Lexington/Richland 5 students return to classes Thursday. At Irmo High School, new and returning students will see many changes unfolded, the biggest one being a new principal taking control–former TC Robeson High principal Robyn Weinkle.
Weinkle, whose term began July 1st, replaces Eddie Walker as principal. Walker had served five years at Irmo. During his tenure, Walker had been revered by students, parents, and teachers for doing much to build up academics and work directly with parents to turn Irmo away from its negative reputation. Though test scores had gradually improved and disciplinary action was established on students, Walker’s term had its great share of controversy. In 2008, reaction over the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance ranged from praiseworthy to vehement at Walker’s initial refusal to approve the club. In 2006, the school again made national headlines when a gym fight of two girls was recorded by a student’s phone and posted on YouTube.
Also, many incidents (that have required vandalism and gang-related activity) have seemed to tarnish the school’s reputation. Some parents, however, was unmoved over Walker’s attitude toward such issues.
“Glossing over much of the drama doesn’t solve anything,” Fred Harmon, parent of current junior Jade Harmon. “Walker is a good man, don’t get me wrong. However, as a parent I’d like to know what is being done to make sure my daughter is safe at school.”
Having a nearly consecutive three-year run of being labeled as a “Blue Ribbon” school, it has looked as if Irmo High’s academics (especially as far as test scores and average excellence ratings) has taken a slight dive.
“Being good with the parents and the students is a good thing but much is required on a principal’s part as well,” Harmon says.
Weinkle, who has served as TC Robeson High principal since June 2004, has had much experience building up students academically. Reviewing the previous year’s report card, there was an average of 1,088 on the SAT among its 1,496 students. With nearly 80% of its students succeeding either at or beyond grade level, the academic record is believed among many for Weinkle to be the key to bringing back Irmo High’s focus on academics.
In the official statement regarding Weinkle’s appointment, superintendent Herbert Berg said Weinkle “has a strong and proven reputation for positive communications with students and parents and for making data-driven decisions to promote high student achievement.”
For some parents, though, having a principal that’s had much experience in Asheville, NC poses a possible problem.
“I’d have liked it better if they’d gotten somebody that was actually more familiar with the area,” said Brian Jonas, parent of current sophmore Rashad Jonas. “Having somebody who doesn’t even know the area makes it harder, I believe, for someone to closely handle the problems needed.”
However, others believe that lack of experience has nothing to do with Weinkle’s qualifications. “With a record that’s as strong as his,” says Charles Dixon, parent of current senior Claire Dixon, “as long as you’re focused on helping students and improving relations, that’s the truly important thing.”