Eric Riddle, Beechwood Elementary School's new principal, says he still gets butterflies on the first day of school.

Eric Riddle, Beechwood Elementary School's new principal, says he still gets butterflies on the first day of school.

He likens it to an athlete who, before a game, feels just a bit of fear or apprehension, which Riddle said makes for a better competitor.

While he acknowledges that sitting at the helm of Beechwood is not a race, he is setting his eyes on a winning year. He's been on the job for less than a month now, and knows he has a lot to learn.

"The biggest job on my agenda is to build those relationships with the staff and gain their trust," he said last week. In addition, he said he'll focus on the academic growth of students and improvement on the state report card.

"I'm going to build on our strengths and improve on our weaknesses," he said. "I just want to continue moving forward."

Last year, Beechwood met four of the seven indicators on the state report card. He credits the hard-working staff at Beechwood with the recent gains -- two years ago, the school did not meet any of the benchmarks -- and hopes to build on that momentum this year.

While this is his first position as principal, Riddle said he has lots of experience in leadership roles.

Riddle has spent 15 years in the classroom: five years in Lancaster City Schools teaching fourth, fifth and sixth grades, then another 10 in Pickerington schools teaching fifth-graders.

"Even though it's my first title (as a principal), I've established myself over the past several years," Riddle said.

While at Pickerington, Riddle served in two leadership roles, both on his teaching team and at the building level.

"I've also been surrounded by some great educators," he said. "I think I can bring a lot of those ideas into the Whitehall City School District, particularly to Beechwood."

He looks at the school's challenges -- such as a high turnover rate and a large population of students for whom English is their second language -- as opportunities. He calls the district "passionate" and supportive.

"It's made the transition smooth," he said.

Superintendent Brian Hamler said he's looking for great things out of Riddle, noting the success he's had in both the classroom and in his leadership positions in Pickerington.

"He brings a reputation of high expectations for students and a long track record of producing results," said Hamler. "He is considered a fast rising young instructional leader.

"Eric's high energy and positive attitude toward student achievement make him a great fit for leading a talented Beechwood staff."

Riddle holds a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Ohio University and a master's degree in educational leadership from the University of Dayton. He grew up in Amanda, a small, rural area south of Columbus, but now lives in Canal Winchester with his family.

Riddle has met with his leadership team at Beechwood and said he is ready for the first bell of the 2014-15 school year -- nerves and all.

"As long as I keep getting those butterflies for the next 20, 25 years, then I'm in great shape," he joked.

Students in Whitehall return to the classroom Monday, Aug. 25.