Principal Beaton Reflects on His Freshman Year at EHS

As a senior who spent two years under Principal Bruce Locklear, I grew accustomed to regular assemblies where he would address the entire school at once. Coming into this school year, I expected the same from Principal Andy Beaton. However, Beaton proved to be a man of few words, preferring instead to conduct business through discussions with small groups and individual discussions. I recently sat down with Beaton in his office and spoke with him about his reflections from the past year and his future plans as the principal of Edina High School. Beaton walked into our meeting a few minutes late; his meeting with a group of parents ran longer than he had expected. He apologized and quickly brought me into his office to a small conference table set up for what seems to be his favorite means of communicating with students- individual meetings.

Throughout our meeting, Beaton spoke with obvious pride about the caliber of students here at EHS. Even with the past year’s difficulties, he’s proud that students have carried a tradition of excellence. “I wouldn’t say there’s been any challenges with students and who they are as young people. We have amazing students here, I’m proud of what they do,” Beaton said. He credits a lot of what he’s accomplished this year to his fellow staff members: “I have to work with my team, and I have to work with the teachers, and I have to listen to students to try to get to the best possible outcome when you have disagreements or differences or misinformation,” Beaton said.

Misinformation and its spread are, according to Beaton, the biggest challenge currently facing EHS. Edina is a city where community members–even those whose children graduated years ago or never even attended Edina Public Schools–take pride in our schools and consider themselves stakeholders. All it takes is a few minutes on local social network Nextdoor to see this in action. As the principal, Beaton has to decide to engage with this larger community. “I’m always trying to figure out about when to communicate to the broader school community and when not to, and how to make those choices,” Beaton said. “There’s kind of an insatiable desire for people to have information,” Beaton said about the community, and that adds to the challenge of deciding when he should and shouldn’t make public announcements about the school. His goal is that, “even when something’s going on, [parents] know, ‘Yeah, Mr. Beaton, he’s got it. He would let us know if there was an issue or if there was a concern or if he needed our help,’” Beaton said. Coming into a new community is always difficult, and Beaton has worked hard this year to lay the foundations for a stable, trusting relationship between the school and the community.

Students’ use of social media is another tricky landscape Beaton has had to navigate. Beaton views EHS as a microcosm of the United States in this way. “I think the biggest challenge at Edina High School is social media, and how quickly misinformation can spread amongst students and the community,” Beaton said. Several issues this year were exacerbated by misinformation and its rapid spread, such as the dress code protests. Things that start out fairly innocuous can quickly warp into trouble. “Social media is a hard thing to keep up with,” Beaton said. Administrators were oftentimes playing catch-up this year when dealing with social media conversations and rumors spilling over into the school. Learning about the climate and culture of the high school was a challenge for Beaton this year, and social media was a part of that challenge.

In response to the need to learn more about Edina’s culture, Beaton called on student representatives to help him stay connected to student concerns. “Some things that I’ve tried to do even since the beginning of the year has been to bring more student voice to the table about who I am and what we’re doing as a high school, whether it’s after school forums, whether it’s supporting Mosaic and focus groups, whether it’s the creation of the Student Senate, just to be very transparent about my thoughts about how to best operate the school,” Beaton said. The newly-formed Senate meets regularly to discuss happenings at the school from various perspectives, with records accessible on the school website.

When discussing how he approaches running a school, Beaton seems to be equal parts scholar and administrator. A Macalester College graduate, Beaton views the culture of the school through an academic lens. “It’ll be interesting to see how culture changes at the high school. 50% of our school was new this year with 9th and 10th grade. It’s not a new concept for me, coming in as a new principal where the senior class had the biggest growing pains,” Beaton said. Experience has shown that getting to know how the school thinks and feels is helpful when running the administration, and that’s what Beaton hopes to accomplish with his meetings with student groups.

This keen observation of culture and how it changes over time serves Beaton well. Earlier in the year, I had the opportunity to cover the aftermath of the dress code protests, including an open forum held by Beaton. Even then, he mentioned that he wasn’t bothered or surprised by students’ initial angst and resistance. This is typical; taking lumps at a new school is part of the job. Lesser leaders would’ve let a major protest so early in the school year rattle them, but Beaton observed that this is simply a part of the process.

Before coming to Edina, Mr. Beaton spent several years at Kennedy High School in Bloomington. “I loved my time at Kennedy,” Beaton said. “It’s a great place, and we did a lot of great work there, and I feel great about this year. As much as there have been challenges, I’ve learned a lot, and I really enjoy a great staff, and a great student and parent community here at Edina,” Beaton said. He didn’t view either school as being more difficult to run than the other. “Different challenges. All schools have challenges, and it’s not harder or easier, just different, you know?” Beaton said.

At this point in the conversation, Beaton pivoted from administrator to scholar in how he viewed the world. “I get concerned at times, not just in Edina, but in Minnesota and even nationally, about an eroding of trust in institutions, whether that’s schools, or police departments, or governments, or whatever,” Beaton said. This is important to him, because “The biggest thing is trust,” Beaton said. His job is sometimes complicated when stakeholders do not trust his judgment. As a principal, Beaton’s role is to make decisions not only for himself but for thousands of students and staff members. In this regard, Beaton hopes that “even when people disagree with me, they know that I’m making choices for the right reasons,” Beaton said.

Coming from watching Doc Loc run the school for two years and covering his actions and decisions for Zephyrus, I learned that Doc Loc operated by addressing people. He solved problems by selling large groups on ideas and on himself. Beaton, by comparison, operates by looking at ideas and what he hopes to accomplish in the big picture of things. So far, he seems to solve problems by diving to the root and investigating root causes. Most importantly, Beaton has figured out that “culture is more powerful than any special structure or technology. Culture always wins,” Beaton said. Although this year has been rough, Beaton understands that it’s part of the job and that change takes time. Studying and addressing the culture of the school as needed takes time but leads to a stronger school in the long run.

Ultimately, Beaton hopes to create a culture of a strong community. “Community. I think that’s a word that we need in Edina, we need in Minnesota, we need it nationally, internationally; we need to build stronger communities,” Beaton said. It’s also important to him that everyone feels like they’re a part of the culture. “If kids feel good about their school–they feel joy, they feel connected…then you’re going to have strong culture…it can’t just be some students feel that way,” Beaton said. He thinks that EHS has a lot to offer for everyone, so that all students can feel like a part of the community. “I think in a community like ours, I don’t see it as a small pot where there’s a limited amount of success or leadership; everybody can tap into that and be able to meet their potential,” Beaton said. He reiterated that success is for everyone. “To be successful doesn’t mean that someone else can’t be. I’m always looking for those win-wins,” Beaton said.

“It’s been a journey,” Beaton said about his first year at EHS. As a senior, I tend to agree. This year has certainly put a lot of strain on all of us. Despite any strain, Beaton doesn’t regret coming here. “I’m glad I’m here,” Beaton said. He sees his work here as part of the bigger picture. “All things happen for a reason, I’ve always believed that. I’ve faced challenges in my previous buildings, and my previous work, and I’ve asked myself, ‘Am I the right person for this work?’ Ultimately he’s decided that he’s “here at the right time for Edina High School.” He also puts a lot of trust in the district officials that hired him. “They saw in me what I needed to bring. Even though this is a challenging time, maybe I was needed here,” Beaton said.

Beaton expressed great pride in the teachers and students of EHS. He spent at least as much time, if not more, discussing how others have helped him as he did on his own achievements during our meeting. “All along, we’ve had amazing teachers here all along, the kids in this school are amazing, and I feel great that they feel empowered, at times, to make their voices heard,” Beaton said. He also sees a lot of potential in students. “I see so many students that have tremendous leadership capacity, and are just yearning for opportunities to do good work,” Beaton said. He also was proud of the seniors here. “I’m really impressed with the class of 2018,” Beaton said. Beaton is pleased with how seniors have risen to this year’s many challenges. “They have risen to the challenge when I’ve asked them to help or to give me advice or to help set the tone in this building,” Beaton said. He also observed their role in the culture here at EHS. “They feel a great sense of ownership and pride about this place,” Beaton said.

The end of the year is rapidly approaching, and Beaton is preparing for his first EHS Commencement. With that, he’s looking forward to what the future will bring. “I’m excited for next year. I’ve gotta close out this school year, but I’ll be sad to see the class of 2018 go,” Beaton said. Next year is another chapter for EHS.

Whatever it may bring, Beaton is confident that he will be able to handle it, with the help of the ambitious students and staff here at EHS. I won’t be at EHS next year, and I won’t be covering its news for Zephyrus anymore. Even so, past actions are a strong indicator of future behaviors. This year has made me confident that Beaton will continue doing everything that defines his personal brand of leadership: maintaining his humility, listening to his students, and always leaving the door open.