CRYSTAL LAKE – Steven Koch knows where the bar has been set at Prairie Ridge High School, and he is ready to raise it.
Koch, director of staff development for Community High School District 155, is in the rare position of taking the helm of a succeeding high school as he is set to become the principal of Prairie Ridge High School – recently ranked in the top 35 Illinois high schools by Newsweek America.
The first-time honor for the school creates additional pressure to meet and exceed expectations, but Koch said he thrives on that kind of challenge.
“I’m moving to a building where success is the expectation,” he said. “But you always have to be asking what’s next and what can we do better. That’s what gets me excited to come to work every day.”
A change in leadership for one of the area’s most successful schools is of no concern to Superintendent Johnnie Thomas, who has worked with Koch at the administrative offices for the past several years.
Thomas said Koch is a perfect fit for the position because of the combination of his experience as an English teacher at the high school and the strong relationships he has built with teachers districtwide.
“He’ll step in and provide the vision, but the actual work is done by our teachers,” Thomas said. “It’s part of that team concept where we are focused on constantly working with each other.”
Koch is coming into the position with strategies on how to build off the 34th place finish among Illinois high schools. He said the school has focused on bolstering Advanced Placement courses, most recently with the addition of European studies, and he would look to expand that focus to cross-curricular literacy.
“Strong literacy skills are important regardless of the discipline of study,” he said. “It’s a buildingwide emphasis already, but I want to build upon that.”
Thomas said Prairie Ridge has the opportunity to receive the same recognition as Cary-Grove High School, which made the Newsweek list for the second consecutive year at 32nd among state high schools and landed on a similar U.S. News & World Report list.
While the goal is for all district schools to succeed at that level, Thomas said the outside recognition is the result of the district’s own mission and expectations.
“Others will recognize that drive and determination we expect of our staff and students,” Thomas said. “That’s not the focus, though, that’s the result.”
Current Principal Paul Humpa will return to the classroom as a math teacher. Thomas said that while he did not expect the move, he is glad to retain the institutional knowledge and professionalism Humpa provides.