusch to reflect on the year that just passed.

Did things go well this first year?

I think things went very well this year. I think it's fair to say it was a year of firsts. Obviously the first day in the building. This summer when office staff moved in, the first day with staff. The first day with 1,700 students. All the way down to, I guess I would say the nuts and bolts of when we look at -- we've never cooled a half-million square foot building. We've never heated a half-million square foot building. And just learning to do all the different bits and pieces, whether it's homecoming, it's the first athletic event.... I think it's fair to say fortunately there weren't too many firsts that kind of caught us off guard. I think we planned ahead enough that most of the firsts, at the very least they were anticipated. We had time to make sure teachers kept teaching and learners kept learning.

Were there some sort of kinks that caught you by surprise?

I'm sure that there's a couple. There may be a few. But there really aren't that many that stick out in my mind as, oh my gosh.

No major crises.

I don't think so.... It's a year of a lot of firsts and a lot of successes, but it's also been a year of learning about, what is the vibe of a 500,000 square foot building and how students move through it and how lunches work and the student gathering areas and where are they and, if students want to hide, where do they go?

So, where are the hiding spots?

They're just various and sundry spots. I think one of the great things about this building is it's got a lot of light and it's spread out. We've got a number of doors in the building like we did at the old high school, so you have students sneaking out doors and propping open doors. But thankfully we've got a higher-tech security system that alerts us to when those doors are open and we've got people keeping tabs on that stuff.

Does the building feel different now that it's been lived in by a few thousand students for a year?

It does and it doesn't. It definitely feels much more like home. I think it's fair to say that as we've gone through first trimester to second and second to third and now looking at the end of third trimester, I think that we did a wonderful job last summer whether it was tours or whether it was freshman orientation or whether it was sophomore orientation and the great work that our Link Crew teachers and students and student leaders did, there was a great feeling of students coming into the building feeling settled.... You'd hear seniors from time to time, "Oh, this building." I kind of think it had more to do with stair climbing, but I get it. They lived someplace for two years and then got moved. But I think if there's anything that's come up across the year, I think in general, stairs aside, the students really, really like the place and I think they're really really proud of the place and that's been seen whether it's the very, very planned events we have in homecoming or even just the day to day use and respect for the building. We always have challenges with some of that but I think by and large we've not dealt with significant issues of vandalism or stuff like that.

One of the big changes wasn't necessarily building related. You mentioned the schedule and especially Zero Hour. How did that change go?

I think it went really pretty well. I think the students, we went out of our way on the front end to really prepare students for what that meant. I think with that work kids were really pretty unfazed by it. I don't think anybody was, Oh my gosh, it's early. They knew coming in that Zero Hour starts at 7:09 and it's a full day. I know next year we're looking at adding some courses to the Zero Hour. I think we're adding health to the Zero Hour. I think that slow and steady growth, based upon the successes we had this year, I think that's the right way to do it. I think some students -- there's probably some apprehension on the part of our juniors and seniors about, what does this mean? I think there's some realization that this isn't the big bad wolf or anything that's particularly difficult. It makes for a long day, but I think in the end it will provide for a little more latitude and freedom later in their high school career.

As you're wrapping up your first year do you have a highlight of your first year with students here?

I'll go back to the first day of school. I really think that first day of school and really in many ways I think the highlight was in the uneventfulness of that first day of school. As odd as that may sound, I think it goes back to the hard work on the part of district administration and the hard work on the part of everybody in the building.... When you talk about firsts, it's kind of a big first to never have had 1,700 students in a building before and then all of a sudden, 8:15 on a Tuesday, boom. Before that day we just had a building and on that first day we had ourselves a school.... I think the year in and of itself was pretty good. We have our challenges and we have our work ahead of us. But to have implemented the change we did in our building with 25 percent more students, 25 to 30 percent more staff in a new building, on a new schedule with a new start time and Zero Hour piece, I really don't think that we could have asked for much more.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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