How long have you been with Somerville Public Schools?
This is the beginning of my eighth year in Somerville Public Schools. I came in as Principal of the Winter Hill Community Innovation School in 2012. That was actually the year that the Winter Hill became an innovation school. They had a plan written and they were ready to implement the plan. It was like jumping on a moving cart. Coming from Western Mass., I didn’t know much about Innovation Schools, so I did research.
What is unique about innovation school status?
As an innovation school, there is a governing board that has more authority than a school council. Having the innovation status meant we could really work with the governing board to craft the learning and teaching experience for the students in the Winter Hill community. It gave us more flexibility on ideas we wanted to implement. For instance, we brought the staff back a day early that first year to talk about implementation. We also had a 5-day training for staff, parents, and community members on the governing board about responsive classroom [a socio-behavioral program now being adopted district-wide]. It gave us more autonomy over what happened in the school on a day-to-day basis, particularly around decisions about the school calendar, professional development, and staffing.
How does your experience as a Principal inform your work as Interim Assistant Superintendent?
Having been a principal in the district helps me run the monthly principal meetings [when all district principals meet at Central Office], helps me look at data effectively, and helps me create student success plans and interact with parents. I really got to know Somerville in the principal role. With that said, there is a definite learning curve and Superintendent Skipper has given great feedback to help me understand what I need to know in this new role.
One exciting aspect is that, as a principal, I didn’t get to see other schools. It’s great to visit schools and see what’s happening across the district. I am all about teaching and learning. I am a cheerleader for teachers. I love sharing the stories about the wonderful things teachers are doing in their classrooms. Teachers throughout the district start with the social-emotional piece. Without doing that, you can’t get to the academics. Teachers are caregivers, counselors, and support systems for their kids and families, then they teach students content. Their work speaks to their high engagement level with their students and the love they have for students.
Have there been any surprises in this new position?
I think the scope of the work done at the district level is amazing. As a principal, I appreciated the work done at the district level, but underestimated the scope and brisk pace of it all because in schools we live on islands. I have a much greater appreciation of it all now that I see this work firsthand.
What current district initiatives excite you?
The equity mission we are taking on as a district is right at the top. We have students who are complex. We have families that are complex. But we are working as a cohesive unit to make sure that all students in this district get exactly what they need. I look forward to partnering with Jess [Dr. Jessica Boston Davis, Director for Equity and Excellence] and working with instructional leadership teams and district leadership teams to make sure we are all on the same page, using the same language and the same practices to ensure equity. One of the big goals this year is to make sure that principal learning is directly tied to equity, and then tied directly to teaching. I have great confidence in the educators and support staff and community members.
Somerville High School CONSTRUCTION
Construction at the high school is another easy answer. The work that SHS staff are doing with the Barr Foundation to re-envision and redesign their educational model is really on the cutting edge. They are ensuring that real, authentic learning experiences are a core part of how every student at SHS learns. Students will go out into the community, they’ll work in classrooms but with these real-life experiences. I think this work will transform educational experiences for all Somerville High School students.
TEACHER LEADERSHIP PIPELINE
I really like the educator leadership pipeline work that Karen Woods [Director of Educator Development] is leading. It gives educators real opportunities to grow and become leaders in their buildings and in the district. I’ve been having a lot of great conversations with Karen about what it means to be an educator in the district. We’re building capacity to keep teachers and other educators in the district so they can continue to successfully teach and support our students, while simultaneously developing into leaders who share best practices, develop new programming and new professional development, and support the continued development and growth of their school community.
What do you like about working in Somerville?
I am humbled and fortunate to be in this position and to continue to work in this district. Working in this district has been the best experience for me both personally and professionally. My final interview for principal was with the school committee. Many staff and community members came to watch the interview. It spoke to how much people in the community care about education. This district has a tremendous amount of support from families, from the mayor, the City Council, the School Committee, and from community organizations. Everyone works together for students. This is the fourth district I’ve worked in and no one else is doing it like this.
How do you spend your free time?
I chase my 3½ year old son Sam around with my wife, Stacie, and our dog, Quinn. We spend lots of time at zoos. Sam also likes to talk about dinosaurs.