Eden Prairie High School has a new principal striding through the halls. Nate Gibbs has taken on the role previously held by Robb Virgin, who has moved on to a new role with the district.
As a child, Gibbs knew he wanted to follow in his family’s footsteps of public service.
“My grandma was a teacher in St. Paul schools, my dad is a firefighter with the St. Paul Fire Department,” Gibbs said. “It was very clear growing up I wanted to be involved in public service in some capacity.”
Gibbs began his education career in St. Paul Public Schools as a paraprofessional focusing on student behavior. He served as assistant principal at the American Indian Magnet School in St. Paul.
“I’ll be honest, I never thought I’d leave St. Paul,” Gibbs said. However, his career had other ideas, and he has been steadily drawn to the southwest metro.
First, he was hired as an associate principal at Minnetonka High School, then served as principal of Chaska Middle School West, before taking over July 1 role as Eden Prairie High School’s new principal.
Gibbs said that many things drew him to Eden Prairie.
“My sense is that in Eden Prairie there is really a clear thread between the district values, the culture that we are working to cultivate and nurture, and the experience students are having,” he said. “It was a huge draw to me to step into a space where there is symmetry between what we are aspiring towards and then the experience that young people are having.”
Additionally, Gibbs said that “the diversity of the range of lived experiences that students are showing up with stood out to me.”
Gibbs said his time at the American Indian Magnet School was fundamental to building his views on how diversity can help strengthen a school’s community.
“Everyone brings their culture into a classroom and a learning space,” he said. “So how do you set up a classroom environment where students are inspired to share their culture, their family history, and their lived experiences?”
As he gets settled in his new role, Gibbs is excited to start a new school year, hopefully one free of most pandemic-era oddities.
“Coming out of the pandemic, there is so much we have learned, adjusted and adapted to,” he said. “And I am grateful for the learning and growth that has come with that. But I’m also really excited to get back to some of the things that schools fundamentally do well. Things like freshman orientation, pep fests, homecoming, some of those core high school experiences that really shape and impact our culture.”
Despite his high excitement at the prospect of starting a new year, Gibbs is realistic about the challenges facing education over the coming years.
“I think a big challenge, particularly at lower grade levels, is that we really have to teach students how to be in a community together,” he said. “Oftentimes, adults assume students know how to show up. And then when students don’t show up how we want them to, it creates tension.
“This is particularly true as many of our students may have missed developmental milestones in their school experience.”
Gibbs emphasized several times the importance of building a strong community and positive culture in the school.
“I think the principal’s role starts with setting the tone you want in the building and then making sure our teachers are equipped and supported as they reinforce that tone,” he said.
Gibbs wants to ensure his teachers feel supported in their efforts to build community and forge relationships with each student.
He was forthright in his appraisal when asked about some of the challenges that have faced other area schools in the realm of racist incidents and tension.
“When you bring together almost 3,000 people from all different walks of life for 10 months out of the year, and not everyone has developmentally reached their full potential, hard stuff is going to happen,” he said.
“I think often where schools and school leaders get in a tough spot is when there isn’t clarity around our plan for when harm happens. So something I value is that when community is broken or when racial harm occurs there is some clarity and consistency around how adults respond to that.”
Gibbs is confident that the students, staff and educators at EPHS can come together and thrive. He has a clear picture of where he would like the high school to be in five years.
Gibbs framed his vision for the future in how he’d like to see seniors feeling as they graduate.
“When we talk to seniors five years down the road, I would want them to have a very clear post-high school plan,” he said. “I think we’re most of the way there, but we’re not going to let that slip, and we’re going to get it to the next level.”
Gibbs also spoke of his desire for students to use their classroom time and activities to discover their interests. “I want our seniors to have a clear sense of what their passions are, whether it’s writing, or art, or athletics,” he said.
Gibbs finished by reiterating the importance of the community he’d like to build in the high school.
“The last thing I would say is our students would be leaving high school with lifelong connections and friendships with their peers,” he said.