During his 25-year career in Missouri schools, Dr. Jim Pritchett has seen a lot of change in education and the world. Information now travels lightning fast, and students can be bombarded by messages – both positive and not-so-positive – from hundreds of different sources. Pritchett, principal of Rolla High School, said one thing hasn’t changed, though. Kids still want the same things. They want to know someone has their backs.
“They don’t care what you know until they know you care,” he said. “That starts with building positive relationships with students and getting to know them as individuals. Some have struggles at home, and some are under a lot of pressure to succeed. We want to get them all to understand the importance of education.”
Pritchett said classroom instruction at Rolla emphasizes problem solving and teaches students how to work with others. He said those skills, along with strong academics, are crucial for students’ success in life. Staff and faculty often hear from former students that they use the skills they learned at Rolla High School in college and career.
Rolla schools enjoy strong community support, Pritchett said.
“From local industry to the hospitals to Missouri University of Science and Technology, the community provides a lot of academic support and expects high-quality education,” he said.
The community provides job shadowing opportunities for students, and Rolla schools have a program called “Experts in the Classroom.” People who are employed in banking, health care, construction and the trades come into the classroom to talk with students about their careers. Job-site visits are also available through Rolla Technical Institute, the district’s facility for career and technical education.
Some students don’t need to look far for career inspiration, because they’re considering careers in education. Rolla High School has several ways to encourage those aspirations.
“Our A+ program provides opportunities for students to tutor each other, and we have additional peer tutoring opportunities,” Pritchett said. “Many of the students are involved in small group presentations that give them a taste of teaching.”
Pritchett said that students who are considering a career in education have role models in their own classrooms.
“Our teachers present their ‘real side’ to students,” he said. “They show their students that teachers are regular people.”
Pritchett said the best part of his job is seeing students five or 10 years after graduation and hearing about what they’re doing. He said that being a part of their success is gratifying.
“We focus on excellence, whether it’s basketball or band or academics,” Pritchett said. “We give students our best and bring in academics along with support of each individual. Our kids look forward to coming to school. I am proud of our staff for making that happen.”
“The biggest reward is knowing that we made someone’s life better.”