Over the past 17 years, UAHS has maintained its reputation as one of the best high schools in Ohio under the leadership of principal Kip Greenhill. As he prepares for retirement, Greenhill takes a look back at his career.
By Aly Gordon and Elizabeth Tzagournis
It is, upon first glance, an ordinary office—simple mahogany desk, sleek Macintosh computer, shelves lined with textbooks, files and binders. But when one looks further, what was once an ordinary office soon becomes a charming and eclectic space. Though the many photographs and student-made art projects are endearing, one relic stands alone in its uniqueness: a pair of stadium seats, straight from Detroit’s Brigg’s stadium. Given to principal Kip Greenhill by his son in 2001, these faded-green chairs have long since been admired, exuding a certain charm that so easily captivates parents, teachers and students alike.
And although Greenhill has spent many hours in this room, he now stands amidst the hustle and bustle of a UAHS class change, greeting each passing student with a warm smile and simple “hello.” For 39 years, Greenhill has championed this close student-administrator relationship, and even as his career winds down he stands by its importance. Although his principalship is coming to an end, Greenhill’s contributions—whether through his early decisions, unique policies or educational philosophies—are undeniable.
Before he bled black and gold, Greenhill was a Mustang—A Strongsville Mustang, that is. Strongsville High School, located in the southwest corner of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, is where Greenhill began his career as both a teacher and a coach. He coached everything from baseball to basketball, noting that through coaching he played a positive role in the lives of his athletes.
“The thing about coaching is you can make a huge difference for people, [sometimes] more than in the classroom. So I loved coaching,” Greenhill said. “I really believe that I had a big impact on what those people became.”
But coaching was not the only way by which Greenhill influenced teens. Through his unique teaching methods, Greenhill hoped to give his students memorable yet equally educational experiences. So as to avoid the monotony of strictly curriculum-based courses, he integrated discussion, debate and roleplay into whatever subject he taught.
“Now that’s what I try to get across … It’s not always about covering all the material. It’s those experiences. My students, 30 years later, still remember the lessons I gave them [and] how I made them feel. ”
A self-described “hellion,” Greenhill never by any means saw himself in an administrator’s chair. However, because he constantly voiced his views—whether concerning teachers’ rights, school policy or any other area of concern—he was asked to “put [his] money where [his] mouth was,” he said.
“I never wanted to be a principal, but they came to me and said, ‘You’ve caused so much trouble in the union, you think it’s so easy to lead a school? Why don’t you do it?’ And they kept pushing me, so I said, ‘Fine I’ll do it, but only for one year.’”
Instead, Greenhill spent the next 10 years as Strongsville’s principal and was later offered a position at Bexley High School. Greenhill became Bexley’s principal in 1986. Though he loved his new position, his sons, who were at the time Bexley students, encouraged their father to accept another job offer: principal of UAHS.
“I had no interest in leaving [Bexley] at all, but Arlington [was] desperate,” Greenhill said. “They called me up and said, ‘Would you have any interest?’ And my sons heard me talking on the telephone and said … ‘You know, dad, would you consider it?’ It was hard for them to have their dad as high school principal … They thought they were treated unfairly [and that] I was too tough on them.”
Despite his attachment to Bexley’s close-knit atmosphere, Greenhill respected the wishes of his sons and accepted the UAHS position.
THE BEGINNING AT UA
Some issues were met with quick solutions. One example was the bench dilemma: Greenhill recalled seeing countless students sitting on the floors in the hallways, so he purchased hallway benches for students’ comfort. However, some problems, particularly those concerning the staff, were not so easily resolved.
“The culture had to change—that’s really what it was. There was so much in-fighting between the faculty. It was unbelievable. The faculty was at war with each other,” Greenhill said. “Some of the veteran teachers will tell you that there were large segments of the faculty that disliked each other, so much so that they were fighting all the time.”
Veteran teacher Diane Haddad, who has worked at UAHS for the past 26 years, remembers this time of discontent and strife.
“We had gone through several changes in principals when he came … There wasn’t a lot of stability [or] continuity,” she said. “It’s hard to bring a staff of this size together. But I think Mr. Greenhill has done a better job of that than any of the other principals I’ve worked with.”
According to Greenhill, the conflict stemmed from inter-department jealousy over varying course loads. This early roadblock, though seemingly insurmountable, was solved through the efforts of Greenhill himself, as well as a number of trained professionals.
“I brought in a number of people from Ohio State to work with me … One of the things that I did [to] get things going was—[since] we couldn’t even have a faculty meeting without people getting angry—[call] for a high school summit,” he said.
This summit involved administrators and teachers from numerous Ohio high schools, and aimed to advance toward a more successful future. After convening at OSU, the consortium discussed, planned, and strengthened relationships. Haddad believes an important part of improving relationships within the high school was Greenhill’s emphasis on respect.
“I think part of it was bringing teachers together and allowing them to have a voice,” Haddad said. “You started having some empathy for what other people were going through.”
Greenhill’s determination to foster healthy and productive relationships among staff and students was his first administrative venture as the new UAHS principal.
“We had to start talking to get this high school moving,” Greenhill said. “Because if you’re not moving forward, you’re going to fall behind other high schools.”
OVER THE YEARS
With the initial roadblocks behind him, Greenhill established a number of policies centered around one distinct ideal: trust. Whether it be Capstone release days, senior study hall or open lunch, this trust is more than apparent in the open atmosphere of the school.
“If you talk to our teachers—even those that disagree with me on a lot of things—they would say that I give them trust. Because I think if you don’t give people your trust, they’re not going to be creative, they’re not going to try new things… I think people function better that way,” Greenhill said. “I think our students [also] function better that way when there aren’t as many rules.”
Haddad said this trusting relationship facilitates greater communication and openness between the administration and staff. She notes that this relationship is often a rarity in other high schools.
“One of the biggest differences with Mr. Greenhill is we can disagree with each other and have that kind of discussion,” she said. “It’s nice to have that kind of relationship where you feel like you can really speak your mind and not feel intimidated, or that you can’t say what you think.”
And although Greenhill has run UAHS with greater trust and, in turn, fewer rules, that is not to say he is averse to punishment.
“It’s not as if I’m saying everyone’s got total freedom. I think there has to be freedom, but you have to let people know what the parameters are,” he said. “You guys are going to be better prepared for college because you’ve had freedom. And if you can’t handle [the freedom], the school and your family can work on it… before your parents start writing those checks.”
Over her 26 years at UAHS, Haddad has witnessed the evolution of Greenhill’s policies, noting that trust has always been a cornerstone.
“He likes to find the positive, I think, always, especially in the students. You know, things like open campus for seniors, release days, and the study days for AP and IB tests, that kind of thing,” she said. “It’s giving students some ownership in their own learning and time management.”
Though he’s been faced with opposition for much of what he allows his students, Greenhill understands he cannot please everyone. Haddad also believes that despite the sometimes overwhelming criticism he receives, he always acts with the students in mind.
“Nobody’s ever going to agree with everything. But I think when it comes down to it… he thinks of the students first and puts their best interests—what he thinks is their best interest—first,” she said.
Greenhill also maintains his policies and defends his stance against other principals and teachers.
“There’s a lot of people that disagree with that [policy of trust]. When I talk to a lot of principals… a lot of them look at me like, ‘Are you crazy?’ … Most people say ‘I can’t believe that that’s how Upper Arlington is,’” he said. “You have to trust each other. You have to trust me that we’re not going to do crazy things,” he said. “[Trust] and respect. But I expect it in return too.”
A LASTING LEGACY
Whether at basketball games, track meets or choir concerts, Greenhill’s presence is an integral part of UAHS. However, his role is not only that of a leader, but of a fan, as well. By attending various productions, events and games, he demonstrates his commitment to and support for the school and its many students. Senior Tanner McClellan, who has been involved in both field hockey and vocal ensemble, notes that this support has been very reassuring.
“I really appreciated how Mr. Greenhill came to nearly every event. He was at most field hockey games and has been to every musical and concert that I can remember,” she said. “His constant support and appreciation of the arts and sports means so much to me, and the entire student body.”
Like many of her peers, she values her time spent with him and believes Greenhill’s part in her and many other classmate’s high school experiences was paramount.
“Mr. Greenhill has made UAHS such a fun and safe place to be, and has brought our community together,” she said. “Everyone will miss [him] so much.”
And even after 17 years of his constant involvement, Greenhill maintains that the time has been more than rewarding.
“This has been the best 17 years of my life! I love it here. I just love the student body and the community,” Greenhill said. “This place is like a magnet; I tried to pull away from it but I couldn’t… I just love being a part of watching young people become so good and so different.”
Throughout his career, Greenhill has extended his passion to all students, regardless of their grades or records. He noted that one of the most rewarding aspects of his work is seeing the growth and development of his students.
“Even the [students] who are ‘bad,’ I love them. Because, you know, you get a chance to work with them. Then you see them in 10-15 years, all the sudden you see them, and it just impresses you what they do,” Greenhill said. “I’m just so proud when people leave here and the things that happen to them… It’s just amazing to me to look out at the student body and see how they’ve grown. It’s not winning an award; it’s the people,”
As the year winds down, Greenhill said that although he will miss the high school tremendously, he is looking forward to his future and his continued involvement in the community. As he bids farewell, he stresses the importance of the high school’s distinct climate and how easily it could be lost.
“This is a unique high school, but we could lose it very easily,” he said. “My message [to the student body] would be, we have a special place here: Take care of it.”
Photo courtesy David Streicher