VIDEO: Meet the new PHS principal Aaron Cookson

VIDEO: Meet the new PHS principal Aaron Cookson

Matthew Rutherford
eSomethin Staff

Rutherford: Interview with Aaron Cookson was conducted on Saturday, April 10th, 2021, over Zoom.  So I, uh, heard the podcast that Jack Bowe actually did the past, uh, this past Wednesday. And so, as I know of, this is your second interview.

Cookson: Yeah. 

Rutherford: And um, is it surprising to you that since you’ve been like, publicly known that you’re going to be our new principal that you already have two student led interviews? 

Cookson: Yeah it uh, came as a little bit of a shock to me, for sure. But I’m definitely grateful for it. I think this is a great way for, you know, the students and staff members to get to know me, those who don’t know me, you know, obviously, I know a lot of the uh, staff members already, but maybe just reacquaint themselves with me or those that don’t know me just get to know me a little bit. 

Rutherford: Yeah. And, uh, that, that’s great. And I’m happy that I’m happy that you’re getting that kind of attention, because uh, we’re all really excited for you to be here next year with us. And, um, so how does things like new media and podcasting and viral content- how do you think that affects student education? 

Cookson: Yeah, I mean, I think it just gives students another platform to, um, you know, follow their, their passions and interests. Obviously you must have a passion for podcasts or technology for reporting and, you know, just it just opens up another avenue. And it’s something that, you know, for the consumer is, I think, interesting, it’s easy. It’s uh, you know, it’s ubiquitous, you know, podcasts and, and things such as podcasts are – are, you know, uh – I believe, you can kind of the next step with dissemination of information. And I know, they’ve been around for a while, but, you know, I think they’re just taking – taking it to the next level, I think, I think it’s a great, great opportunity. 

Rutherford: Yeah, yeah. And our team is really dedicated. Uh, we, we really are passionate about our eSomethin spirit, next year is actually, uh, 100 years of “The Somethin.”

Cookson: Oh, great.

Rutherford: Our student newspaper has been around for, next year will be our 100th anniversary. So we’re really excited for that next year. And we’re really proud to, uh, be the team next year that gets to celebrate it so. 

Cookson: That’s really cool. That’s really cool. I’ve got to let you know that I’ve, uh, checked out – checked out your online platform and pretty much scoured it from top to bottom over the past month or month and a half. So very, very well polished publication, very informative, very well done, entertaining, but yet, you know, hard hitting with some, some great journalism. So kudos to the entire staff. 

Rutherford: Thank you. 

Cookson: Yeah. 

Rutherford: I- they’ll be glad to know that you appreciate them.

Cookson: Yeah.

Rutherford: And so, uh, that was just like a first icebreaker question. We’re now going to just move on to, more Perrysburg related questions. 

Cookson: Sure. 

Rutherford: Um, so the second question is, what made you want to interview for Perrysburg, again? 

Cookson: Yeah, that’s a- that’s a great question. Um, you know, in my 12 years in Hilliard, and I tell this to everyone, so I’ll tell it to you as well, you know, I’ve never, never looked outside of our district outside of Davidson High School for a position. Um, but when I heard from a colleague that the, uh, the – the position was open in Perrysburg, I-I was immediately intrigued. I just, you know, took me back to, you know, basically where I started. I did teach 1- in one 1 school prior to Perrysburg. Um, just 1 year but I did my- I did my student teaching in Perrysburg. And so that’s kind of where it all started for me.

Rutherford: Mhm. 

Cookson: It just took me back to, you know, the – the community feel, um, you know, remember, you know, how-how um, really awesome the students were there. Um, you know, strong staff, you know, the commitment to academics and academics, athletics and arts, you know, all around. It’s just, it’s a great school. It’s a great community of great students, great staff, supportive. Um, you know, I just when I heard it, like I said, just, you know, counted up a lot of great memories for me, so I knew that was a place, and really the only place I probably wouldn’t have ever applied to. Because I do love Hilliard, and I do love Davidson where I am, but Perrysburg has a special place in my heart. And it’s also given me an opportunity to get closer to-to where I grew up. I grew up in Northwest Ohio, right side – right outside of Perrysburg, and still have a lot of family and friends in that area so. 

Rutherford: That’s great um- and I’m happy for you that it’s a great opportunity and obviously worked out for you.

Cookson: Yeah it did.  I’m very fortunate, very fortunate.

Rutherford: And so it kind of just ties into our next question. It’s, how-how does it feel knowing now that you’ve been accepted as our principal? How does it feel knowing that next year you’re going to be at our school as our princ- this time as our principal? 

Cookson: Sure. I’m- I’m ready to go. I’m very excited. I mean, I can make it happen tomorrow. And you know, I’m ready to go. So I’m-I’m excited to really, you know, dive deep into student life and get to know students and student groups. I’m excited to reacquaint myself with those staff members I know, but also get to know those who I don’t, and just get a general sense of, you know, what Perrysburg is now. I’m sure it’s changed somewhat, since- since I was there um. I would venture to guess not a whole lot, because I have done a lot of research, obviously. But, but um, but I don’t think it’s, you know, I, I don’t think it’s changed a lot. So and that’s, again, that’s what excited me about the opportunity. But I’m ready to go. I’m excited. Um, I’m energized. You know, I got- I got a lot of great experience and ideas coming with me, you know, to add, so the strong Perrysburg tradition that – that currently exists. 

Rutherford: That’s great. And, uh, yeah. It’s definitely um- so my sister was at Perrysburg High School 10 years ago. And so, uh, I think she was a freshman in 2009. So I don’t know if she was there when you were there or not. But um- 

Cookson: Yeah, she would have been. 

Rutherford: Oh, she would have been? Oh, I yeah, I guess- it’s just- it’s grew. That’s one of the biggest things is the Perrysburg district has been growing exponentially since my time at being here. Perrysburg actually just was debating on portables for the high school next year. Um, because the amount of lockers from the graduating seniors is not going to be enough to cover the freshmen. 

Cookson: Mhm.

Rutherford: And we also have a lot of teachers that don’t have classrooms. And so they were talking about that at the Board of Education meetings a month or two ago. And so it’s definitely has grown as the biggest thing is there’s a lot more students than there was 12 years ago. 

Cookson: Sure, that’s true. That is- that’s 100% true. You know, though, I see that as a positive, that means that Perrysburg is a destination location for families and you know, bringing their sons and daughters into a high performing supportive district. So, yeah, it definitely takes some planning to try to navigate those waters. But uh, I think that’s a positive.

Rutherford: Mhm. And so, moving on to our fourth question. I think the students are very intrigued to know. So Dr. Short, “Go Jackets,” is one of his signature lines. That’s how he expresses school spirit. When the students hear him say, “Go Jackets,” the whole students, they get super hyped up, because that’s-that’s his signature line. How do you plan on expressing school spirit? 

Cookson: Sure, you know, I’m, when I come in, I’m gonna, you know, just listen and learn and have conversations uh with – with, with people. You know, staff and students alike. Um, I think, “Go Jackets,” is a great tagline. I mean, if it gets people fired up, I don’t see any reason to change that. I mean, we all have our, we have our uh, we have our own ways of connecting with students and getting them excited, and you know, having them, you know, feel connected to the school and buy into the school, which is hugely important, because that’s why we’re all there as a staff is to support students and make sure they have the best experience possible. So, you know, hopefully, Dr. Short won’t mind, but I’ll probably steal that tagline. If it works, I’ve met with success. Because, you know, I like to bring the energy. I like to- I like to provide experiences for students, I’m sure I’ll have some other ideas that we can, you know, weave into the already strong culture, at Perrysburg to even, you know, take that up a notch, so.

Rutherford: I think he’ll be okay with it.

Cookson: Yeah. 

Rutherford: I think he’ll be happy to know that he’s passing the torch down to the next person in line to know that he wants to keep that signature line, because that’s definitely a line that I know is very important to him.

Cookson: Sure. Yeah.

Rutherford: So I’d bet- I’d bet he’d be-be super happy to know that. 

Cookson: That’d be great. I-I, if I have to pay him a couple bucks, maybe have to pay him a couple bucks, so. You know, for some copyright, get copyright infringement against me or anything. But, but yeah, that’s we’ll probably plan on keeping that, uh, that ship sailing forward. That’s for sure.

Rutherford: That’s, that’s great. 

Cookson: Yeah. 

Rutherford: Um, and so moving on to our fifth question. The-the student body obviously is very sad that Dr. Short is going to go, and a lot of the students- when I first read about you, I didn’t know who you were, and many students didn’t know who you were. And so I think some students might be a little anxious a little about the transition. And their first concerns are what is going to change? Is there any going to be any dramatic changes? And so that’s our next question is: what changes can the student body expect from you taking over, whether it be physical changes or just like a change in atmosphere? 

Cookson: Sure, sure. Yeah, that’s a- that’s a great question. And those feelings are totally normal and natural, uh, for sure. But I just want to assure students and you’ll see this very soon, you know, when I hit the ground running in Perrysburg. You know, I’m a very approachable person, you know, first and foremost as an administrator, definitely, but you know. As a person, very, very approachable, personable, open door, you know I want to hear ideas, I want to hear thoughts, I want to hear concerns. Like I said, I want to make sure that high school’s the-the best 4 years up to this point in your lives as students. So, don’t hesitate to reach out to me, to shoot me an email, to stop me in the hallway. You know, I’m gonna be all over the place, um, in terms of hallways and classrooms. And, you know, just getting to know people and you know, diving in, because that’s what I do. Um, changes. You know – I’ve been through this before, I’ve replaced a long-time principal, where I currently am now for who actually hired me into Davidson. So I have experience with this, and in my experiences, don’t, come in and make you know, wholesale changes. Things if, especially if things are working well. Which obviously Perrysburg, is a- is a finely tuned school. Um, now, is there areas to grow? Areas to tweak? I’m sure. They’re always- they’re always areas to make small changes and tweaks. But I’m not going to be one to come in and-and overhaul the system and-and split everyone’s world upside down.

Rutherford: Mhm. 

Cookson: I can promise you that. Um, you know, we’ll talk with students, like I said, we’ll talk with staff members, our building leadership team. And we’ll see where we need to go to move Perrysburg forward to make it, again, the best experience for our students. But rest assured, wholesale changes will-will not be coming to Perrysburg High School. 

Rutherford: Yeah, and I’m sure a lot of students will actually- just like that’s like a weight off their chest, knowing that there’s not going to be any dramatic changes. And I- and I think- if there are changes to be made, you’ll- you’ll find out. 

Cookson: Sure.

Rutherford: Because you have to settle into things a little first-

Cookson: Yup. 

Rutherford: -and figure out what works and what might just need a little bit of fine tuning. 

Cookson: Yep, exactly. And I’d say the only changes that I would bring would be positive changes, you know, changes to support students. You know, maybe different celebrations or different recognitions, or, you know, different types of social events, you know, those types of things. It’s not going to be, you know, massive changes to-

Rutherford: No school uniform.

Cookson: No. No. No school uniform. So, as far as I know, unless I’m told to do otherwise. But no, that would- that would not be one of my top priorities. That’s for sure.

Rutherford: Yeah, that’s-that’s great to hear. And uh, the next question is kind of like that, but I’m curious- I’m curious to know, is there anything that you do or the staff does at Hilliard Davidson that you would want to see brought over to Perrysburg that you didn’t see 12 years ago? 

Cookson: Sure. Sure. That’s a- that’s a great question. Have to wrack my memory. Um, you know, we- we do have a large focus um- I kind of alluded to it, but not this- as specific. We do have a large focus on- on- on student recognition. Recognition of achievement, and um, like I said, the arts, in academics, and in athletics. I think sometimes um- I think sometimes athletics, um, sometimes has, has a lot of spotlight on- on them. I think it’s true in a lot of schools, and that’s rightfully so. I mean, those students work hard. And they-they produce great results. And, and um, you know, deserve that. But I also believe, you know our students in the performing and visual arts also work very hard. 

Rutherford: Mhm.

Cookson: They also need recognition and, you know, for their achievements. And academically too, for sure. Um, you know, we do something at Davidson right now that I’m really proud of, we have an academic pep rally, like we have athletic pep rallies-

Rutherford: Mhm. 

Cookson: -you know, I’m sure Perrysburg still have those. We actually have an academic pep rally, where we celebrate the successes, as a whole school, for- for academic achievement. Which I think is really cool, and all the students are there to take part in that. We recognize staff and students in that. So that’s one example, some of the things that we do, but uh, there’s a lot of things that we do. So I’m excited to see exactly what Perrysburg has done since- since I left and then you know, see how I can weave into some of these other things that I have in my- in my brain to bring recognition for the achievements of our-our student body. 

Rutherford: Mhm and that’s- that’s great to hear. Because as someone who’s a part of band and the marching band, that’s really great to hear. Yeah uh.

Cookson: Yeah. For sure.

Rutherford: I think a lot of students will be happy to know that you’re focused on not just the athletic section, but- and you care about the athletic section, but also you care a lot about the extracurriculars and all the clubs that might even have a couple people. I, um, I don’t know if we still have it anymore, but we had an anime club here at the school, and it was only like 5 students, but I wasn’t a part of it, but I know those 5 students had the time of their lives, and they wanted people to join though, but it was just so small. And so I know those smaller clubs, if they get the recognition, I know they’ll feel a lot better as well.

Cookson: Sure. It’s a- it’s all about connecting kids to the- to the school. And whatever way we can do that, we try to do that. And we have similar clubs at our building to right now that have 3, 4 5 students in them but if it’s a student- student’s passion, uh, and we can get a group of students together to- to you know, to-to have fun and to enjoy each other and to connect to the school, why not make it happen?

Rutherford: Yeah.

Cookson: Yep. 

Rutherford: That’s great. Um, so moving on to number 7. Uh, what is 1 goal you have for Perrysburg High School next year? And I know, that’s a very broad question, especially since you haven’t came in and analyzed the situation yet. But if you had 1 goal for Perrysburg High School next year, as of now, what would it be? 

Cookson: Yeah, I think it would be to- I think it would be to um— to come in, uh, to-

personally to get to know people as soon as possible. Um, and to hear- hear them out. Um, you know, for better or for worse. Uh, if there are concerns or if there’s things that, you know, I need to hear that we need to continue with Perrysburg. Um, but I think it would be to- make the school year seem as- as- as normal as possible, coming off of a tough year, you know, for everyone, uh, students and staff alike. To come in and make next year as normal as possible, not only coming off COVID, but also, um you know, pre-COVID. To-to-to-to to have a sense of, to-to have a school year sense of, there’s not a whole bunch here that’s- that’s changed. I know- I know what to expect. Um, I have a sense of- of my schedule, and my routine-

Rutherford: Mhm.

Cookson: -and you know, those types of things. I think that’s probably my number 1. Um, because, you know, we all, like I mentioned on Jack’s podcast, is we all crave, I believe, for the most part uh, some type of consistency in our lives and some type of schedule and organization. And this past year has just been not that obviously. So that would be I think my main goal is to bring some of that back and connect kids back into school on a regular consistent basis.

Rutherford: Yeah. And that actually kind of just tied into my next question. My next question was, what do you expect coming into a different high school, um, after a year like this one, because you- you probably got one of the weirdest years to interview for a new principal position just because, um, you’re finishing your work at Hilliard Davidson, trying to, keep the students safe-

Cookson: True.

Rutherford: -and all of that. And now you’re just like, “Alright, I did the best I could. Now I’m going on to a different high school and picking up what they left me.” 

Cookson: Yeah. Sure. 

Rutherford: And um so- what- yeah, what do you expect coming into a different high school after this whole year, after every single- because that consistency, it’s different for every school.

Cookson: Sure. 

Rutherford: Some schools have been virtual all year, and they just went back um, 4 or 5 days this past March.

Cookson: Yeah.

Rutherford: Perrysburg, has had a roller coaster um, since the beginning of the school year. We started hybrid, um towards winter break, we went full virtual. Uh, 2 weeks after winter break, we came back hybrid again. And then just this past March, we went back 4 days, and we’re still going strong 4 days. So, what do you expect? 

Cookson: Yeah, you know, I expect to, uh- I expect to have a- a summer, that is probably still somewhat unexpected, maybe throwing us some curveballs. But hopefully things will start to calm down on the second part of summer, so we can really start to get some solidified plans in place for, you know, what the 21-22 school year is going to look like. And obviously, I’ll have a lot of conversations with district leadership and with building leadership to see, you know, what’s the best plan moving forward. Um, but- but my hope, my hope is that- that- that we can get back to some semblance of-of normalcy, and that we can start planning on that as well um. Because, you know, if- if COVID has taught us anything um, 1 of the main things I would say is that you have to expect the unexpected at every corner and every turn. So um, if- if uh, we can get to- get to a place where we can really start solidifying some plans and you know, get things in place, obviously, it’s going to be a benefit to- to everyone in the community, the school community. So that’s my plan, have a lot of conversations um, you know, with- with- with our teams in Perrysburg and-and get a solid plan coming back to the 21-22 school year. 

Rutherford: And that- that’s a great plan. That’s all we can really do. Because if there’s one thing we learned from COVID is that you can’t make far plans. 

Cookson: No. 

Rutherford: You have to plan for the coming week. And-

Cookson: Yeah, pretty much. 

Rutherford: -And sometimes that doesn’t even work out.

Cookson: That is true, that is true. Yes. 

Rutherford: Yeah. So uh- yeah. And, uh, the ninth question-

Cookson: Sure.

Rutherford: -is I think a lot of students want to know is, how do you feel about taking the place of Dr. Short? Because, Dr. Short has a very high reputation at our school as our principal. And so how do you feel about taking his place, and I guess the size of the shoes to fill-

Cookson: Mhm. 

Rutherford -is a big one. How do you feel about that? 

Cookson: Sure. No, that’s- that’s a great question. Fortunately, I know Dr. Short, and I know him well. He was there when I was a teacher at Perrysburg so um. I’ve had the- the administrator-teacher relationship, uh prior, and we got along very well, when I was there at Perrysburg and that relationship. But, you know, we’ve- we’ve- we’ve touched base several times since I’ve been gone. And obviously, most recently, we -we talk every week or a couple times every week. So, you know, I’m fortunate to have him as a friend and a colleague, um, and he’s given me a lot of insight. Um, and a lot of things to think about, you know, coming- coming into, into his- his- his- house. Um, and yeah, I do have big shoes to fill, because he’s a- he’s a phenomenal person. He’s a phenomenal administrator. And I know he has things really, really rolling very, very well at Perrysburg. Um, but I believe, with my experiences, I- I have that same, I have that same, the same kind of characteristics- about me. Obviously, I’m not him, I’m -I’m different than him. But I think I bring a lot of, a lot of positives, that- that he also possesses, in addition to some other my own personal, uh you know, characteristics so. I’m not too worried about that. And I’ve been an administrator for 12 years so. Um, in a very large, high performing school, as well um. But you know, I know I have things to learn, I’ll have things to- to, you know, think about, to adjust to my own philosophies. And, you know, I think, I- I think I’ll do a really good job. I really do. And I think the- I think this, you know, my students at Davidson um, I think have probably the same, very same feelings, about me, as- as-

Rutherford: Mhm. 

Cookson: -as the student body has about Dr. Short at Perrysburg. So, I’m just- I’m just excited to get to meet people and get and get and get my- my tenure going there, too.

Rutherford: Yeah. I, and I-I, got to think about the other way too is that you’re- you’ve been at Hilliard Davidson for 12 years, and now the students are going to see another new principal.

Cookson: Sure. 

Rutherford: And yeah that’s another way to think about it.

Cookson: Sure.

Rutherford: And it’s good to know that like, you know, Dr. Short. 

Cookson: Mhm, yeah.

Rutherford: It’s good to know that you guys had a rela- it’s not they’re going with a completely random outside hire, you know the Perrysburg District. 

Cookson: Sure. Yeah. And I’m- I know, Mr. Boyce, from, now I taught basketball, ugh taught, coached basketball with him for- for 10 years. I was his freshman assistant, coach, and I know Mrs. Ray, as well. Um, you know, being a science teacher at Perrysburg, prior to becoming the dean. So, you know, 2 out of the 3 administrators in the building I’m very familiar with. So, um, looking forward to getting back with them and working with them in a different capacity. That’s for sure.

Rutherford: So moving on to our final question of the interview.

Cookson: Sure. 

Rutherford: Uh, a couple months ago, at the Board of Education meeting, Dr. Short was able to talk about his personal experience and what they- and they were debating going back 4 days or staying hybrid. And Dr. Short gave- was talking about how he gave out a survey to parents, um, at the beginning of the school year. Saying, “What is the job of a principal?” 

Cookson: Mhm.

Rutherford: And so in your mind, what is the role of a principal? 

Cookson: Sure. Multiple, multiple roles for sure. I’ll-I’ll kind of hit the top few though. My number 1 priority and status. You know, no matter the year, no matter the conditions, or you know, circumstances, number 1 priority is the safety and security of all staff and students. Um, you know, staff and students alike both have to feel safe, uh, in the learning environment. If they don’t, then obviously that’s a huge issue so. And not only physically safe, but emotionally and socially as well. Um, have to- have to have a building culture that’s conducive to inclusion and diversity. Um, have to have a building culture that is, you know, focused on, on academics, but also focused on the interests of students and also the mindset of students. Supporting them, supporting the whole child. Um, so safety and security in- in those terms is my number 1 priority. Um, obviously, um, graduation is a huge priority. Getting students to the finish line um. And, um, not only getting them to the finish line, but making sure that they’re prepared for their next steps in life, whatever that may be. Whether that’s in college, whether that’s military or career, making sure that we provide those opportunities for students to grow in their passions and interests and prepare them for- for their- for their next steps. Um, and I think just building the- the culture, um overall, the school spirit of supporting one another, um, and providing opportunities for students to- to grow and to meet others and to experience different- different- different things you know, throughout their 4 years and connecting them. You got to connect students and staff alike, you got to connect them to the building. And- and- and hopefully instill, you know, the Jacket Pride in them that that I know is talked about a lot. And you know, that’s going to be one of my priorities as well. So I would say those are my- my top 3 priorities as a building principal uh, for sure. Obviously, a lot goes into all of that. But those are my overarching priorities. 

Rutherford: And those are great priorities. I- I agree with all those priorities. I actually forgot about like, oh, a huge thing is the graduation. 

Cookson: Yeah, yeah pretty important. Yeah. 

Rutherford: Yeah, so that’s the end of the interview.

Cookson: Alright.

Rutherford: Um, thank you for taking the time out of your Saturday morning to talk to me. 

Cookson: No worries.

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