A year ago, the Olentangy Berlin community was preparing to make history as the Olentangy Local School District’s fourth high school opened its doors. By all accounts, the first year was a special experience for all involved as they navigated new waters together.
To preserve the inaugural year of Berlin High School, a time capsule is being prepared that will include various mementos from year one. But while year one will always be remembered for pioneering that legacy, the work in building the legacy is far from over.
Principal Todd Spinner believes the best way to honor what was started last year is to continue it into the years to come. And with a newfound sense of continuity among both the faculty and the student body, the Berlin community expects that even better lies ahead for it as the school enters year two.
“People ask, ‘How are you going to duplicate the positive atmosphere and all of this from the first year? Because it’s not new anymore,” Spinner said of continuing the strong vibes. “Well, we’re welcoming in more than 400 freshmen next year. So, it’s all about being purposeful. We want to purposefully sustain what we’ve done here.”
In addition to the new students, 17 new staff members have been added ahead of the upcoming school year. Spinner said everything last year, all the way through the final day of school, was a learning process for the staff. Now, the 65 staff members are well versed in what the expectation at Berlin looks like, and they are now able to relay that to new staff.
“One of our taglines this year is going to be ‘strength in numbers,’” Spinner said. “A lot of people think that when you add more people, it could dilute things. I’m the opposite of that. If we’re all pulling on the same side of the rope, we’re going to be unstoppable.”
He expects that sentiment to extend to the incoming freshmen class, which he said is great and full of potential.
Maintaining the overly positive and exciting atmosphere that came naturally last year might seem like a task, but what has been created at Olentangy Berlin could be best described as a culture, and cultures, both — positive and negative — aren’t easily broken.
With that understanding, Spinner sought to lay the groundwork for a strong culture from the jump. Along with Athletic Director John Betz, Spinner conducted the interviews for every eventual staff member ahead of the inaugural school year.
Spinner said one of the things he was most interested in evaluating was how people would react and respond to adversity, which he knew was bound to pop up at some point throughout the first year of an entirely new high school.
Aside from the inevitable bumps in the road that come with a new school, Berlin experienced significant and sobering adversity with the passing of the Reitter family this past spring due to carbon monoxide poisoning in their home. Richard Gabriel Reitter IV, a 15-year-old student at Berlin, was among the family of four who was lost.
“You talk about us being together in the highest of the highs, that’s the lowest of the lows,” Spinner said. “But the whole (Berlin) family — the students, staff, community, and district office — came together. I think that is a testament to how strong of a family we are.”
The family comparison is widely used and, at times, can be hollow and without substance. Within the Berlin community, however, Spinner says he sees the testimony often.
He referenced a text he received one day this summer from the chair of Berlin’s math department. The text included a picture of nine of the school’s math teachers enjoying a summer outing together at Top Golf, taking time out of their own break to spend with each other. He added other staff members often meet for food throughout the summer.
“It’s just what they do,” he said of staff relationships being strengthened outside of the walls of the school. “They genuinely like each other … you always hear about relationships and trust, but those really mean something to us.”
Indeed, the leadership at the top couldn’t be stronger. But it isn’t confined to the faculty, Spinner said. Another benefit Berlin will have on its side in year two is that of a senior class, the first in school history.
But Spinner said the leadership of this senior class will be especially strong because, by and large, they had to act as if they were seniors last year as juniors and the eldest of the student body.
“I remember myself as a sophomore,” Spinner recalled. “And then as a senior, two totally different roles. Fortunately, I had that junior year as a buffer. These kids were thrust into that leadership role right away. They’re ready, they’re chomping at the bit. Because they’ve already done it.”
Spinner said he expects to see a significant jump in athletics, as well as academically. With no graduating class last year, every athletic program will be welcoming back a roster full of second-year starters, a boost for any team.
Indeed, the positive momentum all throughout Berlin High School is evident. But Spinner understands momentum is only as good as their ability to sustain it moving forward. A self-starter who operates under the “failing to plan is planning to fail” mantra, Spinner will put his best foot forward in doing just that.
However, strong cultures require 100 percent buy-in from all involved, something he has prepared and worked for from day one. To that point, Spinner will be the first to redirect any praise received to his staff, who is every bit responsible and accountable for how Berlin continues to ascend.
“Ronald Reagan said, ‘The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets people to do the greatest things.’ That’s what I’m trying to do,” Spinner said. “I can name any teacher in the building and they do all these great things, but people will call me and tell me awesome. No, I’m not. It was that dude, it was that teacher who did that.
“This is a special place. This is a special building. And it’s because of all the people here,” he added.