Eastern High School

Dr. Heather Orman Settling in as Eastern High School Principal

Photography Provided

Like so many schools across the country, Eastern High School had a rough time last year due to the pandemic. Their in-person classes shut down, students struggled with virtual learning, programs like sports and band ceased, and the seniors of the class of 2020 were not able to experience certain rites of passage such as their senior prom and an in-person graduation. Yet, a shining light emerged at the end of this very dark tunnel in the form of a new principal, Dr. Heather Orman.   

Although Orman never attended Eastern, she has family ties to the school and has been employed in the past at Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS).

“My dad, my uncle and my aunt all attended Eastern,” she says. “I even have a picture in my office of my dad in the Eastern band at the inauguration for President Eisenhower. My dad played clarinet.”

Orman was born in Maine, but her family traveled quite a bit due to her father being in the Marines. They lived in various places such as the Panama Canal Zone and Atlanta, Georgia. Once he retired, the family moved to Kentucky.

“We settled in Pewee Valley when we came back, and I attended Oldham County High School,” she says. “I graduated in 1989 and I was in the last class before they started dividing the high school into separate schools.”

Eastern High SchoolOrman was an athlete in high school, playing basketball all four years.

“We had a really good run of it and we went to the state tournament for three of the four years I was there,” says Orman, who is 6’2” and played center.

After graduation, Orman attended Kentucky Wesleyan College on an athletic scholarship for two years, but soon made the choice to take some time off.

“I needed a break because I’d played sports my whole career and it was just a lot,” she explains. “I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.”

She ended up transferring to Midway University in Midway, Kentucky, graduating with a degree in education and a certification in math and English. She was offered a job immediately after graduation with Harrison County Schools in Cynthiana, Kentucky. She taught seventh- and eighth-grade English. As luck would have it, during her second semester there she received a call from a woman who had been her high school guidance counselor and was now the principal at South Oldham Middle School. The principal told Orman they had an opening for an English teacher and wanted her to apply. Orman did and was hired to teach seventh- and eighth-grade English. She stayed for five years.

Orman always had a desire to find a job with JCPS.

“I felt like you could put a cardboard cutout up in front of the classroom in Oldham County and kids would still be successful,” she says. “I felt like they had a lot of what they needed, and it didn’t feel like, to me, what teaching would really be.”

She had heard a teaching position was available at Meyzeek Middle School so she applied for it, and was offered the job. She stayed there for 13 years.

While she was teaching, Orman continued her education and received her principal certification, at age 28, from Indiana University Southeast.

At that time, she said she always felt that being a school leader wasn’t that important.

“I thought, when I was a teacher, that teaching was where the meat of the work happened,” she says.

When she was 40, Orman decided to take the next step and began working on her doctorate. She received a doctorate in education and social change from Bellarmine University.

After receiving her doctorate, Orman began to seriously consider becoming a principal.Eastern High School

“I started to look at the research, and just based on my own life experience I started thinking about how much leaders have impacted me, even going back to my days in athletics and the coaches who have influenced me,” she says. “Influence can come in many forms, positive and not positive, but thinking over the course of my career, I began to understand how those experiences have really shaped who I had become as an educator.”

Orman applied for an assistant principal position at Seneca High School, yet the job went to another applicant who already had experience as an assistant. She was offered a job as a literacy specialist at the school, which she accepted, but an assistant principal position eventually opened and she got the job, staying at Seneca for four years.

Her first full-fledged job as a principal finally came about when she was hired by  Newport High School in 2018, but she admits that she longed to be back working for JCPS.

“One of the things that I will say that I missed, and maybe I knew it but didn’t appreciate until I was out of JCPS, is the quality of people that work in this district,” she says. “You have very high-quality teachers, very high-quality administrators at all levels, very intelligent people. As I was working up there I loved it, but I missed everything that was great about JCPS. I missed the camaraderie, and my whole support structure was here. Over time I started thinking more about long term, and determined that this is where I want to be.”

As it happened, the position for principal at Eastern opened in the summer of 2020, yet Orman says she didn’t apply for the job immediately.

“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to jump over,” she explains. “The job was posted again during Thanksgiving, possibly because they hadn’t found the right candidate.”

She feels that JCPS Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio is dedicated to ensuring that there is good leadership in the district.

Orman eventually made the decision to apply, going through a rigorous interview process. She had to interview with the superintendent as well as the School-Based Decision Making Council, which consists of teachers and parents.

Eastern High School“The questions I was asked were primarily about Eastern, such as how do I prioritize my fine arts, career and technical education, and athletics – things that are important to the Eastern Community,” she says. “I had to do an entire presentation about what my vision for the school would be.”

Her vision centers on improving the school’s accountability status to reach Kentucky’s five-star rating, and to attain Blue Ribbon status.

“I looked at the data to determine what’s been going on, and part of that is from public data taken from a comprehensive school survey,” she says. “You could see that the parents and students were largely dissatisfied, and that some of that dissatisfaction had to do with climate and culture.”

She found that from a parental and community perspective, people wanted better customer service and accessibility to school administration. The students wanted a feeling of being welcome in the building.

“I had two goals coming into the school,” she says. “First, I wanted to get the kids back safely into the building, and second, I wanted to repair damaged relationships with the kids, community and parents.”   

When the students arrived back on campus this past April, Orman made it her priority to let the teachers know that the kids and their mental health were highly important.

“We wanted to go back into that normalcy too quickly, and it doesn’t work that way,” she says. “We did a lot with providing social-emotional activities that the teachers could do with the kids, and we did a daily check-in with our mental health counselor.”

Orman has made it a point to reach out to the school by making daily morning announcements, which are accessible to the students, parents and community on YouTube. To the delight of the class of 2020, the school held an in-person graduation ceremony on May 28, 2021, to honor the graduates who did not have the opportunity to experience a live ceremony last year.

Welcome to Eastern High School, Dr. Orman.

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