One of the many things Starr Elementary Principal Andrew Hoeppner and his wife have talked about doing for years was taking the chance to teach outside the United States and expose their children to other cultures and places. However, the timing was never right for them to take the leap and accept a job in some far away place.
That is until now.
“At the end of January, my wife and I went down to the University of Northern Iowa, which puts on this overseas hiring fair where there are over 130 international schools,” Hoeppner said. “Over 700 teachers show up and they do interviews with different schools. Doing this was something my wife and I had talked about doing since we got married over nine years ago, but the timing was never right for it. But now, our youngest will be entering kindergarten next year, so we felt the timing was right now.”
The Hoeppners knew there were only a few schools they would consider teaching at once they decided to interview for positions. The Hoeppners attended the University of Northern Iowa Overseas Recruiting Fair this last January and were both made tentative job offers to teach on the Saudi Aramco, officially Saudi Arabian Oil Co., compound based in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Both Hoeppner and his wife Andrea, who is a special education teacher at Withrow Elementary in the Stillwater School District, interviewed with representatives from the school and were tentatively offered positions to teach there starting next fall.
“I said this when I got hired here that I was in my dream job right now, so it wasn’t something that I wanted to give up,” Hoeppner said. “However, when we talked with the recruiter and heard the opportunities we would be getting to expose our children to different cultures, we felt we had to take it because we didn’t know if an opportunity like this would come along ever again.
“It is hard to leave the people I have worked with here, but this is just such a great opportunity for us and our family. We are going to try to figure out ways to keep this as normal as possible for our kids while also allowing them to experience a new culture where they can grow from it.”
Before becoming principal at Starr Elementary, Hoeppner taught third grade for nine years in the Stillwater School District. He will be going back to teaching third grade at his new school, while his wife will teach at the middle school on the compound. The Hoeppner’s have three children, Will (8-years-old), Joe (6) and Ben (4).
“We took the job knowing there would be some negatives, since we will arrive and it will be 120 degrees and there will be sandstorms,” Hoeppner said. “I will be working at an elementary school teaching third grade and all three of my boys will be at that school as well. We will be at a school where there will be students from over 45 different countries going to school there.
“We will work on a compound with about 15,000 people and we will live there and take a lot of trips. The chance to do that as educators is something you don’t get a lot, so we thought this was our chance to do it.”
The only way someone can live on the compound is by either working for the company, the school or the hospital that is located within the compound. For someone to visit a person who works on the compound, they must be blood relatives and go through a long process to prove those relations.
“One of the things that was enticing about this opportunity was to get the chance to learn more about the Middle East,” Hoeppner said. “I don’t know a lot about the region or area as I would like, but it is safe and we will get to learn a lot. It also gives you the chance to build a lot of good connections with people who can help you if you ever want to make trips anywhere across the globe.”
Along with wanting to expose his children to another culture while they are still young, Hoeppner also wanted to take the chance to get back to teaching again. Although he has loved his time as principal at Starr, Hoeppner has missed getting the chance to interact with the students and be in front of them while they learn new things for the first time.
“The hardest thing about being a principal for me is getting to spend my day going around and seeing teachers in the classroom and hallways interacting with the students,” Hoeppner said. “I go into a room and see something being done really well and it hits me that I want to do that again.
“I love my job and I will say, as long as people will listen, that I have the best job in New Richmond. But a part of that is I get to go in and see all these good things going on in the classrooms and every time I do that, I feel like I want to do that again. I really miss that at times.”
One of the toughest parts for Hoeppner about leaving is saying goodbye to his family and friends, as well as all the people he has worked with in the New Richmond School District for the last three years.
“You just have to figure out the dynamics of how things work there, which I have already done here in New Richmond,” Hoeppner said. “I know that things are running smoothly here and there are quality people up and down the halls here. I will have to learn all those new people in a new district.”
He also said the idea of leaving his school in the hands of another educator will feel very weird since he has become so integrated into the school and the community since he became principal at Starr.
“I told Mr. Moberg that I will do whatever needs to be done to make it as smooth of a transition for a new principal as possible,” Hoeppner said. “You get to a point as a principal where you’ve been through a lot in three years and we’ve grown so much academically and culturally that you do kind of feel like you are handing over a child to someone else. I’m going to have some real long conversations with whoever comes in to make sure they are going to handle this well and treat people well here. That is going to be the trickier part for me. It is going to be hard to say that I’m not the principal here anymore and that they are and that they get to do things their way. And doing that is a little scary.”
New Richmond District Administrator Jeff Moberg was not surprised by the news that Hoeppner was offered a job at a top-tier international school, but he is sad to see him leave.
“It is not a shock to hear that he got the job because he has expressed interest in getting experience teaching overseas,” Moberg said. “I’m also not surprised he was able to secure a position either. Andy is one of those folks that can work with anyone. He is a positive person and a great problem solver. He has a passion for teaching kids and I think he will be comfortable in any setting. I think he will really like the experience and enjoy it.”
The job opening for the principal position at Starr Elementary has been posted but it will not be easy to fill Hoeppner’s shoes, Moberg said.
“He has done a lot to improve Starr Elementary and he will be a tough act to follow up on,” Moberg said. “He is liked and respected by the staff, parents and the students at Starr and he has set up a very positive atmosphere and culture as well. He has all the top characteristics of an instructor and principal, including a positive energy and that he is supportive of the teachers and staff as well as their achievements. I really enjoyed working with him while he was here.”
Another challenge of leaving the United States to teach in a different country, according to Hoeppner, will be dealing with the climate and culture change while also making sure to keep things as normal as possible for his children.
“First off, the biggest challenge will be being half a world away from my parents and our friends and our kids’ friends as well as the people I have worked with for three years,” Hoeppner said. “There is Skype and email, but that isn’t the same as being able to go next door and talk with our neighbors like we do with our great neighbors right now. At least not right away.
“Another challenge will be the heat. I don’t think we get that when we arrive in August and the average high is 110-112 degrees where we are going. That is going to be all July-August long. You are going to have sand storms and we aren’t going to see snow.”
When Hoeppner and his family are ready to move back to the States, he hopes he can find another position within the New Richmond School District because of how much he has come to love the people and the district as a whole.
“We are not going into this thinking it is a lifestyle change for us or something we will do for 15 years,” Hoeppner said. “We would like to do this for a couple of years, with the ultimate goal of coming back to New Richmond. I would come back to New Richmond as a teacher, as an administrator or pretty much anything they would take me as because I feel so strongly that what’s going on in this district is so good.
“I hope that people in the community would take the time to realize that they are really fortunate with what they have got here as far as the school district goes. I want to be a part of that whenever we decide to come back.”
At this point, the Hoeppners have a tentative job offer, but they will still need to go through a background check, pass a physical and get blood tests as well as fill out a ton of paperwork before anything is official or they can get into Saudi Arabia. The whole process takes about two months to complete, meaning everything would become official at the end of March.