Cristin Nowak couldn’t contain her excitement.

Cristin Nowak couldn’t contain her excitement.

“I could never imagine having the opportunity to be a part of something like this,” the first-year head volleyball coach at Van Horn High School said. “There is the chance to make a difference at this school – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And how many times does something like that come around?”

Cross country coach Julie Crowell echoes Nowak’s sentiment.

“I looked at it as an opportunity that would never present itself again, so I jumped at the chance,” said Crowell, who came to Van Horn after a lengthy career at William Chrisman High School.

They are talking about being a part of the amazing success story that has revitalized a school, its administration, staff and students.

“I don’t know what it was like when Van Horn was part of the Kansas City School District,” Crowell said, “but we have something pretty special over here right now.

“I had no idea what to expect, but I knew there was the chance to make some magic. And it’s happened.”

Crowell took over the boys and girls cross country teams hoping for five to seven members.

She has 17.

Nowak, a former Examiner Player of the Year from Truman High School, has 18 girls on a team that just wrapped up a better-than-expected 10-15 season with a 25-13, 25-9 loss to state-ranked Lee’s Summit Christian in Class 2 District 15 tournament.

She heard the horror stories about Van Horn.

“My parents wanted to know how I could take a job at a school with a metal detector at the front door,” she said, shaking her head. “Well, the metal detector is gone. I took the job with some apprehension, until I met the new administration – they all just blew me away.

“I think the school made a bold and positive statement by taking away the metal detector. It sent the message that we don’t expect any violence – from our students, of course, our faculty and our parents. And it’s been a self-fulfilling prophecy. The students who were here last year talk about the way the entire mood of the school changed just by taking away that metal detector.

“Now, you look at the school in a different way. You look at the outside. Thousands of parents, students, teachers and people in the community came to take part in the Extreme School Makeover. We look like a school – an appealing school – a school that invites you inside to take a look around.

“Because of that, our students are taking ownership and pride in their school. It’s just such an awesome feeling.”

Crowell spent her entire coaching/teaching career at William Chrisman.

“When I was asked to be a part of the process to help Van Horn join the Independence School District, I was honored,” said longtime Chrisman activities director Dan Ogle. “Those kids at Van Horn deserve something good to happen, and the best thing that could have possibly happened was getting a teacher and coach like Julie.

“Gosh, we’re going to miss her. But I know how excited she is and that she will do an incredible job over there.”

“Chrisman is the only building I taught in," Crowell said. “It would have been easy to stay at Chrisman forever, because it will always be my school. But I couldn’t back away from the exciting challenge that Van Horn offered. In the first few months I have seen so much improvement in both the school and my teams. It was a tough decision, but it was also the right one to make.”

Activities director John Ihm simply beams when talking about all the new members of his coaching staff.

“They are all here for the right reason,” Ihm said. “They care about the kids and they want to make Van Horn a better place. And they can coach. We might not have the success this season that they had hoped for, but are making a huge difference the lives of our young people, and right now, that is much more important than putting a win on the scoreboard.”

Nowak and Crowell rode on the same float in the first Van Horn homecoming parade in recent memory.

“What struck me right off the bat was how many teachers and administrators from other schools who were in the crowd,” Crowell said. “They call and want to come and support Van Horn.

“And then, I thought, ‘Why aren’t there more of our students out there?’ Then, I realized they were all on the floats or marching in the parade. I think just about every kid in the school had something to do with the parade and it was just amazing.”


Van Horn gets a new logo

With a new school district, came a new logo for Van Horn High School.

John Ihm, athletic director at Van Horn, said students were surveyed earlier this year on what logo they would like to see represent Van Horn High School, which is now in the Independence School District. Three option were given:

• The first was the original logo used since the high school opened in the 1960s.

• The second was a hybrid logo, developed by the Independence School District when Van Horn came into the district this summer.

• The third was developed after doing some research on the Internet. Van Horn administrators found a sample they liked and then sent it to the Avila University art department for further development. What resulted was the traditional interlocking “V” and “H” with a falcon head. The head itself was borrowed, with permission, from Niagara Falls High School in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Ihm said the student body overwhelming chose the third option.

“In my opinion, they chose the third option because it is different,” he said. “Not a lot of schools have anything close to that. The falcon head is very regal, and of course, there is the traditional interlocking letters. I believe it looks pretty good. There has certainly been a lot of enthusiasm for that logo.”