Settling Into La Salle, Mr. Hollingshead Focuses on “Building a Strong School Culture and Climate”


Ashley Hawkins

Vice Principal for Student Life Mr. Hollingshead hopes that, through his work at La Salle, he will be able to both promote a positive environment for students as well as nurture strong relationships within the community.

Lillian Paugh, Editor

La Salle welcomed several new members to the community at the start of this school year. This story is one of a series of profiles highlighting these people.

While Mr. Aaron Hollingshead wasn’t sure what direction he wanted to go in for his career path at first, his calling to work with students would be more apparent than he initially realized.

“In retrospect,” Mr. Hollingshead said, “it seems kind of obvious.”

Looking back, he said he was still unsure of what exactly he wanted to do for a career after working in a school counseling office for his college practicum. After graduating from college, Mr. Hollingshead traveled Latin America for two years, spending a year in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and a year in Mexico, where he tutored children, taught English, and realized his aptitude for helping students.

“I remember one day when I saw a girl crying at lunchtime, a middle school kid, and I went and talked to her and just asked how she was doing and offered a bit of support,” Mr. Hollingshead said. “At the end, she said to me, ‘Thanks, no teacher’s ever asked me about that before, no teacher’s ever cared about me before,’ something to that effect. … I knew I wanted to become a school counselor.”

From then on, Mr. Hollingshead took that experience as inspiration in his career path, going on to work as a counselor for 12 years — in places like Barcelona, Spain for two years and Hong Kong for three — before arriving at La Salle this year as the new Vice Principal for Student Life, a role in which he hopes to have a similar impact.

“Even in a difficult meeting about a difficult topic,” he said. “[I’m] trying my best to be personable and relatable and empathetic towards students.”

His transition from counseling to working as a part of La Salle’s administrative team was natural, as he feels that the job he does now is most similar to the work he had done previously in terms of supporting students academically, personally, socially, and with their mental health. And he said that he felt a “natural arc” in his career as a counselor that brought him to where he is currently in La Salle’s community.

One challenge Mr. Hollingshead has faced in his adjustment to La Salle has been adapting to the differences in how he interacts with students. Being a “really relationship-focused person,” he said, not having the same daily points of contact with his students that he previously had working as a counselor was something he had to get used to and is something he is currently working to improve.

“I’ve just put a lot of thought into how to try to form strong relationships with students,” he said. “Just trying to be friendly, be in the hallways, saying hello in the cafeteria, chitchatting when I have the time.”

And, while he feels that the barrier between him and students has mostly been dissolved in his efforts to get to know them, “I think [for] some, the barrier may still remain,” he said. But, one of his biggest goals is to work through that and build upon the connections he has with students.

Having also traveled overseas a lot before returning to the U.S. and beginning at La Salle, Mr. Hollingshead has also been challenged by what he described as “some kind of reverse culture shock” experience in his return, especially when it comes to getting reacquainted with the U.S. high school system as opposed to those in the other countries he’s taught and counseled in.

“Nothing’s majorly different coming back here,” he said. “But there’s a lot of little adjustments I’m making each day. … I’m constantly feeling like I’m calibrating where I land on certain issues, how to respond to teachers, to students, etc.”

Something in particular that has stood out about La Salle, that he said he’s never seen replicated overseas, is the school spirit garnered around students gathering together for athletic events. “It’s not about the athletics itself, but I think it’s the participation,” he said. “It’s the feeling of belonging, it’s the excitement. Those are things that I’ve really enjoyed.”

Looking ahead to the rest of the school year, Mr. Hollingshead’s goals cover primarily wanting to build up student leadership at La Salle and give students more opportunities to have a voice within their respective activities at school and in class. As a part of that effort, Mr. Hollingshead has been working closely with Director of Community and Student Leadership Ms. Adriana Noesi and the Student Leadership class at least once a week to check in and brainstorm ideas. 

As a part of this, he hopes to utilize La Salle’s new Student Leadership class created this year as “a liaison type of group that can be a go between teachers, administration, and students,” he said, to create a model he’s seen be successful in other schools, where students are given a greater say in the day-to-day operations on campus.

“I actually think that’s something that’s already quite strong here,” he said. “But it’s also an area of focus for me.”

In particular, Mr. Hollingshead has utilized the recent updates made to school policies as a way to approach issues by putting student needs and voices first. Especially regarding the return of detention, he said that he has been trying to connect with students before detention has to be administered in order to get an idea of what can be done to help students meet the attendance standards rather than immediately taking that disciplinary action.

“If I can see that through, those behavior shifts, to the end of the year in a good way, where students are understanding them, they’re not feeling like it’s like they’re being set up to fail,” Mr. Hollingshead, “but that they’re actually making some positive progress, I think those would be big wins.”