Running a school is difficult. Starting a school—that’s another type of difficult.
Doug McLaren, principal of Thunder Ridge High School, has been working to do just that over the past two years.
Thunder Ridge is the newly formed high school in Idaho Falls as a part of Bonneville County Joint School District #93. They began enrolling students in the fall of 2018 and are currently in their second year of operation.
The normal ups and downs of a high school and its student body have been enhanced over the past couple of years—years which McLaren has called “a very rewarding experience.”
Challenges the school has had to face include forming an administration team, bringing together teachers from multiple schools and establishing new traditions.
“Certainly as an administration we have ideas about the best way to do things or things that are appropriate for a new school,” McLaren said. “We implement some of those, but we’ve tried to avoid saying, ‘from A to Z this is how everything will happen at Thunder Ridge.’ We wanted students to have input and involvement in that process, because it’s their school.”
Part of that has been allowing change to happen organically and wherever possible allow the student council to spearhead unexpected challenges.
Upperclassmen at Thunder Ridge attended either Hillcrest or Bonneville high schools before last year, with incoming freshmen coming from the redrawn school boundaries. McLaren said he didn’t want to put undue pressure on students to give up any feelings of allegiance for their old schools.
The school even held a clothing “swap day,” when they felt it was appropriate, in which students could trade in a piece of clothing from Bonneville or Hillcrest for a free piece of clothing from Thunder Ridge.
“My perception is that students have a very high regard for [Thunder Ridge],” McLaren said, referencing the beauty and popular design of the new school built on the east side of Idaho Falls.
He said people talk about two things they notice most dramatically at the school: windows and stairs.
There were also unexpected challenges that have arisen over the past couple of years.
“Once the school opened, there were some little things that you just don’t think of…the example I always share is we didn’t have flags in the classroom,” McLaren said.
In addition to flags and perhaps a couple missing pencil sharpeners, McLaren said the biggest challenge was bringing teachers together from different schools and establishing new expectations and standards.
He said they’ve had to work to create a new culture at the school from teachers who previously taught elsewhere. About a third of Thunder Ridge’s teachers came from Bonneville, a third from Hillcrest, and a third from outside the district.
In all, McLaren said it’s been a great experience for the school, and he hopes to see continued success in the future.
“It was very overwhelming at times and challenging at times and very fun and rewarding,” he said.