When Principal Dick Brown hired me to teach mathematics at BFA Fairfax 25 summers ago, I had no inkling that one day I would become the high school principal. I immediately knew that BFA was a great place to teach and learn. The students were friendly and cooperative, the teachers were dedicated and collaborative, and the community supported the school.
Over the years, I became involved in many initiatives and changes at BFA. I helped to develop curriculum at the classroom and district level. I served as a mentor for teachers in the school and as mentor coordinator for the district. I helped plan professional development for teachers and was a part of the negotiating team for the teachers association. In the classroom, we moved from teaching Algebra-Geometry to teaching Integrated Math. Eventually I “flipped” my classroom and created instructional videos for my students to view at home so my time with them in class could be spent helping with math practice. I worked with students after school on our Scholars Bowl team, the Design TASC engineering competition, and backstage at the drama productions.
Through all these activities and leadership opportunities, I never gave much thought to becoming a principal. That is, until about six years ago. As my children started middle and high school, I began to think about the possibility of leading a school and impacting teaching and learning on a larger scale. I spoke with my family about the idea and the long and short-term implications and decided to go for it. I enrolled in a graduate course at St Michael’s College to begin the journey.
I was a little nervous about the prospect of becoming a student again because although I had attended workshops and mini-courses, it had been close to twenty years since I had actually been a full-fledged student. I honestly wasn’t sure what to bring to class…notebooks, a computer (I brought both!)? It turned out to be fine and I was able to manage the coursework as I continued to work with students in the classroom and after school. I worked through a variety of courses at St Mike’s, UVM, and online to meet the requirements for a Principal’s license.
As I worked through the courses, I wondered if I could really leave BFA to become a principal at some other school. As luck would have it, I never had to find out. Principal Mike Clark decided to leave BFA just as I was finishing up my work. I applied for the position, interviewed, and was fortunate that the Fairfax School Board decided to give a brand new principal the opportunity to lead the high school. I finished out the year in my classroom and prepared to join the leadership team with PreK-8 Principal Tom Walsh and Assistant Principal/Athletic Director Geri Witalec.
Fast forward three years and I can tell you that the move to becoming principal was among the best decisions I have made in my life. Yes, the hours are long and the days can be stressful, but the students are still friendly and cooperative, the staff is still dedicated and collaborative, and the community still supports the school. I have tremendous support from my fellow administrators and I know that every day/week/year promises new opportunities and new learning.
As we prepare for next year, we have developed a shift in leadership that will allow the administrative team to increase our impact on teaching and learning. Tom Walsh will become the principal for pK-6 and I will be the principal for grades 7-12. Geri Witalec-Krupa will continue her role as Assistant Principal and Athletic Director.
I am excited about this change for many reasons. Working with teachers in grades 7-12 will make our work with proficiencies and Personalized Learning Plans (PLPs) more efficient and effective. We have made significant changes in the high school in the past two years as we move toward proficiency. This work has been detailed and difficult. It has required teachers to examine what they teach, what previous learning it builds upon and how that learning impacts what students learn next. This process requires expanded communication, particularly with the middle school teachers. It will be easier for teachers to consider the continuum of learning through regular collaboration in this new configuration. PLPs will be developed in 7th grade with an eye toward high school and will be a continuously adjusted plan that students work with for six years to plan and document their personal learning experience.
I hope that we will be able to make the transition from Middle School to High School a little less “scary” for students. I have often marveled at how difficult that half flight of stairs into the high school can be for students. I am hopeful that with increased attention, we can reduce the anxiety associated with this event. At the very least, when students begin in high school, they’ll already know their principal.
Mr. Walsh and I agree that we still want to maintain the middle school’s identity. We do not want 7th and 8th grade to become “junior high”. We will work together to create opportunities for students in grades 5-8 to learn together throughout the year. We have been working together to create a smooth transition already.
The middle school will represent new learning for me. In my years at BFA, I have worked with middle school teachers on various committees but never had the need to understand the intricacies of the middle school model. To facilitate my growth, I attended the Middle Grades Institute in January and am enrolled in a Middle Grades Organization course at Castleton University. The work for the class has “forced” me to talk with the middle school teachers about their practices and priorities. We have talked about the schedule, support block, team time, and their physical spaces. In the coming weeks, our conversations will continue around family and community involvement. There’s a lot more to learn, and the teachers have been very willing to answer my questions and ask some of their own.
This next phase of my work at BFA will be a positive experience because I know three things about BFA after all these years: the students are friendly and cooperative, the teachers are dedicated and collaborative, and the community supports the school. I appreciate the opportunity to continue to be of service to all three groups.
John Tague is currently the High School Principal at BFA Fairfax. You can follow him @jtague252