In her first year at Orono High School, principal Amy Steiner says she’s enjoying the process of getting to know the students and staff. The kids “have all been really welcoming and really fun to work with,” Steiner says. “I’ve also noticed that they’re very inclusive. It’s a really positive student culture, and they seem to be really inclusive of all different kinds of students. They’re driven and want to do well, and they’ve been great to work with.” We talked with Steiner—who grew up in Minnetonka and graduated from nearby Minnetonka High School—about her first semester on the job.
As for recognizing a positive student culture, Steiner should know—she’s something of an expert on working with high school students, and says being an administrator fulfills several of her passions. “I just kind of always wanted to do it,” she says. Like most administrators, she was a teacher first. “In college, I started doing some volunteering in classrooms, and that was probably the first time I thought of [education] as a career. But it was harder for me to find an area that I wanted to teach. I originally got an English teaching degree, and that’s what I planned on doing.” But life’s twists and turns often lead us down a more interesting path. Steiner ended up teaching English in a school for students with special needs, and realized she loved special education. Eventually, she became an assistant principal and was in that role for 11 years, in two different large districts. “That experience helped me a great deal,” she says. “And I think my work as a special education teacher and as a dean of students really helped me work with kids who are struggling, and helping them find ways to be successful.”
That goal—to help all students succeed—is the essence of Steiner’s leadership philosophy. “We need to think outside the box and be flexible,” she says. “We need to look at students as individuals. Most [strategies] work for 90 percent of the kids, but sometimes we need to be creative to really know what’s going to work for them…It’s always a challenge to make sure that…we have enough different pathways that each student can be successful.” She says she wants students to know there’s no “cookie-cutter path” they need to take to college and/or a career. “They can really be who they are, and not cave in to all that pressure. [Our society] is concerned about college and the GPA, and it’s hard for students to remember that they need to be true to themselves and find what fits them, rather than what the outside world says you should do.”
And what does Steiner do to stay true to herself? “I love summers in the lake area,” she says. “I go to a lot of plays and concerts, and I travel a lot as well.” She and her husband John, also a Minnetonka grad, do lots of outdoor activities, too—you might catch them on local trails or lakes this spring.