This week marked the end of the first era in the history of Woodland Regional High School. Monday was the last day of the tenure of Arnold Frank, the only principal the 12-year-old school has ever known.
Kurt Ogren is Woodland’s new principal. He took over Tuesday, but in typical Frank fashion the outgoing administrator stuck around a few extra days to help Ogren transition into the job — one he said he inherits with “very big shoes to fill.”
The shoes Frank leaves are no run-of-the-mill footwear. They didn’t come off a shelf; not even the shoemaker with the finest touch produced them. Frank crafted those spacious, worn-in shoes — his own modern, old-fashioned high school — by himself over more than a decade.
It’s tough to describe Woodland to somebody who doesn’t have a black and gold diploma. You’ll find what you’d expect in any high school: The classrooms, the staff, the cliques, the fights, the jocks, the troublemakers, the honors students, the dress code violators — the same old, same old.
There’s a sense around Woodland, though. It’s one that, as a student, you don’t really understand until sometime between the fall of your junior year and a few years after you graduate. I’m not sure any Woodland student, alumnus, teacher or Hawk by affiliation has ever tried to put it into words, so I might as well give it a shot.
At Woodland, people care about people. They care when the volleyball team makes a run to the state final. They care when an art teacher and an assistant coach pass away within a month of each other. They care when it’s time to deck out in black and gold and scream louder than they’ll ever yell again. And they care because they know they have a place in our little Woodland community.
Until this week — no, actually, his legacy will last well beyond his career — the common denominator for it all was Frank.
(For the rest of this column, I’ll have to call him Dr. Frank. I’ve called him that for eight years, and I can’t change now.)
Dr. Frank knew more than a decade ago he had an opportunity that a very select few educators ever get. With a blank slate, he became the high-school-building equivalent of Michelangelo and Mozart.
He has hired every school employee except Ogren, and every one I’ve come in contact with over the last eight years has fit the Dr. Frank philosophy: Woodland’s teachers are more than teachers. They become mentors, confidants and friends.
He made the terrific decisions to implement block scheduling (which makes the transition to college class schedules as seamless as possible), the advisory program (which only helps to strengthen the community aspect upon which Woodland prides itself) and the Advanced Placement program (which helped me graduate college a year early).
I haven’t covered high school sports as long as some of the folks around here, but in my five years I’ve gotten a pretty good sense of which schools have the best administrative support. No principal in the Naugatuck Valley League has ever been more visible or more supportive than Dr. Frank — ask Chris Anderson and the rest of the 2004 and 2005 football teams.
But he was like that with every facet of the school. He was not a principal who hid all day in his office — the one clad with Woodstock-era posters, Wisconsin Badgers memorabilia and the hard hat he wore during the early groundbreaking ceremonies of the school, he made groundbreaking. Yes, look around at area high schools now and you’ll see many are implementing the ideas that made Woodland one of the best high schools in America, according to Newsweek.
He made the school that many of us will one day be able to look back upon and point to as a major source of our successes. And in that gesture, we will not as much credit the building where it all started, but rather the man who made everything inside it better than anyone could have dreamed.
Thank you, Dr. Frank.
Kyle Brennan is a contributing writer to the Citizen’s News. A 2009 Woodland graduate, he is the president of the WRHS Alumni Association.