Dave Adney combined respect, wisdom and wit in getting through to students.
Dave Adney is still bemused over the media frenzy he inadvertently created last year when he urged parents to dissuade their daughters from wearing what he calls “high-definition pants.”
That incident, which prompted interview requests from “Good Morning America” and the Boston Globe, turned the Minnetonka High School principal into something of a reluctant pop culture hero for saying what many only thought — Cover your butts up!
“It morphed into this thing,” Adney said. “I suddenly became the Minnesota principal who wants to ban yoga pants. I was just amazed that it resonated with people in the way it did.”
News that Adney is leaving at the end of the school year to accept the top post at the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals is sending a different kind of shock wave down the hallways of the high school where he’s held court for the past decade.
There, Adney has made an undeniable mark. Among his achievements: the implementation of the International Baccalaureate program, which pushes high-achieving students along a college track; the deployment of one of the region’s first iPad initiatives for freshmen and sophomores, and creation of the VANTAGE program, which will place students in corporate settings next year.
During Adney’s tenure, course failure rates have dropped 55 percent, while the average ACT score rose almost a point and a half.
“Certainly, for me, the best way to measure our schools, our principals, is by the success of our students,” said Minnetonka Superintendent Dennis Peterson. “Dave has done a very good job of making sure all of his students are successful.”
‘He’s very genuine’
A former calculus teacher, Adney came to Minnetonka High School in 2003 after serving as principal at Robbinsdale Cooper High School in New Hope.
While at Minnetonka, the gregarious Adney has established strong ties to the community, faculty and students. In the latest annual parent survey, 95 percent of parents said Adney is accessible to them, and 94 percent said they would recommend Minnetonka High School to a friend.
At the core of Adney’s relationships, students say, is his approachability.
“At the start of each school year, with the first assembly, he comes across as this friendly guy who’s going to be on the side of students,” said senior Jack Kelly, student government president. “He’s very genuine, and students know that. He’s our principal, and he’s our friend.”
And while the recent yoga pants flap certainly won’t define Adney’s career at Minnetonka, in a way, it does illustrate the kind of leader he is — straightforward and student-focused, even when that means sacrificing a little humility to make a point.
Consider the anti-grinding initiative as exhibit A.
Starting in 2006, Adney wanted to discourage “grinding” — or dirty dancing — at school dances. Rather than issue an all-out ban, he helped launch a video campaign that urged students to “Dance like Grandma is watching.”
Since then, Adney has appeared in several school-produced videos. Usually they feature a message — such as “Don’t litter” — and Adney pitches in for comic relief.
And some, like this year’s spoof on South Korean singer Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” features Adney dancing.
“I had three girls,” said Adney, a self-described former “dance dad.” “I’m not going to teach them how to throw a spiral football. No, we’re going to go down in the basement and work on our jazz hands.”
Adney said the humor he tries to weave into his principal’s job comes from a belief that there’s a better way to get his message across to students. Talking down to them won’t work, he says.
“It’s really about engaging kids at a base level of high expectations,” Adney said. “We have high expectations for our kids, and we’re going to hold them accountable. But really, we want the kids to hold themselves accountable.”
Adney confesses he’ll miss daily interactions with students and teachers in his position with the principals association, but he said he’ll continue to be an advocate for them on a larger scale as he grooms new principals. The association represents more than 1,300 active and retired principals and provides members with information on Minnesota policy matters and professional growth opportunities.
“We don’t want to see him go, but I think a lot of teachers feel like this move is an investment in Minnesota’s principals,” said Pauline Patrick, a longtime Minnetonka High School teacher.
Minnetonka will launch a national search to find Adney’s replacement. School officials hope to have made a selection by the end of the school year and to have that person in place by July.
For now, Adney brushes off talk about saying goodbye. He’s got almost eight weeks left of school to do that.
And even though he’s about to embark on a new professional challenge, it’s likely that his time as principal of Minnetonka High School will define a major chapter in his career.
“My daughters fear that after 37 years in education, the thing on my headstone will say, ‘Dance like Grandma is watching,’ ” Adney said. “I hope it says, ‘He was a good teacher.’ ”
Kim McGuire • 612-673-4469