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A New Principal Begins At The State's Most Diverse High School

Rob Dillard
Iowa Public Radio

Sherry Poole officially began the job as principal at Hoover High School July 1. Less than three weeks later, the Hoover softball team won the Class 4A state title. Not a bad start.

“Some of the other principals around the metro were so encouraging and so nice, and they sent me a text saying, 'Wow, how are you going to top that?'" she says with a laugh. "So, it’s been a fun ride.” 

The 19-year veteran educator has spent her entire academic career in the Des Moines Public School system. She’s a native of Zearing in Story County and a graduate of Iowa State University. Hoover is her first stop as a principal. She offers insight into her managing style as staff and teachers arrive back at school.

“I’ll never ask you to do something I wouldn’t do myself," she says during an all-staff meeting three days before students return. "I’m not above cleaning the cafeteria, picking up things out of the garbage, coming into your classroom and helping out, all right. This is what we do.”

Poole is the third principal at Hoover High in the past three years. One of her initial moves as leader of the school is to offer reassurance to the nearly 90 staff members.

“It’s a lot of change of leadership, a lot of change of mission, it’s a lot of change of vision, it’s a lot of change in doing things," she tells them. "So, I promise I’ll stay, if you’ll have me.”

Poole is taking over at what is described as the most diverse high school in the state. The student body at Hoover consists of kids from 45 countries who speak 40 languages. It’s around a quarter black, a quarter Hispanic and 20 percent Asian. There is one overriding challenge as Poole moves into the principal’s office.

“How do we celebrate and make everyone feel like they belong to one school while coming from so many different backgrounds and experiences?” she says.

Credit Rob Dillard / Iowa Public Radio
Iowa Public Radio
A trophy case honors the 2018 Class 4A softball champions from Hoover High.

Poole decided after studying the Hoover High Handbook to give the school’s mission statement a facelift. She turned to a group of teachers she calls the instructional team to rewrite it. This is what they came up with. “We are a community of reflective global citizens who create positive change in the world.” Much of the opening staff meeting was taken up with brainstorming how to work the statement into the curriculum.

“So when students are like, 'Why do I have to do this, this is dumb, why do I have to do this?' We’re going to tell them because we are a community of reflective citizens," she says. "We’re going to do this because this is how we create change in the world.”

It has been a meeting-filled summer for Poole. She’s gone around the nearby northwest Des Moines neighborhood to meet residents and church leaders. She’s reviewed the slim budget supplied for the year and imagined what it would be like to have more money.

“I would give the English teachers books to refill their bookshelves and create the programs they want to create," she says. "You’d be a little more free with white boards in every classroom, so every child had a white board. And more technology so they get ready for the world they’re going to go out in.”

Credit Rob Dillard / Iowa Public Radio
Iowa Public Radio
Freshmen crowd the halls on the first day of classes at Hoover High School.

The halls at Hoover have been mostly quiet during the fading days of summer. The silence is shattered August 23when the nearly 1,100 students at Des Moines’ smallest high school arrive for the first day of classes. It’s orientation day for freshmen and community school coordinator Gretchen Critelli is among those to greet them.

“Welcome Class of 2022, give yourself a round of applause,” she exhorts in the school gymnasium.

I plan to spend a good deal of time at Hoover during the academic year. I want you to get to know the administrators, teachers, and students who make the school click. It’s an attempt to paint a vivid portrait of one school year at a complex, multifaceted urban high school with a new principal and a spirited student body. 

“When I say Hoover, you say Huskies," Critelli cheers. "Hoover Huskies, Hoover Huskies, Hoover Huskies. Just like that.”

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