“I don’t know what to say about that,” Heinrichs said from his small office almost hidden in an out-of-the-way nook in the HHS complex.
“You get nominated and somehow you get voted in. I told them I am humbled and I am honored—and I did sleep at a Holiday Inn Express,” he added with a chuckle, referring to the popular TV commercial.
Heinrich’s sense of humor and approachable personality has helped him succeed in his role since accepting it in 2001.
He is quick to credit his predecessor and mentor, James Thomas, who received state and national recognition in that role before retiring.
“I would attribute a lot of what I do and what I’ve learned here to following James Thomas,” Heinrichs said. “There is a high standard of expectation here. It’s sometimes daunting.
“It was pretty easy for me to do because if I needed to ask somebody, I’d call up Jim and he’d explain it. He has been great, he’s been a super mentor.”
A varied path
Heinrich’s professional path to his present assignment has taken several turns. Himself a 1979 HHS grad, Heinrichs’ initial career goal was to succeed Don Penner as head football coach.
“Coach Penner has been a wonderful man in my life,” he said. “As a fifth-grader I wanted to be Coach Penner.”
With that goal in mind, Heinrichs earned a bachelor’s degree in 1983 from Tabor College in health and physical education.
But teaching openings were tight in that field, so he accepted a job as a paraprofessional with the Marion County Special Education Cooperative instead. Later that year he was asked to be the instructor in the behavior disorders classroom, a job which he “enjoyed tremendously.”
In 1985 Heinrichs went back to school to be certified as a driver’s education instructor and added that to his assignment.
In 1987, still looking to coach football, he accepted a teaching and coaching role at Minneapolis High School, where he continued for nine years.
Health issues in his extended family prompted a move back to Hillsboro. When the head football job opened upon Penner’s retirement in 1994, Heinrichs applied.
He didn’t get the football job, but he did get an offer to teach in the local system.
“All these things have happened to my advantage,” he said. A coaching position didn’t open until the 1999-2000 school year, when he was asked to help with track and freshman boys’ basketball.
“As soon as I got an opportunity, I jumped on it because I wanted to be back into that,” he said.
Then, when Thomas announced his retirement, Heinrichs applied for the assistant principal position.
“I’ve been running ever since,” he said. “It kind of flies.”
Most people know Heinrichs from his task of organizing and scheduling athletics and other extracurricular activities. But the job is more than that.
Heinrichs helps Principal Dale Honeck evaluate teachers and discipline students.
“We don’t have a lot of discipline problems,” Heinrichs was quick to add.
He also is responsible for scheduling all school activities, including arranging transportation for class outings. He ensures all events appear on the school calendar and district Web site.
“Every day I spend an hour just on the calendar,” he said. “It’s a big thing.”
On an average day, Heinrichs said he’ll spend his morning hours on those duties. The rest of his day—and well into most evenings—is spent with extracurricular activities. Fourteen- to 16-hour days are not uncommon.
“I really do enjoy most of it,” Heinrichs said about the long hours. “But the time is the most challenging thing. Sometimes I wonder what I’ve given up. I’m lucky to see my kids.”
One reason Heinrichs is willing to devote so much time to activities is that he sees them as a critical part of students’ educational experience.
“The first thing I would say about activities—and this is what I tell the kids and the faculty—is that we need to get every one of our kids involved in an extracurricular activity because it teaches them a lot of things,” he said.
“It teaches them self-respect, self-discipline, teamwork and collaboration. It gives you those civic and social skills we’re looking for.
“We ask our people to be good sports in the face of adversity,” Heinrichs cited as an example. “We ask them to deal with adversity correctly. Some of the lessons we’re being taught in our social studies classes we’re getting to model through activities.
“I just believe it is the No. 1 at-risk program we have at school,” he added. “Last year, after we added the chess team, we had over 90 percent participation in our school. Most schools can’t even imagine that—the average is in the 70s and sometimes lower.”
He said many students are involved in more than one activity—and that’s to their benefit as they interact with caring and qualified adult mentors.
“I do believe we have great coaches, and they are positive role models and have positive attributes to give to these kids.” Heinrichs said.
Activities can create challenges, too, especially when they pull kids out of class during the middle of the school day.
“Tennis is the biggest example, because they play their matches on Tuesdays and Thursdays and we have a block schedule on those days,” Heinrichs said.
“They have to work to keep their grades up—and our kids are pretty good about that,” he added. “Eligibility hasn’t been a big problem. Our students are pretty good about turning in their work before they leave, or at least asking for assignments before they leave.
“It’s the expectation we have here, and they’ve done pretty well with that.”
An open future
Heinrichs hedged on what his future holds because he said he’s learned to adjust his goals according to the opportunities that come his way.
In the meantime, he has prepared himself professionally for the possibility of being a head principal someday or perhaps even a superintendent.
“I don’t know if I’m a good assistant or not, but I’ve always wanted to be in a lead role,” he said.
“I don’t feel I’m that smart of a person, but I feel I exhibit some skills that help people lead and get people to do some things that sometimes they don’t want to do—and do them well.
“That’s kind of where I want to go.”