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Hopkins Superintendent Mhiripiri-Reed shadows students at Hopkins High School

HOPKINS — Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed joined the Hopkins school district in 2017 as superintendent and has already started to shake things up in the district.

This school year, Mhiripiri-Reed is getting her principals — and herself — out of their comfort zones to shadow a student for a day.

On Monday, April 22, Mhiripiri-Reed spent her day at Hopkins High School, shadowing four students throughout the day.

“In Hopkins, we are really working hard to make sure we are student-centered in everything that we do,” Mhiripiri-Reed said. “And I think the theory is, if you are putting students first, you will understand what students need in a really genuine way and I think the only way you can get yourself in that space is if you hang out with students and if you try to experience what they experience.”

Her day started in the Hopkins Alternative Program (HAP), which is a small learning community designed to help students develop classroom participation skills, according to the Hopkins Public Schools’ website.

From HAP, Mhiripiri-Reed followed a different student, Aisha Dem, to AP Physics. The students — and their superintendent — listened to a lecture on oscillation and completed an experiment using springs and weights.

Mhiripiri-Reed admitted she did not understand much of the physics course and was not much help to her group of students completing the experiment, but spent much of the course speaking with different students in the class about their future plans and accomplishments.

“It’s been really fun, I didn’t expect her to sit there and take notes in AP Physics,” Dem, a senior at Hopkins High School, said. “It’s been really interesting, she’s really working well with the students and I’m really glad that the school is doing something like this.”

Dem said it was nice to see administrators in the schools talking to students and it made her feel like they care about students and the school.

In jeans, tennis shoes, a sweater and a backpack, Mhiripiri-Reed blended into the crowded hallways, causing some confusion among students who murmured mistaking her for a student, some never recognizing their superintendent.

“I’ve been reminded that high schoolers — if you set up the right environment — are totally OK with being vulnerable in front of each other,” Mhiripiri-Reed said. “I’ve learned that our students need a personalized learning environment because they are all so unique and they each have their own set of circumstances that they are coming from that they bring to school every day. The first job a teacher should do is figure out who each of his or her kids are and then try to create a collective experience that takes all of those individual things into account.”

Mhiripiri-Reed doesn’t take credit for the Shadow a Student Challenge, which was started by School Retool, a professional development fellowship for educators, according to the School Retool website. The purpose of the challenge is to give school leaders a chance to learn on the ground what students see daily and use that to better advance the school.

“I had heard about Shadow a Student Challenge and I just thought it would be a great opportunity for our administrators to experience school from the point of view of a student so we could really put students first in our decision-making process,” Mhiripiri-Reed said.

Mhiripiri-Reed quickly recruited all the principals from Hopkins to shadow a student, each of them shadowing a student from a different level of education. For example, Mark French, the principal at Gatewood Elementary, shadowed Hopkins High School students the same day as Mhiripiri-Reed.

The principals shadow students from different grade levels as a reminder of where their students are headed or where they come from. For Mhiripiri-Reed, it was important to shadow multiple students to see a multitude of experiences throughout the district.

“It’s really hard to get it right in high school because high schoolers are really unique and we’re trying to get them ready for the world, and so what does that last three or four years need to look and feel and sound like? We have to get it right,” Mhiripiri-Reed said.

Mhiripiri-Reed is scheduled to shadow a kindergarten student next.