Saline High School principal Julie Helber has been on the job since July 1. Now that school has been in session for nearly two months, we thought it would be a good time to check in and see how things are going.
We thank her for taking the time to answer our questions.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a suburb of Flint, Michigan in a town called Rankin. It is near Grand Blanc.
You studied kinesiology at U of M. How did you decide education was the field for you?
When I was a senior at the University of Michigan, I was offered the opportunity to work at High Point School in Ann Arbor as a teacher assistant. This was where I found my passion for education.
You were an all Big 10 outfielder and second all-team big catcher for the UofM softball team, right? How would you describe your game?
As a catcher, I threw the ball a lot. It was my goal to prevent stolen bases. If a runner got lazy on the bases, I would throw them out. I had never played outfield until I came to Michigan. I had a great time learning the outfield position and loved to make the big diving catches. As a hitter, I was changed from a right-handed hitter to a left-handed slap hitter. It took many swings to convert but I ended up hitting left handed for my entire career at Michigan. I batted second and it was my job to move the runners.
Your husband Tim was a U of M hockey player. Who is the better athlete?
My husband is a great hockey player and comes from a very competitive family with excellent athletes. His brother played Michigan hockey and his sister played Michigan field hockey. We like to tease each other about who was the best athlete.
You’ve experienced the benefits of school sports. Hundreds of Saline High School students play sports. 225 alone run cross country. In your view, why is sports such an integral part of public education?
Anytime a student can be involved in a team, whether it be a sport, band, choir, club etc… they feel a connection to their school. This connection builds pride and confidence and a sense of belonging. At a time where students are really developing into young adults, it is important to feel this sense of belonging.
Before taking the principal’s post, you were a parent of Saline High School student, with your daughter graduating last year. How has your perception of the school changed now that you are principal of the school?
I have always had a very good perception of Saline Schools. Now that I am a member of the staff, my perception of the schools is even better. We have excellent students, families, and staff members at Saline Schools!
What are some of the big surprises you’ve experienced thus far?
I always knew that Saline students excelled in academics, but to see the level of care that they demonstrate for the learning process and the respect they show their teachers and each other on a daily basis makes me thankful everyday. I would say the consistency in this behavior has been a pleasant surprise for me.
You have wide range of experience from your time in Milan Area Schools, from teaching elementary school, to being curriculum coordinator, to being an assistant principal, to being assistant superintendent. How useful is that in terms of understanding and balancing all of the factors you consider in your job?
My experience at Milan Area Schools is invaluable in terms of preparing me for my position as Saline High School principal. My experience in central office as the Assistant Superintendent aides in my understanding of the school district’s organizational factors. This knowledge helps me to have a clear understanding of policy and how it impacts school buildings. My work with curriculum, instruction, and assessment at Milan adds to my level of knowledge in making sound instructional decisions in Saline. My experience in the classroom and as a building leader has also prepared me for my current position.
The leadership at SHS has undergone tremendous change in little over a year. You and assistant principal Marie Schluter began this year. Assistant principal Joe Palka began in January. And Athletic Director Rob White added some new administrative duties to his plate, too. As leader of this new group, what are some of the challenges you’ve faced and how have you met them? And how have you divided up duties? Does each assistant have their own specific role?
We have a fantastic administrative team at Saline High School. We each have our own set of strengths that compliment our performance. We meet once a week on Mondays to review the week and discuss improvement efforts, important dates, and plan. We have divided the duties to compliment our strengths. With that said, we all help wherever necessary to maintain the operations of our building. I am very excited about this team and look forward to our continued work together.
These days, public educators and school employees aren’t feeling like the most appreciated people on the planet. Those salary cuts the teachers swallowed probably aren’t going down easily. How is morale? Are there challenges maintaining a positive work and academic environment?
Our staff agreed to salary cuts that would help to maintain a balanced budget for the school district. This act tells a lot about the character of the people who work for Saline Area Schools. They take pride in what they do everyday with students and as educators this is what we choose to focus on.
I would imagine someone who had to block the plate when Big 10 softball players come barreling home isn’t someone who shies away from a challenge. Still, I imagine there’s some pressure coming to a lead a highly regarded institution like Saline High School. While one doesn’t want to take Newsweek lists and other rankings too seriously, it’s still undeniably a feather in the cap and great marketing tool for the school district. How do you view these rankings? Is maintaining or even improving on greatness part of the Helber plan?
Saline High School is a high achieving school district and I am fortunate to take the helm at a school that maintains a focus on learning and high expectations. This focus permeates the environment and it is easy to see why Saline High has been recognized for its performance. It is my goal to continually look for ways to improve and to work with the staff to coordinate our improvement efforts to benefit our students.
What do you think of the Saline Student section? Pretty awesome, eh?
The student section at the football games has been wonderful. The students are very proud of their team and faithfully cheer them on. Mr. White has facilitated positive spirit with the student section by providing shirts for the event. If you haven’t noticed, a student named Joe Strobbe cleans up the student section after every game. He does this without being asked and just to help out. This is a representation of our students in Saline. Thanks to Joe!
There are so many great athletic programs. In the fall alone, the cross country teams and swim and dive teams are making a strong push for state titles. But this is America, after all. And America loves football. Describe how the buzz around the school has changed since the start of the school year?
The students are excited about the success of the football team and our run in the playoffs. Coach Palka does an excellent job with our players to keep them focused and ready on game day. The pride in our school and all of our sports, clubs, music program etc… is evident among the student body.
What’s the best thing you’ve had to eat in the restaurant run by Chef Musto and his students?
During the first week of school Chef Musto made chicken fajitas. I came to my office only to find this beautiful dish on my desk. He has made me feel very welcomed at Saline High.
Is it true Saline High School is joining the Schools of Rock show/competition? What can we expect to see?
Yes, we are going to be in the Schools of Rock show in December. The details are not being disclosed at this time. Mr. Raft may want to steal some of our ideas.
What’s something about your job that makes you smile each day?
The students make me smile each day! I truly love my job.